Orissa (Odisha) is a state in India that's renowned for its handicrafts. There are two villages that you can visit where the residents are all artisans, engaged in their professions.
Unfortunately, with growing tourism to the state, commercialization is setting in. Expect to be hassled by some of the artisans to look at their works. However, the villages are still interesting places to interact with the artisans, see demonstrations, and of course buy their beautiful handicrafts.
Don't overlook bargaining (read these tips for getting a good price)!
If you're interested in brightly colored applique and patchwork, then Pipli is the place to go. This village has a long history dating back to the 10th century, when it was established to accommodate craftsmen who made applique umbrellas and canopies for the annual Jagannath Temple Rath Yatra. Back in those days, applique artisans predominantly catered to the needs of temples and kings.
Now, you'll find a diverse range of applique items being made in Pipli including handbags, puppets, purses, wall hangings, bedspreads, cushion covers, pillow covers, lampshades, lanterns (popularly used as Diwali festival decorations), and tablecloths. Huge umbrellas are available as well. The eye-catching main street is laden with stores selling handicrafts.
How to Get There
Pipli is best visited when traveling between Puri and Bhubaneshwar.
It's located just off National Highway 203, around midway between the two cities -- 26 kilometers from Bhubaneshwar and 36 kilometers from Puri.
If you're after a more personal experience, you'll enjoy visiting Raghurajpur much more than Pipli. It's smaller and less commercialized, and artisans carry out their crafts while sitting out the front of their prettily painted houses.
There are just over 100 households in the village, which has a picturesque setting amongst tropical trees next to the Bhargavi River near Puri.
At Raghurajpur, every house is an artist's studio. Pattachitra paintings, with religious and tribal themes done over a piece of cloth, are a specialty. The artisans make a wide variety of other items too, including palm leaf engravings, pottery, wood carvings, and wooden toys. Many have even won national awards for their work.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has developed Raghurajpur as a heritage village, selecting it to try and revive the ancient wall paintings of Odisha. The murals painted on the houses are fascinating, although sadly somewhat faded. Some depict stories from the Panchatantra animal fables or religious texts. They will even reveal to you whom has been recently married.
What is often overshadowed is the fact that Raghurajpur also has an impressive dance tradition. Legendary Odissi dancer Kelucharan Mohapatra was born there and started out as a Gotipua dancer. (This captivating dance from is considered to be the precursor of Odissi classical dance. It's performed by young boys who dress as women and perform acrobatics to praise Jagannath and Krishna).
A Gotipua gurukul (dance school), the Dashabhuja Gotipua Odissi Nrutya Parishad, has been established at Raghurajpur under the guidance of Padma Shri awardee Maguni Charan Das. For an extra dose of culture, including Odissi dancing, visit Raghurajpur during the annual two day Vasant Utsav. This spring festival is held in February by cultural NGO Parampara, with Padma Shri Maguni Das as chairman of the festival committee. (Contact Parampara on 06752-274490 or 09437308163, or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
How to Get There
Head north of Puri on National Highway 203, which connects Puri to Bhubaneshwar, and turn off at Chandanpur (around 10 kilometers from Puri). Raghurajpur is located a couple of kilometers from Chandanpur. A taxi from Puri will cost about 700 rupees for the return trip.
Beware that there is a "fake" Raghurajpur, which you will have to pass through just before the actual village.
Taxi drivers may claim that this row of shops is Raghurajpur and take commissions from the sellers.
If you're feeling active, it's also possible to go on a bicycle tour to Raghurajpur from Puri.