My experiences from my trip to Orissa last year have been long overdue. Without much ado, here is the first in the series.
Who knew that a road trip to Puri would take us to this beautiful little artists’ village/ crafts village as it is popularly called? The fact that it was after Peepli (that is going to be one other story) and not really on the way made it even less probable. But you know what R.L.Stevenson said about travelling not to go anywhere, but to go; to travel for travel’s sake and the great affair being, to move. That’s really what happened to us.
Raghurajpur is a cozy village that is quite camouflaged by tall lines of coconut and palms. With about 120 huts that house a really modest population, you cannot help feeling cozy and homely here. Not even, if this comes out from nowhere as you drive along. Well, we actually did a very small detour to get here when our driver, S, mentioned this place for its artists and especially Pattachithra work.
Known for their implausible pictographic notion, distinctive caucus and vivacious insignia, Pattachithras form an exceptional work of art in the rich legacy of Indian art, one that Orissa boasts of.
When we were greeted warmly by one of the artists to take a look at his collection (and buy some), little did we realize that we would end up spending hours at this place understanding the process of how the final art piece comes about and why it makes it all the more marvellous and super-human even.
Dexterity of the hand is something that amazes me. But what swept me off my feet is the fertility of the mind and the way little details work out in the little brain, sparking off neuronal connections to bring out a motoric feat if you will, that seems unparalleled and impossible to you.
What little world of our own do we live in? Can you imagine the symmetry and the curves and the perfect spacing above all done meticulously over a stretch of time sometimes spanning months? To think that someone can persevere to that extent, moving along the brushes so finely, until the brain tells you to stop? I saluted a million times over when I heard that the elderly artists and their forefathers would do it all without any measuring tools or even an eraser.
So what is Pattachithra art? This form of art refers to paintings done on canvas that is usually prepared by coating with lacquer or similar materials. We saw strips of cotton cloth on which the painting is done. The cloth undergoes a preparation process with gum of the tamarind seeds that is then rubbed and dried. This makes the cloth’s surface leathery and the chithrakara/ painter paints on it using natural colours obtained from vegetables, stones etc., the emphasis being on natural colours and dyes. The chithrakaras do not use any pencil and the drawing is usually done directly from the brush as an outline, in original paintings. After colours are filled-in, the painting is coated in lacquer by holding it over a furnace/ fireplace and exposing it to heat. The product looks glossy and beautiful. Sometimes, these paintings are also done on palm leaves and this form of art is called “tala pattachithra“.
As I clicked away, the artists requested me to not post the pictures of the step-by-step process of their art. I will respect their wishes and just show you a couple of shots from the demonstration. They basically had art in various stages and some of the artists were actively painting when we were there as well. So we had a chance to look at how the final art that adorns your wall actually goes through various stages starting from priming, initial sketching with minimal erasing, ink-ing and finally painting and drying.
The intricate and creatively designed motiffs and vibrant colours used are something to watch out for in this form of art. Most of the paintings centred around Ramayana, Mahabharat and depiction of Konark and Lord Jagannath of Puri. Some paintings are a sequence of events from one of the epics and usually share a story. The details such as the nose-stud on Radha and the feather on Lord Krishna‘s head are done so beautifully that you cannot believe that it was done in one go with absolutely no editting.
The chithrakaras and their family ususally live together and their home serves as their studio as well. The women are involved in preparing the canvas and applying lacquer while the head artist (usually a male) does the sketching and finishing. When I asked them how they can paint such minute details with nothing to refer to, they told me that their mind works up images and they just follow the details from there. Isn’t it amazing?
Apart from paintings, we also saw this form of art on a wide variety of other objects such as waste bottles, betel nuts etc.
For the amount of effort that goes in, I honestly thought that each piece is priceless. We bought a tala pattachithra of the eight forms of Lord Ganesh, some paintings of Lord Jagannath on betel nuts and some framed paintings as well.
I think this is one visit that I would never forget in my lifetime. Everytime I look up at the tala pattachithra in our living room, I feel so miniscule amidst such an elaborate and creative process. I strongly urge you to create an opportunity to see this process for yourselves and meet the beautiful minds and hands behind it.
ETA: The picture of the betel nut with Lord Jagannath on it. Yash, this one is for you. Forgive the image quality – just clicked it now using my phone.