ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

33. Pattachitra, painting Oriya style

Indian handicraft skills are amazing. Indians have an exquisite sense of decoration and magic talent, I would spend hours watching gifted hands create beauty out of any kind of materials. 

In the countryside of Odisha, not far from the famous temple city of Puri, there is Raghurajpur –an Heritage Craft Village- where you can find hundreds of such artists working, and of course selling, in tiny decorated houses. In Raghurajpur most of the artists are chitrakar, painters.



The studio-showroom-houses are painted in different style, they display tribal motifs or traditional colorful decorations. There is only a main road, but if you have enough time you will discover many more and more quite homes along small lanes.
If you are looking for purchasing you will love Raghurajpur. Don’t let the insistent calls to enter and “just look, don’t buy” invitations disturb you. Handicraft doesn’t pay well in India and people have to survive. The peaceful rural environment and the interesting explanation and demo of the tradition are worthy a visit even if you are not a shopping lover (but you have to be very determined not to fall in love with anything).


The small room of Damodar Fatesingh, the first house I entered, is bulging with frames, pictures and decorations. Against the wall there are two big suitcases. 


Out of the suitcases Damodar disclosed a world of painted stories. One after the other he unrolled the pattachitras and told the story of his ancestors, the secrets of the pattachitra tradition and how his family has carried on this art for centuries.


The preparation of the canvas gives the name to the painting style, pattachitra. Patta means cloth and chitra design. The canvas is made by sticking together with two layers of cloth –usually old saris. Then the canvas is covered with a white stone powder, very similar to plaster, mixed with glue made of tamarind. After drying for few days in sunlight,  the canvas is finely polished with stones. The surface has to be smooth and consistent


The tradition is as old as the Jagannath Puri Temple (XII d.C.). All around the year hundreds of rituals take place in the temple. For a rite the wooden idols of the Gods were bathed in see water, but they caught a cold, so they had to undergo a fortnight “auruvedic” treatment. The inner rooms of the temple were empty and pilgrims were left with no God support. Painters were asked to recreate the idols on canvas and temporarily replace the wood idols so that people could reach Gods. The pattachitra tradition was born. Since then every year the wooded Gods take bath and get sick, and new pattachitras are created.


Soon every pilgrim desired to bring home one pattachitra to worship it in his domestic shrine. So the number of artists increased and so did the subjects of the paintings: no more only Jagannath  but also Rama and Krishna.


The chitrakars, the painters, used to do different kind of work to earn a living. They were painting pattachitra, as well as the façade of the house of newly married couples and they were also famous for their tala pattachitra, drawings on palm leaves.


Tala pattachitras look like palm leaf manuscripts, with no words. They were meant for educate illiterate people about religious myths and ethic.
The palm leaves are carefully dried and then bound one below the other with a thread. The artist draws with metal stylus (see video), then he waters the leaf with black ink made of khol or kajal –the paste that women use to paint their eyes. The ink fills the mark  and the design magically appears!


The Art is passed on from master to student , often from father to son -but not always. There is no formal education. Pilgrims coming to Puri today want to buy printed poster, cheaper than pattachitras. Pattachitra tradition has become more secular, to please new customers coming from all over the world: still few artists are employed by the temple authorities, but for many of them tourism is the main income source.


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