An Odisha village where people live for and with art

The Asian Age.  | Akshaya Kumar Sahoo

Life, Art

Despite poor monetary returns, the artists keep going on due to their emotional bonding with the heritage.

Sumitra Maharana and her sister Suchitra showing art sketches on bottles as their mother displays a palmleaf painting.

Puri (Odisha): Raghurajpur in Odisha’s Puri district provides a glimpse into another world where art is the organising principle of the village. The traditional professions of painting and carving structure the daily life of the local residents.

Unlike other Indian villages where youth vie for government and private jobs, children here prefer to join their parents in art work — despite poor monetary returns.

Sumitra Moharana, daughter of Harihara Maharana, did not pursue higher studies as she wanted to make Pattachitra paintings — that involve using colours on a cloth to create mythological images. Her younger sister Suchitra Moharana also followed in her footsteps and both of them are now actively engaged in upholding the village’s centuries old tradition..

Ashok Behera, the 29-year-old son of Shankar Behera, also discontinued his studies to concentrate on Pattachitra paintings. He learnt the techniques of the art from Guru Kalucharan Barik of the  village.

“The youth of our village prefer not to go outside. Instead, they all want to continue practicing the different forms of art,” says Mr Barik.

“I learnt painting from Jagannath Mohapatra who highlighted our village at national and global platforms,” says Mr Barik.

He recalls how Mr Mohapatra invited aspiring learners to his home to teach them different art forms.

“Very often, he found it hard to feed all his trainees. But no one complained,” says Mr Barik.

Laxmidhar Subudhi, who won the national award this year for his palm-leaf work Krishna Leela, is proud of his four children - son Prashant and daughters Subhalaxmi, Nayana and Khulana – who have excelled in palm-leaf paintings.

The village has 145 families. Nearly 500 members of these families are engaged in Pattachitra paintings, stone and wood carvings, coconut and betel nut carvings, paper masks, Ganjifa (playing cards made of cloth), palm-leaf engravings and cow-dung toy making.

Despite poor monetary  returns, the artists  keep going on due to their emotional bonding with the heritage.

According to state tourism minister Ashok Panda, the state government had made some recent interventions in the village for improving the  economic standard of the artists and efforts were made to link them to wider markets in India and abroad.

What is Pattachitra?
Pattachitra paintings are based on Hindu mythology and specially inspired by Vaishnavism, worship of Lord Vishnu and his avatars, including Lord Jagannath. “Patta” literally means “cloth” and “Chitra” means “picture”. Since paintings do not survive as long as sculptures, the earliest records of this art form date back to 12th century in the temple city of Puri, home to the ancient and highly revered Jagannath temple.

The process begins with preparation of the canvas with a piece of cloth. A special gum is prepared by boiling tamarind seeds. This gummy paste is spread over the cloth. Another piece of cloth of the same size and dimensions is placed over it before the gum dries up. The tamarind gum is applied on this cloth. Once the gum dries up, a mix of the tamarind gum and powdered white stone, made of conch shells,  is applied on both sides of the cloth. It’s left to dry till it becomes hard. Then, it’s polished with a small pebble to give it a smooth leathery finish.

When the canvas is ready for painting, the outlines are sketched with light colours. A decorative border is also drawn on all sides. give it a frame like look. Intricate pictures of various gods, goddesses, and mythological scenes with ornamentation of flowers, trees and animals are then painted.

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