Rashmi Rekha Das

Of late, Odisha women have broken down the barriers and challenged the traditional gender roles, paving the way for future generations of women to follow their footsteps. Be it agroindustry, designing Jewellery or making crafts, they have proved that with determination and perseverance, women can break glass ceilings and achieve their goals.

Similarly at the ongoing Toshali National Crafts Mela, an exhibition-cum-sale of handicraft and handloom items made by artisans across the country, women led enterprises have been drawing visitors in hordes.

One such woman is Dali Das, who crafts coir, the eco-friendly coconut fiber, into beautiful crafts such décor pieces, toys, ornaments and more by tying and folding the fibers. Dali feels great to be part of Toshali Mela.

Talking about her journey, Dali who resides at Sakhigopal in Puri, said, “Nature’s bounty is boundless. Take the example of the coconut tree. Coconut water quenches thirst, its oil nourishes the body and its pulp creates gourmet delicacies. When I failed to secure a job after completion of graduation, it was coir or coconut fiber that helped me in sustaining my family.”

Dali Das with her coir products

Dali was the eldest child of her parents. After her father’s death, she had to look after her siblings. “When I failed to secure a job after repeated attempts, I decided to make crafts from coir and run my family. No doubt, initial days were tough for me to meet the demands of my family from my meager income. But, hard work pays off. I worked hard which yielded results with orders pouring in from customers gradually.”

Dali, who is now a faculty of State Institute for Development of Arts & Crafts & also runs a company where she has engaged aurally challenged and speech impaired individuals. She recently secured an order from a noted NGO to make a 5-ft palm tree from coir.

“They will pay me nearly 1 lakh for the project. It was a heart whelming moment for me. Later, I came to know they collected my number from Coir Union of Odisha. Almost 70 per cent work has been completed. If everything goes as per the plan, the project will be handed over in the next month,” she shares.

Meet Priyadarsini Das, a woman who has brought a green revolution of sorts by making eco-friendly Jewellery from bamboo, golden grass, waste wood, palm leaves, betel nuts and nonperishable seeds.

“I am thankful to the Government of Odisha, particularly the Directorate of Textiles for giving me a stall in Toshali Mela”. She is passionate in making eco-friendly Jewellery, accessories and décor products with the brand name ‘Ecodarsini’. Bamboo Jewellery is rising in demand in international markets like Canada, the United States, and the EU. Jewellery made by Priyadarshini and her team was recently exported to Japan.

Priyadarsini had participated in the Toshali Mela last year. Like last year, her stall is a crowd puller as she has got unique Odisha style Jewellery, earrings, bangles, necklaces and bracelets apart from other eco-friendly accessories and décor products.

Recollecting her childhood, Priyadarsini says, “As a young girl I had learnt the process of making art and craft with locally available eco-friendly materials from my mother. However, I went beyond and started applying the techniques to make bamboo-based eco-friendly Jewellery. I was very much ignorant of terms like eco-friendly or sustainable Jewellery until 2017 when my husband informed me what I have been making is eco-friendly and has got a huge demand in the market. So, it was my husband who motivated me to expand my creative pursuit. Then, I felt a strong urge to train young girls and women to make eco-friendly Jewellery especially in tribal pockets of Odisha.”

Let’s now move to a stall that showcases unique terracotta pots and décor products by Binal Desai, a first-generation creative entrepreneur at the Toshali Mela. Binal has registered her start-up in the name of ‘Mooi Toi’ that offers traditional handcrafted products with a modern touch. If you want to decorate your home with the earthen touch of terracotta, take a tour to Binal’s stall at Toshali and take beautiful souvenirs or Jewellery to gift your near and dear ones.

Her uniqueness lies in fusing terracotta with ceramic finishing or terracotta with Sabai grass to bring the incredible beauty. Besides being an entrepreneur, she has been working with ORMAS (Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society) as a Designer.

She said, “This is an opportunity to showcase such creative products to a large number of customers. We get lot of confidence and motivation in participating diverse kinds of Melas. It has been made possible only because of the consideration by the Odisha government in accommodating people like me.”

Apart from the women power, Toshali Mela showcases pan India handloom and handicrafts items besides indigenous handicrafts and tribal art from Odisha. The platform is among India’s top destination for quality crafts and textiles.