A Glimpse into the Pattachitra Paintings of Orissa

Pattachitra paintings are an ancient heritage art form of Orissa. The word 'Pattachitra' is a Sanskrit term including two words 'Patta' (cloth) and 'Chitra' (painting). Thus, Pattachitra is a painting on cloth. These fabric paintings stand out due to their religious significance and unique process. This art form is closely related to Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Krishna.

Lord-Jagannath-Pattachitra-Painting
Lord Jagannath Pattachitra Painting

HISTORY

Jagannath Temple is located in Puri, a city in eastern Orissa. On a full moon day, in May or June, the deities of the temple – Lord Jagannath, his sister Subhadra and brother Bhalabhadra are taken for a ceremonial bath to bring relief from the summer heat. It is believed that the deities fall ill after this bath for 15 days. This phase is called ‘Anasar’, and the devotees are not permitted to worship the idols during this time. This tradition resulted in the creation of paintings of Lord Jagannath, Subhadra, and Bhalabhadra so that they could be worshipped by people even when the idols were kept away. Hence, the paintings are also known as ‘Anasar Patti’.


Historically, these cloth paintings were created by artists of Raghurajpur, a town situated a few kilometres away from Puri. It is the only village in India where every family is engaged in creating crafts. The artists belonging to this heritage town are known as ‘Chitrakaras’. This art is also practised in Sonepur, Chikiti, Paralakhemundi, and Dana Sahi.

pattachitra-painting

PROCESS

Pattachitra paintings are made in an entirely sustainable manner. Cotton cloth, usually from old saris, is used to create the ‘patta’ or canvas. These cloths are placed one on top of the other to achieve the desired thickness and are stuck together with a gummy paste made of soaked tamarind seeds. After this, the patta is kept outside to dry in the sun.


In this technique, a locally found white claystone is also used. First, it is powdered, then mixed with tamarind paste, and with the help of a brush, it is applied over the patta before letting it dry. It smoothes out the canvas and prepares it for painting. Later, the surface of the patta is rubbed with a piece of wood, rounded stone, or seashell. It is then formed into a long roll from which the chitras are cut.

The use of organic and natural paints distinguishes Pattachitra paintings from most other art styles. These paintings are typically painted in white, black, yellow, and red. When an earthen plate is held over the smoke of a burning wick, it forms the black colour. While  The red colour is created by powdering a regional stone known as 'Hingula,' the green colour is produced from green stones and leaves. Seashells, on the other hand, are used to obtain the white colour.  Other stones, such as 'Khandaneela' and 'Harital,' are used to obtain blue and yellow colours, respectively. Various other colours are created by blending the primary colours.


The gum that is mixed with the powders is also natural and is created using wood apple or stone apple, Kaitha gum and bilwa fruit. This gum serves as a basis for making different pigments with the help of raw materials. Fine paintbrushes are made using mouse hair, and coarse brushes are made from keya root or buffalo hair.

ganesha-pattachitra

TECHNIQUE

A traditional form of Pattachitra paintings known as ‘Talapatra Chitra’ is made by palm-leaf engraving. The palm leaves are dried out in the sun for two to three months before soaking them in water and prepared in a solution of turmeric. This process helps in preserving the leaves for a longer time. Sections of the palm leaves are then tied together in the required sizes and made into a scroll.


A sharp, pointy iron needle is used as a tool to engrave the drawings into the palm leaves. Then, the leaves are rubbed with black colour, which fills in the grooves and forms an outline on the other side. After the painting is completed, the canvas is held over a charcoal fire and lacquer (an organic coating) is applied to the surface. This gives the painting a shiny finish, and at the same time makes it durable and water-resistant.


THEME

The themes of Pattachitra paintings are mainly inspired by Hindu mythological gods and goddesses. It was originally focused on the local deity Jagannath, his brother and sister. Particular colours are used to portray different gods. Lord Jagannath is portrayed in black, Bhalabhadra in white and Subhadra is represented in yellow. Blue or black colour is usually used to represent Lord Krishna and green is used for Lord Rama.


The paintings depicting Lord Jagannath are known as ‘Srikhetra Pati’, and the ones showing the temple of Jagannath are called ‘The Badhia’. Talapatra Chitras consist of mythological scenes and narratives. Since Jagannath is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Pattachitra paintings showcase many forms of Vishnu as well.


Other themes include Krishna Leela, stories of Radha and Krishna, Dashavatara (the ten incarnations of Vishnu) and sections of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita. Goddess Durga and Lord Ganesha are also included in these paintings. The legends and folklores of Orissa are another popular theme in Pattachitra paintings. Some paintings are based on nature and depict beautiful sceneries of trees, animals and birds. Even today these paintings are portrayed with the same beauty, as they were centuries ago.

pattachitra-samudra-manthan
Pattachita Painting Showcasing Samudra Manthan

RULES

While creating Pattachitra, certain rules need to be followed. for instance, it is necessary to have a floral border around the paintings. Traditionally, the border is painted first. Next, rough sketches are drawn directly with the brush. The figures are mainly in profile, with a side view of the faces. And the shape of the eyes is elongated. Everything that is used to make this painting is manually prepared by craftsmen.


Historically, only male artists would create Pattachitra paintings, although now, female artists are also acknowledged for their work. It is believed that a Pattachitra artist teaches his unique style only to his son, however, some secrets may not be revealed even to him.

CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE

Pattachitra is a very ancient form of art; believed to have originated around the 12th century B.C. It is practised in Orissa even today and is one of the most prevalent living art forms. The paintings have been drawn on the walls of the famous Sun temple of Konark and the Udayagiri cave.


Today, Pattachitra is not restricted to only paintings on canvas. The same style is used to create various home décor items such as wooden boxes, bowls, door and wall hangings, as well as bookmarks, bags, umbrellas and decorative coconut shells. English alphabets are cut in wood and painted in Pattachitra style for sale. The artists also paint playing cards made from palm leaves.

pattachitra-products

The uniqueness and ritual significance of these paintings have made it a well-known art throughout India and internationally too. Pattachitra is the indigenous art form of not only Orissa, but of West Bengal as well. Both regions have received Geographical Indication (GI) tags for these paintings. The village of Raghurajpur is declared as a ‘heritage village’ by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.

ria-pratha

AUTHOR

Riya Kanchan

Pratha Content Writing Intern


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