Like the Sambalpuri weave, the name Bomkai is synonymous with Odisha. This Indian state is famous for its textile heritage and history that goes back to as early as 600 BC. The Bhulia community, associated with weaving, is the one involved in the production of Bomkai sarees and other new-age garments.
Bomkai originates in the village of Bomkai in Ganjam district of Odisha. Also known as ‘Sonepuri sarees’, they are made across the southern coastal plains and in Sonepur of western Odisha. These sarees were worn by the royalty, the aristocracy and the Brahmins of Ganjam. The unique aspect of these sarees is the intermixing of the two techniques of tie-and-dye and embroidery. Bomkai, meaning ‘bandhakala’, employs ikat as well as detailed needle-work on the pallus of the saree, especially. Such intricate threadwork is made on bright, contrasting backgrounds.
The sarees are made in both cotton and silk. The motifs and designs are inspired from nature and tribal art forms; a Bomkai saree uses motifs that are quite uncommon when compared to the ubiquitous and most used designs of traditional Indian weaves–bitter gourds, the atasi flower, carp fish (rui maach), flies and tortoises are some of these unconventional choices. Other than these, the sarees are designed with flower motifs (butas of kanthi phool), birds, peacocks, and lotuses that are spread over the body or are confined to borders and pallus. Tribal motifs consist of floral ones or the oft found spires in Indian weaves; some of these are the mitkta panji (latticework of diamond motif), temple (rows of spires), rudraksha and kumbha (another type of spire design). Bomkai still retains the original technique of weaving through the jala technique and has not shifted entirely to the jacquard and dobby techniques like a lot of other weaving traditions. This method uses both weft and warp techniques and the sarees can be made using a very less cotton yarn. The jala is a kind of frame on which the nakshabandhs or designers first create the designs using threads, which is then attached to the pit loom on which the final weaving takes place. For more complicated designs, two jalas are used.
Once Bomkai sarees started using zari, it increased its popularity and upscaled its market demand and value even more. Weavers began to use the zari as a base on which the rest of the threadwork was done and the sparkling base helps create a newer style. Some of the famous varieties include Sonepuri, Pasapali, Barpali, and Bapta apart from other numerous types that are available in the market. In addition, contemporary weavers also make other garments like salwar suits, dupattas, stoles, shawls and so on to cater to a younger market and make the trade inclusive. There is an encouraging trend for handloom in domestic as well as international market today and these craftsmen are putting their best forward to be a part of it.