Raghurajpur and its Pattachithra painters: Orissa Odyssey 1

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.

Pat 9

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.

Pat 2

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.

Pat 8Pat 6

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.

Pat 10

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.

Pat 5

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.

Lord Jagannath on betel nut

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26 comments

  1. chattywren · December 16, 2013

    Beautiful narrative to such an indigenous art form, totally loved reading about this! loved the colour and attention to detail!

  2. Destination Infinity · December 16, 2013

    Drawing and painting for a few months on a single piece? I wonder how impatient we, the instant-gratification-demanding-generation, are! I am glad that I don’t work there or anything – they would have fired me in a couple of days, max 😛

    Destination Infinity

    • kismitoffeebar · December 17, 2013

      🙂 Well, that’s what makes it all the more intriguing. And they never seem to get bored. It isn’t only coz’ of the fact that it earns them their livelihood but also coz’ they enjoy doing it as evident in their brilliant work.

  3. techie2mom · December 17, 2013

    OMG!! loved those vibrant colours…You have written a lovely account of your travel 🙂

  4. dreamzandclouds · December 17, 2013

    Loved reading this post…very informative 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · December 17, 2013

      Hello and a warm welcome dreamzandclouds 🙂

      Thank you 🙂

  5. Visha · December 17, 2013

    How do you come across such awesome spots..sigh…and all I discover during my travels are where do they make the best masala dosa or aloo paratha…double sigh….

    So happy to keep looking at these pictures which you have posted, these only I can gaze on for hours.. 🙂 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · December 17, 2013

      Visha! 🙂

      Firstly, knowing the place that makes the best masala dosa is enviable, you know? I don’t find that happening with me most of the time.

      This was an awesome visit Visha. I strongly recommend visiting Puri and some places in Orissa and this is nearby there and I urge you to go there.

      I wanted to see how Peepli work is done but couldn’t coz’ we were late. I enjoy such places tremendously and love how they stay with you long after the travel 🙂

  6. The Girl Next Door · December 17, 2013

    Orissa has always been on my wishlist, and you make the desire to visit the place all the more strong! 🙂 Beautiful account, Kismi. I would love to see Pattachitra artists in action some time. I have seen glimpses of the artists working away busily at Dastkaar and other exhibitions in Bangalore, but have not observed it so closely. I am happy to tell you I own a Jagannatha (the ball-like thing made out of papier mache) and a papier mache Ganesha head from Orissa – I think it is Pattachitra art, but not sure.

    • kismitoffeebar · December 18, 2013

      I hope you get to go here soon TGND! The experiences are rich culturally and even ambience-wise.
      Ah, your possessions sound fantastic! 🙂 Some pictures maybe ? Or wait, have I seen one of them on your blog anytime?

      • The Girl Next Door · December 18, 2013

        No, haven’t put up a picture on the blog any time. Will try to shoot some good pictures of them and put them up. 🙂

  7. ashreyamom · December 18, 2013

    got struck with the beautiful bottles.. just loved them..

  8. Yash the PolymathGeek · December 18, 2013

    Epic Post! Especially loved the art work on those bottles. And of course the narrative is so nice.. Can you please post some pics of the betel nuts as well?

    • kismitoffeebar · December 19, 2013

      Hey Yash! Thanks a lot 🙂 I just added a picture of them now. Do share what you think of them. Awesomeness, no? 🙂

      • Yash the PolymathGeek · December 24, 2013

        Awesome pic! I am just thinking of the strain involved in painting something so intricate on such a small object. Hats Off! I gotta check this out now. So now we have Ladakh, Rajasthan, Pondicherry, Odisha and so on and on.. Oh well.. Betel Late than never! 🙂

  9. Swaram · December 21, 2013

    Pattachitra is one of my most fav art forms 🙂 I keep interacting with Pattachitra artisans at Shilparamam (A craft village) here and can never have enough of it 😛 I love seeing them at work. Wishing such craft villages in Orissa has been on my list for so long 🙂 Thanks for the tour 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · December 21, 2013

      I was actually hoping you’d read this because I sort of knew you would have come in contact with this art form surely! 🙂

      Pls pls do visit Orissa. You know, next year I will be there and hopefully we can meet in Orissa 🙂

      • Swaram · December 22, 2013

        Awww 🙂 i have pattachitra in many forms at home. Luv them so much :). Orissa trip madidivi, but it was too packed to cover these 😦 hopefully soon! And madam, why meet in Orissa? You should come and see andhra pradesh also :p

      • kismitoffeebar · December 22, 2013

        he he yes yes.. maybe next time we are in Orissa, we may come to Hyderabad. We wanted to do it last time but was packed with Orissa sight-seeing and a wedding. This time, we may mostly come and I will let you know earlier if we do 🙂

      • Swaram · December 23, 2013

        🙂

  10. girlinjammies · January 1, 2014

    Wow, I have visited Orissa, but I never got a chance to see this art form in making. Good to read about it here kismi 🙂

    • kismitoffeebar · January 2, 2014

      Thank you girlinjammies! 🙂 Hope you get to see it sometime. It is breathtaking!

  11. paatiamma · January 3, 2014

    You got a knack to take the spirit of a place and script words on the same!! Simply lovely..What attention to details in the painting??Simply awesome 🙂 I love reading your travel posts 🙂

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