Did you know that the Pipli artwork from Odisha was first made by a Muslim Darjee? Know the story

It was Eid on Sunday and we also celebrated Lord Jagannath’s Sunabesha with the Rath Yatra coming to a great conclusion. I remember June 2018 when Eid coincided with Raja.

The Bakul Foundation had been invited to organize a storytelling session and handicraft quiz during the inaugural event at the new Odisha Handicraft Museum in Kalabhoomi. When I thought about the stories to tell, I started wondering about the Islamic influence on Odishan craftsmanship. Surprisingly, nothing came to mind.

I knew that the first chief architect of the modern capital of Bhubaneswar, Julius Vaz, tried to retain the syncretic element in the architecture of the modern city. (Otto Koenigsburger designed the city, but Vaz designed the buildings). He had designed the Rabindra Mandap as a Buddhist stupa, the market building as the Jain caves and the two towers as temples, and the Assembly lattice as Islamic motifs. But other than that, I couldn’t think of anything.

When I started my research I came across a wonderful story about the origin of applied art in Pipli and that is the story I told that day.

According to the story, Muslim Badshah commissioned a Darjee from Pipli to make two decorative pillows. The pillows turned out to be so exquisitely beautiful that the Darjees thought they deserved Lord Jagannath more than the Badshahs. He fell asleep with these contradictory thoughts.

When the Darjee woke up the next morning, he was surprised to see one of the pillows missing. When the Badshah heard of this he suspected wrongdoing on the part of the Darjee and enraged he imprisoned the Darjee. However, Lord Jagannath then came to the Badshah in a vision and said that the Darjee was innocent and that he himself had removed the pillow. The Badshah then liberated the Darjee and since then Muslim and Hindu craftsmen have been making the famous Pipli applique work, which adorns the Rathas and is a popular souvenir for pilgrims coming to the Rath Yatra and Jagannath temple.

Interestingly, Pipli also seems to have gotten its name from the presence of four Pirs in the area, and the name “Pipli” developed as a corruption of Pirapalli. Historian Anil Dhir has also written about this theory. The other theory that Mr. Dhir mentions that Pipli got its name from the presence of Peepul trees seems like an obvious simplistic theory, especially when we don’t call them Peepul in Odia.

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