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Dongria Kandha Weaver Showcases at International Trade Fair

Sulakhi was approximately 1,600 miles away from home, and the only thing that brought back memories of her home was the geometric, color-coded shawl she had sewn, called a kapadaganda.

The crimson triangle signified sacrifice, the yellow represented turmeric, and the green horizontal lines on the shawl represented the jungle-clad Niyamgiri hills of Odisha, which are home to Sulakhi and the other 8,000 Dongria Kandha clan members (according to the 2011 census).

Sulakhi, 25, and her 21-year-old niece are staying in Delhi till November 27. The two are exhibiting at the 42nd India International Trade Fair (IITF), which is being hosted in the newly renovated Pragati Maidan, which opened to the public on November 18. It has at least 3,500 vendors selling handicrafts, clothing, home décor, jewelry, art, and food.

The two young women who speak Kuvi and know little Hindi yet try to address buyer questions. When asked how long it took Sulakhi to weave a shawl, she said, “at least a month and a half.”

Sulakhi continued to embroider as passers-by enquired about the cloth and the price. Only a few people questioned Sulakhi about her clan and the Niyamgiri highlands, which her group has battled hard for. The Dongria Kandha tribe has been outspoken in their opposition to the projected bauxite mining by Vedanta Group’s alumina refinery facility in the Niyamgiri highlands.

Each shawl is at least two metres long, costing up to 8,000, and is completed in six to seven weeks. “This intricate embroidery is typically done by the female folk of the community,” a sign at the stand stated. The Kapadaganda exemplifies great craftsmanship and is frequently given as a gesture of love by unmarried ladies to their partner. It is frequently given as a token of devotion to brothers and fathers.”

The annual IITF also features 59-year-old weaver Nazda Khatoon of Bihar’s Jainagar, pashmina shawl maker Bashir Ahmed Bhat of Kashmir’s Budgam region, and 45-year-old kalamkari artist S Arunama of Andhra Pradesh’s Nimmalakunta.

Khatoon, surrounded by sikki art (jewelry, bags, and boxes made of sikki grass), glanced up after finishing weaving a green ring and stated, “When I was 10 years old, I watched how my grandmother’s fingers swiftly wove sikki grass into jewellery and bags. Now, I do the same thing. Depending on the size of the object I make, it can take between one hour to one month to complete it.”

Then there came Bhat, an IITF veteran who displayed a variety of shawls and discussed each embroidery method. “This is the sozni embroidery technique, a popular needlework technique that uses both wool and silk,” he explained. And this is a Kani shawl, one of the earliest shawls to have originated in Kashmir’s Kanihama region. It’s one of the most luxurious shawls.”

The IITF also has 12 international stalls, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Oman, and Vietnam.

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