“Art speaks the soul of its culture.” – Abby Willowroot
The folk art forms of India demonstrate the diversity and uniqueness of the different cultures in India. Bringing together the traditional crafts from different parts of the country, an exhibition called ‘Spirit of India’ at the CSMVS Museum in Mumbai showcased the works by nine of the finest award–wining artists, whose traditional art-works have been displayed in several galleries in India and across the world.
At the exhibition, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the master craftsmen and know more about these wonderful art forms. In this post, I will elaborate upon Pattachitra, one of the oldest and most popular art forms of Odisha.
Pattachitra is the traditional art of Odisha
Pattachitra, is the art of painting on primed cloth (or patta in Sanskrit). This tradition of painting originated around the 5th century in the temples of Konark and Puri. Naturally, the themes of these paintings are inspired by religion and depict the temple of Jagganath, deities of Lord Jagannath and Radha-Krishna, the ten incarnations of Vishnu and stories from the legends of Ramayana, Mahabharata and other folklore.
Ragurajpur: The Hub of Pattachitra
Fourteen km away from Puri, is the village of Raghurajpur, a heritage village which is particularly famous for its Pattachitra art. Residents of this village are Pattachitra artists ( Chitrakar), who are known to produce remarkable paintings and handicrafts, which they display in front of their houses. The village is a major rural tourist destination of the state, known for its heritage tourism. A few other neighbouring villages like Dandasahi and Pipli also produce beautiful handicrafts that find use in home decor or for gifting.
Demonstration of Pattachitra Art
Mr Pranab Narayan Das, the master craftsman at the exhibition is a traditional Pattachitra artist from Dandasahi in Odisha. He started learning Pattachitra art at the age of ten and has won many accolades for his work. Das’s paintings have been exhibited at The American National History Museum in New York.
Sitting at one end of the hall, Das was demonstrating his art. We could see some of his finest works displayed on the wall. A few people sat on the chairs in front of him to watch the demonstration. Taking out a fine brush from a wooden box, Das started painting the outline of a figure on a canvas cloth.
In between the strokes, he paused to tell us about this distinct art form.
Natural colours are used for Pattachitra paintings
The colours used in the real paintings are sourced from natural ingredients. The red colour is made from a mineral called hingula, black from castor oil lamp, orange from soil called geru mitti. Blue is from Indigo, white from conch shells, and a stone named harikala is used for yellow. These ingredients are mixed with the gum of Kaitha tree, which is used as a base for making different pigments.
The canvas used for the painting is made by sticking together layers of old dhoti cloth with tamarind paste, lime and water. The art has evolved over time and these paintings are now done on fine Tussar silk, on wooden boxes, and also on the walls as murals. Each painting could take days or even months to complete depending on the degree of intricacy and the size of the work.
Distinctive Features of Pattachitra
As we looked at the painting in making, the sharp features, fine details and vivid depicting stark emotional expressions started becoming apparent. It revealed the amount of concentration and craftsmanship required to come up with such paintings and the artist’s perfect mastery over fine line drawings.
The distinctive feature of Pattachitra paintings are the floral borders and rich colourful motifs. The colours are restricted to a single tone and shading of colours is a taboo. The Chitrakars maintain strictness in their use of colours and patterns. The art is more about bringing out stark emotions in their paintings through the neat patterns and designs than about realism. This renders a distinct look and feel to the Pattachitra paintings. Though originally the art was practised by men now Pattachitra art is done by women and young girls too.
Pattachitra paintings for home decor and as corporate gifts
Pattachitra art finds use in home decor as wall hangings. These are sometimes used and recommended by the interior designers for a classic ethnic style of decoration, The art is nowadays also done on vases, wooden boxes and glass bottles. These paintings and handcrafted art objects also make for excellent corporate gifts.
Pranab Das’s entire family practices Pattachitra. Here are a few more pictures of his exquisite creations. The elephant with the Pattachitra painting in the picture below was commissioned at the British High Commission.
Elephant Image courtesy: Mr Pranab Das.
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