Tuesday, 12 February 2008


The art tradition of Orissa has a long continuity and is considered very rich and vivid. If we travel back in time, then we find that the most ancient paintings were drawn by the pre-historic artists in the rock shelters of Western Orissa. Since then, the Oriya Chitrakars have contributed liberally and developed a distinct identity through their creations. Broadly, the state’s schools of paintings can be classified as tribal, folk and classical. It is interesting to note that these schools gained immensely by receiving from each other. The earliest rock paintings of Orissa are found in Ulapgarh and Vikramkhol of the undivided Sambalpur district, Manikamad and Ushakothi in Sundergarh district and Gudahandi and Yogimatha of Kalahandi district.
With about 24 percent tribal population, the state has a large number of tribal societal groups having their own styles and traditions of art. Extensively, these creations used the walls of the houses and rock caves and therefore, many of them were lost with the passage and ravages of time. However, the art works of the Saura tribal have remained well preserved and available for appreciation in good numbers. The art traditions of the Sauras have a commonality with that of the Kondhs, Pradhan and Gond tribes of the state.
The folk arts of Orissa, such as Jhoti and Muruja, etc. reflect the life cycle and religious obligations of the rural people. Largely divorced from the nitty-gritty of modern art, these art works still exhibit its splendor and simplicity on different socio-religious occasions.
Through inter-exchange of motifs, the classical Orissan arts and sculptures developed mutual, leaving an indelible impression of affinity. When the carrier is taken as the defining factor, the classical arts have taken four well demarcated routes. These are the murals or wall paintings, Patta paintings or art on a specially made piece of cloth canvas, palm leaf paintings and finally, paintings on paper; where, the murals are the earliest form of classical art tradition of the state.
The age-old tradition of painting on apiece of treated cloth is known as Patta painting. Although, it is believed that it has its origin in the ritualistic requirements of the temple of Lord Jagannath of Puri, no certain proofs are available to us about its actuality. But it can be safely concluded that as a result of mandatory use of such paintings by the Temple, the art form thrived in the coastal district of Puri, ensconced on the Bay of Bengal along with peripheral demands of Hindu religious tradition, elsewhere. However, it is also a fact that the Buddhist monks also, prepared the Patta paintings depicting Lord Buddha, in order to spread his wisdom among the masses in India and other parts of the world. These scrolls were long but easy to carry and thematically different from the traditional Patta paintings of Orissa. The Orissan varieties of the following types: the Vaishnava Pattas incorporates the Bhagabata Pattas, Ramayana Pattas and the Jagannath Jatri Pattas; while the other groups are called Shaiva Pattas, Shakta Pattas and lastly, the profane or familial Pattas. This classification is derived, taking into account, the nature of depiction or theme.
Patta paintings come in various sizes and formats. The traditional artists have drawn Krishna, Radha, Rama, Laxman, Sita, Ravana, Hanuman, Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra, the Sri Mandir, various temple festivals, rituals, Shiva and Parvati, Durga, Mangala, Laxmi, Sarashwati, Bhubaneswari, Bhairabi, Chamunda, and Kali, etc., drawing inspiration from the Hindu religion and scriptures. Some prominent myths and legends also find mention on the Pattas.
There is no doubt that the Patta paintings have generally revolved around Hindu religious themes and the Lilas of select Gods and Goddesses. To a lesser extent and magnitude- the secular, mundane or profane themes have also become the favorites themes with the Patta Chitrakars. Ganjapa is an example of the secular variety due to its use as an instrument of pure game, sans any religious significance. These small circular playing cards, available in different sets and colours do have ordinary decorative motifs, having symbols and figurative representations like Dasavatar, Ramayan, etc. these paintings are also drawn on folded jackets, wooden and pulp masks, wooden and cow dung toys, bridal boxes, on the chariots used during the Ratha Yatra, etc.
On the various auspecious occasions at the Lord Jagannath Temple like Snana Jatra, Jhulana Jatra, Sri Krishna Janma Lila, Baman Janma, Sahasra Kumbhavishekha, Kandarpa Adhibasa, Chandan Jatra, Rukmini Bibha, etc. the religious/mythological Patta paintings are deployed copiously to add to the jest.
As per available information, the Chitrakars specializing in Patta painting were originally settled in Puri. They were exclusively devoted to the art and apart from the Jagannath Temple, were also engaged by the different local temples and Mutts. From the year 1541 to 1568, the artists migrated to various independent/princely states/kingdoms of the erstwhile Gadjats due to political instability and additionally along with the establishment of local Jagannath Temples in those places. Such dispersion of the Chitrakars took them also to Danda Sahi and the now famous heritage village of Raghurajpur, near Puri. By the year 1800, most of the migrant Patta Chitrakar families were firmly established enjoying the patronage of the local Kings and Zamindars in the sate. Many of them were given Jagir lands to serve the socio-religious needs of the local political establishments. Due to favorable conditions, these Patta Chitrakars thrived and in some cases full-fledged artist villages or settlements also came up in full bloom.
A piece of cotton cloth is first immersed in glue, made from the juice of tamarind seeds, after which it is sun-dried to achieve the most desired ideal firmness. The next step is known as Khadilagi, since a paste prepared from a concoction of dust of chalk stones and tamarind seeds is applied, in turn, on both sides of the Patta. Only when one side is completely dry, the paste is then applied on the reverse side. Thereafter, it is left to dry completely. As per requirement, the Patta is cut into convenient sizes for art work. Usually, the women folk polish the cloth, first by a coarse rock and then by a fine rock. This makes it a perfect canvas of surface evenness, ready for the masterly artistic strokes. This piece of cloth is again cut at the edges, to fine tune it to achieve perfect linearity. The Patta, at this stage takes a dull colour of white and maintains a workable firmness. Predominantly, but no exclusively; white, black and yellow colours are necessary for the painting work, respectively representing Lord Balabhadra, Lord Jagannath and Mother Subhadra. These hues are in vogue since the 12th century.
The white colour is prepared from the conch or other white Samuka, abundantly available from the sea. The raw materials are baked in fire a fine dust is made by grinding manually. From the dust of yellow stones, yellow colour is obtained. Likewise, black colour is prepared by burning an earthen lamp inside a vessel, half filled with water, on the surface of which sits the burning lamp. The released black fumes are trapped by putting a brassware above it, where the derivatives are deposited. Other non-standard colours used intermittently are also made from natural ingredients available locally.
In the primary stage, a stick rolled into a colour stroking instrument is made from the fume derivatives used to make black colour and the glue obtained from cooked rice. Other types of paint brushes are made from the hairs of calf (cow) or other draught animals. Some artists also make it using the belly hairs of the goat and the flying squirrel. From the roots of a bushy tree locally known as Kia, the painting brushes are also made.
While, lines are drawn by the artist along the edges of the Patta canvas to determine the actual area required for the theme painting, the thin spaces outside the core are kept for Bandha or for make-up work. After making line drawing of the various components of the desired themes, the remaining vacant spaces are filled up by applying light red colour, after which, the different colours are applied, following the spaces created by line drawing. Once the painting work is over, the Patta is treated or calibrated to make it durable.