This Village in Orissa is Telling Stories Through Sarees and Tamarind

An artist sits hunched over a stiff canvas, holding a paintbrush. The creases on his forehead say that nothing can disturb his meditation right now. Splashes of black, yellow and gerua (orange) burst forth from the innermost recesses of his mind to recite an old talea tale of Lord Krishna and his enigmatic life. Many would have already heard this story, but the way he brings out the green of trees and the reddish smile dancing on a Gopi’s lipsit’s something very few storytellers would touch upon.

This is the story of every Chitrakar (artisan) from Raghurajpur- a heritage village in Puri, Orissa, dedicated to making and selling Pattachitra. 

Performative origins

Pattachitra is an amalgamation of the words patta (canvas) and chitra (picture). Loosely translated, they refer to paintings made on a canvas. However, neither the painting nor the canvas is ordinary.

This Village in Orissa is Telling Stories Through Pattachitra Art Based Sarees and Tamarind
Source: wikimedia

Historical records show that this art form began as a profession dating back to the 10th and 11th century A.D. Patuas (scroll painters) would be invited by wealthy households to recite folktales. Such handprinted scrolls depicted mythological tales and were supplemented by songs and hand gestures. Patuas were often called to mark auspicious occasions with these sacred performances.

Cultural Significance

Every year during Debasnana Purnima, the deities of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are bathed with 108 pots of cold water to fight the summer heat. For 15 days, they are kept away from public view and in their place Pattachitra paintings are used for temple rituals. These paintings are called Anasara Patti.

This Village in Orissa is Telling Stories Through Pattachitra Art Based Sarees and Tamarind
Source: shreekhetra

Pattachitra paintings usually revolves around these common themes:
  • Badhia: Representation of the Jagannath Temple
  • Krishna Lila: Tales from Krishna’s life as a child with divine prowess
  • Dasabatara Patti: Depicting the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu
  • Panchamukhi Ganesha: Portraits of Lord Ganesha as a five-headed deity

This Village in Orissa is Telling Stories Through Pattachitra Art Based Sarees and TamarindSource: thebimba

Pattachitra artists don’t make rough sketches with pencils or charcoal. They etch characters with paint directly. The style of outfits is usually inspired by Mughal influences and one of the most prominent border styles depict two snakes entwined with each other. 

Some historic texts also recount a set of rules Chitrakars had to follow while creating a Pattachitra. During these days, they were supposed to stay vegetarian, sleep on the floor without a mattress and wear a new dhoti while working. 

Paintings Fueled by Nature

A true Pattachitra is made with organic ingredients. From the canvas to the colours, everything comes from nature. 

This Village in Orissa is Telling Stories Through Pattachitra Art Based Sarees and TamarindSource: wikimedia

For the canvas, tamarind (imli) seeds are soaked for three days and a paste is prepared by crushing and mixing them with water in an earthen pot. This paste is used to hold together two pieces of cloth or cotton sarees, coated with a powder of soft clay stone. It is then dried and polished with a stone in such a way that the final surface has a smooth and leather-like texture.

The paint brush’s handle is created with Bamboo. Roots of the Keya plant and mouse hair are used to make different sizes of bristles for the brush. The gum of Wood Apple (Kaitha) tree is used as a base for creating different colours.

This Village in Orissa is Telling Stories Through Pattachitra Art Based Sarees and Tamarind

Serving God through art

14 kilometres away from Puri lies the quaint heritage village of Raghurajpur. Home to about 140 families, it is lauded as India’s only village where every household is involved in making handicrafts. Each creation is designed in service of the Lord. Artisans of Raghurajpur are not just restricted to Pattachitra and excel in several forms of art like palm leaf engravings, stone carving, coconut shell carving, Tussar (a form of silk) painting, etc.

This Village in Orissa is Telling Stories Through Pattachitra Art Based Sarees and TamarindSource: thebimba

For the residents of Raghurajpur, Pattachitra is not just a means of livelihood. It is used as a vibrant vehicle to narrate folk tales and keep India’s culture and traditions alive for generations to come. 

At The Bimba, you’ll find Pattachitra in its traditional form (canvas made with sarees and imli paste) as well as on Silk. Both are equally magnificent and make for stellar showstopper pieces to be displayed in your home or office area.

- By Prakriti Bhat

September 28, 2020 — Team Bimba