Odissi dance is complemented by intricate filigree silver jewelry pieces. Filigree, in French, means “thin wire,” and in Oriya it is called Tarchasi. This highly skilled art form is more than 500 years old and is traditionally done by local artisans on the Eastern shores of Orissa. The jewelry pieces themselves are an important part of the Odissi dancer’s costume and is comprised of the tikka (forehead ornament), allaka (head piece on which the tikka hangs), unique ear covers in intricate shapes, usually depicting a peacock’s feathers, with jimkis (bell shaped earrings) hanging from them, two necklaces- a smaller necklace worn close to the neck and a longer necklace with a hanging pendant, and two sets of bangles worn on the upper arm and wrist. The process of creating each piece takes the collaboration of many artisans each specialized in one step of the many that turns a lump of raw silver into a handcrafted work of art.
First, the lump of silver is placed into a small clay pot and together the two are put into a bucket full of hot coals. The temperature is regulated through a bellow that is hand operated by a crank.
The melting process takes about ten minutes and then the silver is poured into a small, rod-like mold and cooled by submerging the rod in water. The rod is then placed into a machine that will press the rod into a long, thin wire. This tedious and physically demanding process had been done traditionally by hand and took two men to turn the crank.
Once the silver is pressed into a flat, workable wire, the wire itself can first be hand carved with intricate designs, or immediately smoldered by a small kerosene fire with one artist directing the small flame with a hollow tube held in his mouth into which he can blow. This process makes it easier for the artisan to mold the wire into the desired frame for the piece before it is cooled. Next the wires are strung together and twisted and shaped into a design by the artist’s precise fingers. Soldering is done by placing the piece into a mixture of borax powder and water, sprinkling soldering powder onto it and then placing it once again under the small flame. This insures that the detail of the design will stay intact. Once this is done, the artist will then take the warm piece and shape it into its form as an ornament.
Finally, the ornament is filed down and polished by soaking it in a frothy mixture of water and split nuts from a tree called “soap nut.” The ornament is now ready to be pieced together to others like it and worn by the dancer.
The crown, or mahkoot, worn by the Odissi dancer is made only in the devotional city of Puri in Eastern Orissa, where the great Jagganath temple is located. It is formed from the dried reed called sola in a tradition called sola kama. The reed is carved by a series of cuts into the rode-like stem and forms various types of flowers when a string is tied in the middle of the rod and pulled tight. As the string tightens, flowers bloom into, jasmines, champa-one of the five flowers of Lord Krishna’s arrows, and kadamba -the flowers under which Rhada would wait for her beloved Lord Krishna.
The mahkoot consists of two parts. The flower decorated back piece, called the ghoba, sits around the dancer’s hair pulled into a bun at the back of the head. This piece represents the lotus with a thousand petals that lies above the head in the head chakra, or energy center. The longer piece that emerges from the center of the back piece is called the thiya and this represents the temple spire of Lord Jagganath or the flute of Lord Krishna.