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Patachitra Paintings – A Spotlight

Patachitra paintings, the traditional paintings of the state of Odisha (Orissa) are paintings done on fabric such as Tusser silk, cotton, jute and on palm leaves.  The name Patachitra stems from the Sanskrit “Pata” which means cloth and “Chitra” which means painting. This form of painting is said to have originated in the Lord Jagannath temple at Puri.

Most Patachitra paintings depict mythological events and various incarnations of Gods and Goddesses. Lord Krishna with Radha and Dasavatar (Ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) are more frequently painted by the artists. In olden days, the walls of the houses were painted using natural colors/dyes during festivals. Over the years, artists have brought in various improvisations and changes to the technique of this painting. Different themes which are non-religious are also painted by the artists, however maintaining the aesthetic appeal of the Patachitra paintings.

Few modern day Patachitra painting works:

Just like Madhubani paintings, the Patachitra painters originally used natural colors such as red, indigo, green, ochre, black and white dyes extracted from natural sources.

If fabric such as tusser silk or coarse cotton is used as the base, ground tamarind seed powder, chalk powder or rice powder paste, (depending on the material used for the canvas) are coated on the fabric and allowed to dry. The process of making these pastes are arduous and the preparatory work by itself takes a few days to be completed. The multiple coats of paste applied on the cloth makes the cloth stiffer, more durable and convenient to paint on.

The brushes used to apply the paint were commonly made from plant fiber or animal (mostly mouse) hair.

Paintings are then made using bright colors and allowed to dry. These days, acrylic colors are used to paint on the fabric and clear lacquer glaze coats are applied on the paintings as a protective coat. This also prevents the colors from fading in course of time.

The paintings are made with bright colors and ornate images which are these days used for adorning the walls as rich pieces of home decor. Patachitra paintings on bookmarks, pots and in various other forms are also available.

Many intricate Patachitra painting works are done on palm leaves by the Patachitra artists. Intricate carvings are made on the palm leaves in a neat and uniform manner.

Since palm leaves are delicate, the carvings are done very meticulously. Any small break in the leaf means the artists have to discard the work and re-do the carvings from scratch. Once the carvings are complete, black dye is used to draw the designs.

As it can be seen in this palm leaf work, minute level of detailing is done on the palm leaves.

Coin sized carvings are made which can be opened up and these have different depictions – one side has mythological theme and the other side has tribal images similar to those of Warli or cave paintings.

I had recently been to an exhibit of Patachitra paintings and was deeply fascinated by the work of these Patachitra artists. This story is an attempt at sharing the limited knowledge I gathered from my discussions with the artists at the exhibit. I’ve also tried to capture some of the beautiful artworks through my lens.

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