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Where Art Dances on Canvas : A Journey into Pattachitra and Raghurajpur.

Updated: Jun 8

a man painting pattachitra

Image Credits- Pinterest


abstract

कलानां मूर्तिः सच्चिदानन्दघनः

Odisha, India’s best-kept secret, has a rich and unique heritage of art tradition beginning from the sophisticated ornate temple marvels and sculptures to folk arts manifested in different forms. The people of Odisha while following the broader Indian traditions have tried to develop their own style and characteristics which shows creativity.

Art in Odisha alike elsewhere in India was inspired by religious movements, beliefs. The Spread of religions like Jainism and Buddhism gave it ample scope to grow. In Odisha life is art and art is life. Every inch of Odisha reveals a glimpse of its rich artistic traditions. The mural paintings began with prehistoric rock paintings as found in Manikmoda and Ushakothi, mural paintings on ceilings of a rock shelter called Ravana Chhaya at Sitabinji in the district of Keonjhar. All these talks about the marvellous renditions of art that Odisha contributes to the landscape of the nation.

This article is going to be a case study of Raghurajpur which is the state’s first heritage village, a title given by INTACH in the year 2000. Located in the district of Puri, this village is recognised for its folk art popularly called as Pattachitra an art form as old as time. It dates back to the 5th century. It is also famous for the Gotipua dance which is a predecessor to the dance of Odissi. In an effort to make the physical surroundings more tourist-friendly, the state government has made an effort, although the effects of these interventions have not been fulfilled. These practices have the very essence of sustainability, a trend catching up from the recent developments across the globe. We will further delve into how this village serves as a living museum.

 

Introduction

One of the unique styles of conventional hand painting that has been practiced consistently in India for about 300 years is called "Pattachitra". The "Pattachitra" (Scroll Paintings) on the pigment-painted fabrics used for ceremonial purposes are primarily connected to the Puri shrine of Lord Jagannath. Painters use the ceremonial art form known as "pattachitra," which focuses on narrative and embellishing figure drawings with colors found in plants and minerals. The "Pattachitra" of Orissa uses primary colors; other hues are created by combining the primary colors. Themes and patterns of "Pattachitra" are drawn from Hindu mythology and typically show the Puri temple and its ceremonies in a rigidly structured, highly stylized manner. Both men and women paint the most painstaking Orissan scrolls.


The goal of the current study is to preserve the exquisitely colorful, artistically hand-painted, naturally colored "Pattachitra" in its purest form. The goal is to meticulously record every aspect of the "pattachitra" art form, including colors, themes, tools, machinery, and production methods. Another goal of this study is to record the information on conventional natural dyeing and painting techniques. Five artisans who were using the traditional method of "Pattachitra" painting to practice their craft provided information regarding the methods, techniques to collect the colours, and painting techniques which are discussed further in this article for the craft documentation. The thinly woven cotton fabric piece called "Pattachitra," often called pata or pat, has experienced several variations in themes, colors, and techniques.


Crafts of India

India, erstwhile referred to as the golden bird is the hub of culture and tradition. From weaving intricate designs on Pashmina Shawls to intricate designs on Kanjeevaram sarees, from handicrafts made out of bamboo by people in the North-Eastern part of the nation to the elegant needlework of Gujarat, India serves as a hub of crafts. It not only serves as a feather to India’s cap but also generates employment. In 2022 when  Prime Minister Modi visited the G20 summit, he gifted the handicrafts from different parts of the nation to the delegates and also continued the tradition in several other summits as well. The art and handicraft items brought by artisans of Odisha are used for several religious purposes, festivals, and even for the decoration of households. The history of Odisha bears testimony to the fact through the evidence of maritime trade that happened through the Bay of Bengal to the Java and Sumatra islands. It is further commemorated in the annual fair popularly called  “Baliyatra”.  The trade included a variety of products like applique, work, textiles, terracotta, etc.


Pattachitra, an ancient form of art dating back to the 5th century B.C is a Sanskrit word in which “patta” means canvas and “chitra” means painting. Silk fabric or even palm leaves might be used for the canvas work. Apart from black, which is made from kerosene lamp soot, most of the colors utilised are organic. Hindu myths, deities, and other popular culture are typically portrayed in Pattachitra, which is distinguished by its vivid colors and exquisite craftsmanship. 


Raghurajpur – a living museum

Located on the banks of the Bhargavi river, Raghurajpur is a quaint village. It is situated about 50 km from the state capital. Every family in the village is engaged in at least one form of visual or performing art. Tropical trees like mango, jackfruit, and coconut are common around here and the nearby crops are mainly betel leaves. The artists are involved in various forms of art like talapatta paintings, patta paintings, poetry on dried palm leaves, and engravings on palm leaves. About 311 people live in the 103 houses that make up the village; many of the master painters are absent for most of the year. The settlement consists of three building rows and two roadways running east to west.


The interior buildings are community structures like dancing practice huts and temples, while the outside buildings are residential apartments. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a museum is a facility dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, research, and exhibition of items with enduring significance or interest. Similarly, Raghurajpur can be referred to as a repository of living culture unconfined within four walls where everything catches the attention of tourists. A few examples of the activities include painting a pattachitra, creating toys out of clay, betel nuts, paddy, cow dung, lacquer, etc., and learning about the customs of the locals. In this way, the social fabric of the village settlements, the rural households, the products being made, the people's everyday lives, and so forth are revealed, creating a narrative of a rural heritage crafts village.


Pattachitra


 Introduction

The Pattachitra painting is painted on a scroll made from a particular type of cloth. It is a part of a very important class of pigmented cloth made specifically for ritual use. This form of visual art has a history of great antiquity. The painting is said to have a striking resemblance to the 5th-century mural paintings found in Sitabinji, Keonjhar. The patas that serve as a substitute icon for the wooden image of Lord Jagganath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra are removed for repair during the process of Nabakalebara. By 1990, the art form had already covered the journey from being just a temple offering to becoming a popular tourist souvenir. It is done by the traditional painting communities. The classical traditions of western and southern India, to which the Jagannath temple has maintained its affiliation, have, nevertheless, had a greater impact on the more refined painting style of Puri's artists. Indeed, the temple has unintentionally contributed to the continuation of the Pata painting legacy as a major hub for pilgrimage and trade. These are done on a thinly woven cotton bonded cloth with mineral pigments of colours. Traditional paintings, and crafts have continuously reflected the culture of the nation and there is a dire need to protect them. As we move further, we will delve into the intricacies of this long-lost yet intricate art form.


Methodology

As per the information available on the internet, the pattachitra process is mainly divided into two headings:


Preparation of Base Fabric or the Pataastra:

The Patta is made by the Chitrakaras using a special method. Handmade pattas, also known as patties or canvases, require a great deal of labor. To prepare them, craftsmen in the area utilise two layers of old cotton saris that they purchased from old cloth vendors. The canvas was prepared in the latter part of the nineteenth century by spreading it with a mixture of black dirt and cow manure. The white coating was sprayed onto the fabric to conceal the pores after it had dried in the sun. The cloth is stretched out over the level cement floor when it has dried, and then a layer of gum prepared from powdered tamarind seeds is applied. After applying another coat of gum and pasting a second piece of cloth on top of the first, the fabric is left to dry in the sun. In order to prevent ripped portions of old, used cotton cloth, a tiny piece of cloth may be placed if necessary after the bubbles and gum portions within the successive layers are eliminated. Before the seeds were ground on an even stone bed, the tamarind gum was prepared for grinding the seeds using an electric grinder. Later, to obtain gum, tamarind thick powder was crushed and cooked with the necessary amount of water. When the material is completely dry, a cotton puff is used to rub the glutinous coating—a mixture of tamarind gum and soft white stone powder—on the dried fabric. The rubbing operation is then repeated with the damp cotton puff and stone once it has dried, and then with a steel glass with a sharp edge. Once the cloth has dried, it is removed from the floor and precisely cut into rectangular or square pieces without any waste. Polishing smooth stones on both sides of the surface is used to polish each unique item. "Pataastra" refers to the complete process of creating a patta (canvas). Conventional tools and equipment required are Umhei which is the furnace, Mati Patra or Mud Pot container, Sadhei (coconut shell, keeping colour paste), Matka (ring, which is made out from edges of old cotton saris, used as a stand of Sadhei), Tuli (brushes), Silapathara (flat stone bed, to grind tamarind seed).


Painting:

While inexperienced painters first use pencils to draw their sketches, seasoned chitrakaras do not utilise them for this purpose. Dhadimara, or the marking of borders, is the first step. Previously, borders were drawn with string. Tipana, or sketching, is the subsequent step. It begins with the head and continues with the arms and legs. It is usually drawn by the family leader or an expert painter. The following stage is called Hingula Banka, and it is in this stage that the gaps between the drawn figures are filled in with red. Pattachitra paintings are frequently painted with a tingula, or red background. Ranga Banka is the company that carries out the technique, in which the figurines undergo painting using colors according to standards specified for a certain god based on their Dhyanamantra or visualisation—for example, Lord Krishna's face looks black. Pindha Luga is the process of applying mostly yellow colour to the garments, the process of colouring ornaments is called Gahanalekha. Putting black colours in required areas is called Mota Kala. Sarakala is the process of finishing the fine line with black colour. 


Then comes the process of treating the background in floral with other colours. This, in local parlance, is referred to as Sankhpata and Haladiyapata. The last step in the lacquering process, Joshala, is a process that gives the paintings a sheen and moisture resistance. This procedure of reviewing the painting is called Baigeba.


The themes of these paintings are based on the Vaishnavic cult or the Jagganath cult. The paintings depict scenes from the old epic, primarily from mythology, religious narratives, and folklore. Different Vesas or the clothes of Lord Jagganath, who was Lord Krishna in human form, together with his elder brother Balram and sister Subhadra, are very famous topics.


pattachitra craft hanging on a shop display

Image Credits- iStock


SWOT Analysis


Strength:

The popular form of visual art is a source of livelihood for all the families living in the village. It has provided not only a way of showing one’s devotion to god but also a way to attract tourists. The reasons that prove why this form of art is a strength for the nation are never-ending.


Rich Mythology:

Pattachitra is a visual narrative that brings centuries-old epics and mystical tales to life with vivid colors and minute details. It is deeply steeped in Hindu mythology, particularly the stories of Lord Jagannath. The innate bond that stories have with their audience strikes a deep chord, promoting appreciation and understanding of different cultures.


Vivid Colours and Intricate Designs:

The art form has a powerful visual effect by using vibrant, natural hues that are taken from plants and minerals. The artwork gains depth and vitality from the painstaking utilization of these colors combined with complex geometric and floral designs. According to the artists, canvas was once made using natural materials like stone and vegetable extracts. Some craftspeople still use this same method to create paintings today. In keeping with sustainable methods, the use of organic components and pigments minimises environmental effects while enhancing the broader appeal of  Pattachitra. Pattachitra was originally made on fabric or palm leaves, but it has now been modified to fit new mediums including canvas and paper, increasing its accessibility to a larger audience. This flexibility guarantees the art form's continued relevance in the contemporary day.


Weakness

 Like every art form, Pattachitra painting offers many advantages, but there are also some possible drawbacks to take into account. 


Limited Reach and Regulation:

Like every art form, Pattachitra painting offers many advantages, but there are also some possible drawbacks to take into account. Despite being a very rich art form, Pattachitra is largely restricted to Odisha and may not be well-known outside of the state, despite its lengthy history. This reduces its opportunity for wider recognition and exposure to a larger audience.


Economic Challenges:

Pattachitra artists frequently struggle financially as a result of their labor-intensive craft and the comparatively modest selling prices of their paintings. This may deter generations to come from adopting the creative form, which could have an effect on its viability.


Competition from Mass Produced and cheaper art forms:

The heavy inflow of less expensive, mass-produced substitutes may pose a threat to the established Pattachitra business. In order to stay financially viable, artists may feel pressured by this rivalry to sacrifice originality or quality.


Conservation and Preservation Challenges:

Moisture, sunshine, and insects all cause harm to the natural substances used in Pattachitra paintings. With archival materials, it can be difficult to ensure the correct maintenance and preservation of old artwork while also encouraging ecological practices.


Gender Representation:

Men have always dominated the Pattachitra painting genre. Despite initiatives to promote female involvement, gender inequality persists and may restrict the range of viewpoints and experiences represented in the artwork.


Opportunities:

Pattachitra Sarees have fetched tremendous opportunities for the artisans. In a time where celebrities have donned the fashion at gala events, Pattachitra Sarees have been a go-to option for them. Alia Bhatt was seen donning a Pattachitra Saree during the Ayodhya Ram Mandir Pran Pratistha ceremony. A lot of entrepreneurs have started selling niche sarees. A growing brand Spandita in the capital of Odisha sells only Pattachitra Sarees serving the interest of artisans of the village. Patachitra from West Bengal's Naya village is currently housed in Lisbon's National Museum of Ethnology (henceforth MNE).


Threat:


A. Decline in Artisanship:

Population of aging artists: Due to economic hardships and the rigorous nature of    Pattachitra art, many accomplished painters are approaching retirement age and there aren't enough younger generations to take their place. Traditional knowledge and methods may be lost as a result of this. Urban development and migration: The number of potential artisans is further reduced as young people are drawn from the areas where Pattachitra normally flourishes to the cities, where they are offered better prospects.


B. Loss of Cultural Significance:

The impact of Western culture and evolving societal norms in a globalized environment can cause conventional forms of art like Pattachitra to lose popularity, especially with younger audiences. This is known as Westernization and shifting ideals. Classical narratives are neglected: It could alienate viewers who appreciate the historical and spiritual importance of Pattachitra if the mythical and religious themes that have dominated the art form are departed from.


C.  Conservation and Preservation Issues:

Perishable materials: Pattachitra paintings' organic elements are vulnerable to deterioration from moisture, sunshine, and insects. As a result, proper storage and conservation measures are frequently neglected. Unintentional damage or neglect may result from collectors' and art enthusiasts' lack of knowledge about the correct handling and care methods for Pattachitra.


D. Inauthentic Adaptation:

Commercialization and dilution: While adjusting to new markets and audiences can be advantageous, sacrificing established methods and themes for only profit-driven ends can weaken the validity and character of the creative form.


Lack of community ownership: Extensive commercialization initiatives may deprive local communities of the information and expertise associated with Pattachitra, causing a gap between the art form and its cultural origins.


Conclusion

According to the Odisha government, every home in Raghurajpur is an artist's studio and every inhabitant is an artist. Despite the social constraints that have shaped their profession and practice over generations, their output plays a significant role in the state's household culture. This has also given them several chances to raise their socioeconomic standing thanks to the government of Odisha's support. The hamlet has become a living museum due to their custom of painting murals on their dwelling units and their work in an open workspace. Their festivities of several social events and religious rituals highlight their ancestry even more. Its long history of customs gave rise to ideas like sustainability. Although general living circumstances have improved as a result of government initiatives, some problems have also been noticed, such as the enlargement of the current one- or two-room house without consideration for lighting or ventilation, the unusual usage of the guest house, etc. Notwithstanding them, the advantages it offers in showcasing the village's significance as a representation of a living cultural legacy exceed the drawbacks.

 

BY: Abhipsha Dash

S Abhipsha Dash is a first-year law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune, and has a keen interest in research and writing, apart from that she has been brought up in the land of Lord Jagganath and has a deep connection with the Jagganath cult which she expresses through dance, literature, and many more ways. Currently, she aspires to write articles on a varied range of topics including legal and non-legal subjects.

 

References

Martand S, Rta Kapoor C & Rahul J, Hand Crafted Indian Textile, 16-17,19 

Saraf D.N., Indian Craft Development & Potential, 19 

Kamaladevi C, Handicrafts of India, 42-43

Notes collected from Raghurajpur clusters annual activity report, Shri Biswanath Swain, Secretary, Raghurajpur Village 

State Museum of Bhubaneswar, Pattachitra painting section, Collection of the paintings Fig. 24 to 43

Mohanty, P., “Rural Tourism In Odisha- A Panacea For Alternative Tourism: A Case Study Of Odisha With Special Reference To Pipli Village In Puri”, American International Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Vol. 14-557., pp 84-102., 2014. 

Mishra, M., “Artisan Villages of Odisha: A concept of Open Air Museum”, Odisha Review, Vol. 71-9., pp 80-83., 2015. 

Samantray, P. K., “Pattachitra- Its Past and Present”, Orissa Review, December issue., 2005. 

Tripathy, M., “Folk Art at the Crossroads of Tradition and Modernity: A study of Patta Painting in Orissa”, Journal of the Anthrpological Society of Oxford, Vol. 29/3, Oxford publications., 1998.




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