Pattachitra Paintings & Pattachitra Art
Pattachitra paintings are made on a special canvas where cotton sarees are layered with a tamarind paste and then coated with clay powder. Such is the expertise of our artisans that once the canvas becomes sturdy, colours are filled in directly without any initial sketches. All colours are obtained from natural sources like lamp soot and powdered conch shells. Each painting can take up to weeks or months to be prepared.
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An amalgamation of the words patta (canvas) and chitra (picture), Pattachitra art is an ancient art form. It refers to paintings made on a cloth canvas. However, in Patachitra paintings, neither the painting nor the canvas is ordinary. This art form originated in Bengal and Orissa where they were used to worship gods and goddesses, and narrate divine tales from their lives. Historical records show that Pattachitra art 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 stories and were supplemented by songs and hand gestures. Patuas would be called to mark auspicious occasions with these sacred performances.
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 art paintings are used for temple rituals. These Patachitra paintings are called Anasara Patti. Since devotees can’t worship the actual idols, these Patachitra paintings are made with great intricacy so that they look as real as the idols. Since these paintings grace the walls of temples and are used for the purpose of worshipping, a chitrakar follows a set of rules while making the patta painting. Finding Patachitra paintings online may be easy but the sheer dedication and expert craftsmanship with which chitrakars make them is fantastic. Some historic texts have documented certain rules Chitrakars had to follow while creating a work of Pattachitra art. During these days, they were supposed to stay vegetarian, sleep on the floor without a mattress and wear a new dhoti while working. Once the canvas of Pattachitra art is complete, certain mantras are chanted to bless it before transporting it to the temple.
For Pattachitra art paintings, artists don’t make rough sketches with pencils or charcoal. They etch the characters with paint directly. The style of outfits is usually inspired by Mughal influences. If you look closely at pictures of Pattachitra online, you will notice that one of the most prominent border styles depict two snakes entwined with each other. To look for easy Patachitra paintings would be in vain because each artwork takes months to prepare. A quick search for Pattachitra online will reveal that this art form is completely organic. From the canvas to the colours, everything comes from nature. All Pattachitra art paintings are traditionally created on a special handmade canvas.
To create the canvas for a patta painting, 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. Mostly this cloth comes in the form of cotton sarees. It is then coated with a powder of soft clay stone and dried. The next step involves polishing this canvas for patachitra paintings with a stone in such a way that the final surface has a smooth and leather-like texture. The handle for paint brushes used to make Pattachitra art is created with Bamboo. Roots of the Keya plant along with Buffalo, Calf 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. Black colour is created with lamp soot while white colour is made from powdered conch shells. Hartal stone is used to make yellow colour for Pattachitra art paintings while the Gerua stone begets orange colour. The leaves of Hyacinth bean plant are used to make green while the Hingula rock gives red colour for Patachitra paintings. Further, violet is extracted from black plum or blackberries and Ramaraja gives blue colour.
14 kilometres away from Puri lies a heritage village, named Raghurajpur. Home to about 140 chitrakar families, it is lauded as India’s only village where every household is involved in making handicrafts, especially different forms of Patta painting. Each creation of Pattachitra art is designed in service of the Lord. However, artisans of Raghurajpur are not just restricted to Patta painting and excel in several forms of art like palm leaf engravings, stone carving, coconut shell carving, Tussar (a form of silk) painting, etc.
All Patachitra paintings online can be segregated into Bengali Pattachitra and Odisha Pattachitra. The main difference between these two categories lies in their purpose. The origins of Odisha Patachitra paintings lie in its function of substituting Lord Jagannath’s idol at Jagannath temple, Puri. Meanwhile, the Bengali Patta painting has performative origins, as patuas would visit houses and villages to narrate mythological folk tales and used these scroll paintings to support their narrative performances. Later on, this evolved into Kalighat paintings. All paintings of Pattachitra online and the ones found in Raghurajpur and other areas, are based on certain common themes. Badhia Pattachitra art is a grid depiction of Puri’s pious Jagannath temple. At its core lies a layout of the main tower where the idols of its presiding deities—Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra are kept with reverence. These paintings are usually made with red, saffron and green colours.
Some paintings also depict scenes from Krishna Leela, the cosmic dance where gopis dance in a circle around Lord Krishna who dances in the centre with his beloved Radha. Another common category of Pattachitra art paintings is Dasabatara Patti which depicts the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Panchamukhi Ganesha is another popular form of Patachitra paintings online. It’s a depiction of the five-headed avatar of Ganesha and placing such a canvas towards the east in your home or office is considered auspicious.