Pattachitra from Odisha

Odisha’s Pattachitra painting: A living, breathing Art

Traditional visual art from eastern India- the Pattachitra tradition is an integral part of intangible heritage and is an important essence of folk and traditional media. Pattachitra is, therefore, a painting done on canvas, and is manifested by rich, colorful application, creative motifs, and designs, and portrayal of simple themes, mostly mythological in depiction. The traditions of pattachitra paintings are more than a thousand years old. Most of these paintings depict stories of Hindu deities. Thus, Pattachitra forms an important and integral part of traditional and folk media from India especially represented through the Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, and Jharkhand.

Materials used in Pattachitra paintings

 The colors used within the scroll paintings were always and are still mostly made from various elements from nature- e.g.Originally, apart from paper and cloth, sometimes palm-leaf manuscripts were made to paint the scrolls; however, in recent years, this has been substituted completely by the use of paper, dexterously stuck on the cloth to give it more stability and then used as a canvas for drawing.

.Since the materials and tools for the paintings are obtained from natural sources like brushes from mongoose or mouse hair, Pattachitra is a tedious process. The vivacity of the paintings can be ascribed to the enchanting natural colors used. The colors that make the art form more livid and appreciable are made by the chitrakaras (painters) using ancient color drawing techniques.

Yellow is made from turmeric or soil; Green is made from the leaves of hyacinth bean plant or the leaves of wood apple, Purple is from black plum or blackberry, Conch-shell powder or white mud gives the white color, Brown color is obtained from limestone mixed with black catechu, Red is made from vermillion, alata (a reddish or scarlet ink or dye solution used for coloring feet), or terracotta soil, Grey is obtained from the soot from earthen ovens, Blue is obtained from blue seeds- locally known as nil bori, Black is obtained from scrapping the soot off from the outside bottoms of clay pots or even burning rice and pounding it to a powder to which is added home-made glue for required consistency or by burning the roots of the velvet apple trees.

However, in recent times, just as the canvas has taken the shape of papers bought easily from the market many times, the natural colors are also substituted with easily bought acrylic and fabric paints from the market.

This is particularly prominent amidst the Pattachitra scrolls, which are taken out of the villages for displaying in various art exhibitions across the globe. Gum from wood, Apple is extracted in a coconut shell and mixed with natural colors and kept in the bright sunlight to darken. Firstly, the outlines of the painting are drawn on paper with paint and brush.

The painting process

We must understand the entire painting process is laced with divinity, and hence the practitioners follow some traditional rituals during its making. The final canvas created is off-white in color, and the master painter (usually male), also known as chitrakar, begins to paint. He has to be completely vegetarian during the time of painting; he has to sleep on the ground without a mattress and wear a new dhoti while working on the paintings. Small snapshots of these different forms, in different shapes, form the border of the painting, while the center depicts a larger representation of the characters. The pattachitra art form of Bengal is known for its bold colors, lines, and strokes.

The new resurrection of the art form

Recently, animation media picked up stories from oral traditions to make popular television shows, and folk music was explored extensively to blend with popular music for mainstream films from various regions in India- thus, Pattachitra tradition too found a new voice. In Odisha, there has been a spurt of comics book and animation series using this iconic imagery. Groups like srijamahyam have done yeomen work regarding this.

Thus, as Pattachitra from Bengal got to be displayed within New Media- especially through the personal websites of various folk artists as well as patua villages- a transformation evolved within the paradigms of local modes of entertainment- it found a voice within the global platform.

Pattachitra is one of the most alluring art forms of Odisha that has grabbed the eyeballs in several international platforms. The theme of the Pattachitra paintings are mostly based on Hindu Mythology and inspired by Jagannath Sanskruti. During the Hindu festival, Rath Yatra, when the Lord Jagannath and his siblings go on hibernation and the Pattachitra paintings of the deities are worshipped in Sri Mandir. Not just limited to clothes or canvases, but the paintings are engraved on the walls of the localities depicting the Indian mythology (The Ramayanas, Puranas, etc.) and the shrine of Lord Jagannath.

It is interesting to note how, despite a thousand years old legacy, this art keeps going strong and hums with a living, breathing energy.

Posted by Pattachitra

Leave a Reply