On a cloudy morning, I leave the clamour and clutter of Puri behind to visit a heritage village. Rustic Odisha greets me with vivid colours as I reach Raghurajpur. There is absolute silence. A lone lady stands in front of the temple, which stands right in the middle of the street. On either side of the street are rowhouses that look almost identical.
The murals painted on the outer walls of every home in Raghurajpur fascinate me. Tribal and folk motifs come alive in bold strokes. Deities and demons jostle for space. The reigning theme is the portrait of the three faces that fill up every space on the walls: the triad deities of Puri – Lord Jagannath and his siblings, Balabhadra and Subhadra. Almost every art form in this village is inspired by them, especially the patachitra, which is synonymous with Raghurajpur.
“Do you know that when the deities in the Puri Jagannath temple go on a fifteen-day sabbatical every year, they are worshipped in the form of a Pattachitra?”
I turn behind to find a beaming artist who invites me to his house. Before I can answer, the road is filled with men and women who gather around me and request me to see their work as well.
There are barely a hundred homes in this village but every home is a studio and everybody is an artist or a chitrakar, creating and preserving the traditional art form called Pattachitra.
“Pata” means cloth and “chitra” is a painting, explains the artists adding that the art has evolved from the traditional murals of Orissa, dating back to the 4th century. Every chitrakar here has learnt the art from his ancestors and is well-versed in creating tussar paintings, palm-leaf engravings, papier-mache toys and masks, wood carvings, and cow dung toys among other crafts.
Every home is a veritable art gallery. Scattered on the floor are portraits of Krishna, who seems to be their favourite deity, and stories from his life. There is Krishna with the gopikas, Krishna with Radha, Krishna on the flute, Krishna lifting the Govardhanagiri mountain. But the god is wrapped in a world of nature. Birds fly out of the canvas, trees sway with glee. Flowers bloom.
“We paint the scenes the way we see them,” says an artist as I learn from him about the process of creating a patachitra.
The canvas is actually a strip of cotton cloth which has been soaked in water filled with tamarind seeds. It is then coated with chalk and gum and pasted with another layer of cotton cloth. The canvas is then rubbed with stones to give it a smooth and a glossy finish. While most artists still use vegetable and mineral colours, some have started using commercial hues.
“But the speciality are our fine brushes made out of mouse-hair. We do not use pencil or charcoal,” he adds.
Finally a lacquer coating is given to a finished painting to protect it.
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