Odisha Divas: A Beacon of Traditional Knowledge Economy

Odisha’s very significant success in the Millet Mission is an inspiration for India in generating better incomes for farmers


Written By : Goutam Saha, Lipsa Mohapatra & S.N.Misra


Odisha  Divas is the day of celebration of gaining the statehood of Odisha that came from a long-standing hard struggle to regain the glory of Odiya language. The uncompromising  Odiya stalwarts of those glorious days understood the value of the Odiya language, which later got the status of Indian classical language.  It is not only language, Odisha’s traditional knowledge and culture in the area of handloom,  handicraft, music, dance, and agriculture are very much authentic and aesthetically sound.   It is also worth mentioning that  Odisha is home to the third largest tribal population of India, but it is the most diverse indigenous community found in the country.  Odisha can boast of its lakhs of weavers, craftspeople, artists, dancers, and farmers, many of them from indigenous communities, who are the torchbearers of this traditional knowledge and culture. Internationally reputed scholars and intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Nijar, and Daskon also argue that the traditional knowledge system, empowered by  Indigenous communities,   has the potential to address the issue of present-day climate,  generate livelihood and create wealth for many. Before discussing how Odisha’s traditional knowledge is shaping the cultural economy and entrepreneurship and its future potential to build Odisha’s robust economy in an environment-friendly way, let us debunk some myths related to traditional knowledge like  a) Traditional knowledge is not a nostalgic inflexible system, rather it is dynamic and adaptive,  b) Traditional knowledge should not be perceived as an antithesis of the scientific culture of Western science, rather it is to be perceived as a supplementary knowledge system

It is time to  discuss a few success stories of Odisha in developing entrepreneurship and livelihood by combining traditional knowledge and modern scientific knowledge systems.

Odisha’s very significant success in the Millet Mission is an inspiration for India in generating better incomes for farmers from traditional crops and providing healthy food options for its citizens. Millet Mission brought the traditional knowledge system of millet farming with modern-day marketing and knowledge of recent research on the Indian Institute of Millets Research, the Central Food Technological Research Institute, etc. The project got international accolades by using the strength and opportunities of various stakeholders of varied ideologies like state and central government agencies, local NGOs, international agencies and universities.  In a country like ours, fragmented by ideologies, this is a phenomenal success.

Dr Chaturbhuj Meher,  Padmashree, a veteran artisan entrepreneur from Sonepur, has successfully converted his art into valuable cultural products for several elites/celebrities in India and abroad. He exhibited his outstanding skill in weaving Bomkai and Bichitrapuri Saree in fine-count threads. These technical innovations have made these traditional Sarees and the art popular in the country and abroad and won high-end consumers in the country and abroad. His successful retail venture: Meher’s in Bhubaneswar City, proves his refined understanding of modern fashion retail management.

Padma Vibhushan Sudarshan Sahoo has also been able to take his traditional craft to a global forum. His art of stonework is sold at premium prices across the globe. He has been equally popular in different states of India and different countries for many years. To diversify his product categories for urban consumers, he ventured into the manufacture and sale of wood, and fibreglass work in the economic price category. This shows his understanding of the market, customer segments and alternative product choices.

Sabai grass or ’Eulaliopsis Binata’ is a naturally growing grass in the tropical climate of the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. The grass is used traditionally by the local communities for primarily making ropes and partly products for utility purposes. It generates a very moderate income primarily for the local tribal women. In our field study, we found design intervention by the National Institute of Fashion Technology National Institute of Design, and other agencies helped many SHG groups of tribal women of Mayurbhanj to make more than thirty different products including baskets, mats, photo frames, curtains, jewellery boxes, lampshades, furniture, wallets, bags, penholders, slippers, jewellery, etc. The state government and central government agencies also established a value chain with the suppliers and buyers that would benefit all the stakeholders. The designer products helped these women earn about Rs.200- Rs.300/- per day, which motivated other women to join the program. This extra income apart from farming. Before the intervention, they used to earn  Rs 50 to Rs 60 daily. This extra income helped them to become self-reliant,  more creative and to get more dignity from their family.   Some of them tried to form another independent SHG to earn more as their capabilities increased.

Odisha is the home of  1,17,  836 weavers. Out of this,   Bargarh district has the highest number of weavers-36,371 ( Handloom Census, 2019-20).  Bargarh as a district did not witness a steady decline of the weavers like national or state level trend.  The production of handloom increased in the Bargarh district. ( Odisha’s Handloom Census 2019-20 & 2009-10) The number of looms in Bargarh increased from 12090 to 17992 i.e. around a 50% increment.  Our field visits to Bargarh and Sambalpur reveal that the cultural pride of local consumers and artisans in Sambalpuri sarees are the main reason for the steady growth of the handloom craft.  It is used as a premium product by local consumers as it is associated with social prestige.  College-going young girls also prefer  Sambalpuri fabric for their gowns and Kurtis as formal party wear.  The wardrobe analysis of a few mid-aged housewives of Sambalpur revealed that  30 to 50% of their wardrobe is filled with Sambalpuri Sarees.  Even the housemaids prefer Sambalpuri sarees for their longevity and social acceptance in comparison to low-cost sarees. The continuous growth of sales and profit of one of the largest weavers’ cooperatives in India   Sambalpuri Bastralaya reveals the steady consumption of Sambalpuri fabrics. Our interview with master weavers revealed their focus on quality and their inherent cultural pride in weaving with local traditional motifs and the motifs related to Odiya culture. The weaving community of Bargarh has three Padmashrees, one Kabiguru,  more than 60 national awardees and more than a hundred state awardees. It added the cultural pride of the community and the consumers.

We understood from the success stories, working with all the stakeholders focussing on their strengths, proper design interventions, understanding modern consumers from the lens of marketing, cultural pride for traditional knowledge, local consumptions and bringing modern scientific knowledge as a supportive system are the key for the success of developing traditional knowledge economy through craft and farm-based products. Odisha has a rich history of exporting handloom, various crafts, and farm products to many European and Asian countries from pre-colonial days. In the same direction Utklala Gaurava, Madhusudan Das, who was one of the prominent figures helping in the creation of Odisha state,  founded Odisha Art ware Works and Utkal Tannery which were successful in selling Utkal’s artefacts in the national and global arena. On the eve of Odisha Divas, taking inspiration from our rich history, we may aim to build a robust traditional knowledge-based economy for Odisha, which is eco-friendly, has the potential to create huge livelihood opportunities in rural areas and creates wealth for the bottom of the pyramid with local people and local resources.


Goutam Saha, Lipsa Mohapatra & S.N.Misra



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