Can anyone ever think of ‘Odisha’ without thinking of Lord Jagannath. No way!! Rhythms of Odia life deeply revolve around scores of rituals related to Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subadhra throughout the year.
The trinity that resides in Puri celebrates festivals as any of us do. In the month of June, when the weather becomes excessively humid and unbearable, the deities are brought out from the temple for a holy bath. After the bathing ritual, the deities are traditionally believed to fall ill and are kept in a sick room for 15 days. During this period, no pilgrims are allowed to do the divine darshan. Historically, there was a need for substitute images for the public view and to which prayers and rituals could be offered. Anasara Pati, a painted sheet of cloth, depicting the deities used to be the substitute image meant for prayers by the pilgrims during the period of illness. These patachitras were prepared by the master artists of the Chitrakara community.
Anasara Pati – Image Courtesy: Prateek Patnaik
The preparation for the making of Anasara Pati would begin on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trithiya. On this day, a Chitrakara would receive a piece of cloth to prepare canvas from the temple administration. When he would complete the painting, the family priest would come to his house to perform a puja of the Pati in the presence of all his family members. A day after this puja, a priest from the Jagannath temple would come to his house with a garland and accompanied by people carrying ghanta (gong), chalti (ritual umbrella) and kahali (pipe). Another puja would be performed at his house before the Anasara Pati would be rolled and tied with a piece of black cloth. The Pati would then be carried to the Jagannath temple by the Chitrakara in a ceremonial procession. This tradition of Anasara Pati goes back to the time of King Anangabhima Deva, who ruled Odisha between 1190 and 1198 CE.
In Puri, there is a belief that a pilgrimage to the town is incomplete unless the pilgrim takes back with him/her five Patas of Lord Jagannath, five beads, five cane sticks and nirmalya (dried rice from the temple kitchen). In Bengal, as a ritual, every pilgrim returning from Puri, gifts one of these Patas and a few grains of the dried cooked rice, Mahaprasada, to his/her friends and relatives.
Though, Chitrakaras throughout history had deep connection with the temple and its rituals at Puri, in the 19th century, they fell into the trap of middlemen who exploited their situation adversely. They lost their source of livelihood and homesteads and started to look for other sources of employment. Many of them became daily wage labourers in betel-leaf gardens, carrying water and head loads of soil while some became masons and others agricultural labourers.
Depiction of Pana Baraja – Betle Leaf Garden in Raghurajpur
It took more than a generation and the enterprise of an American lady called Helena Zealy, who was in Odisha between 1952 and 54, to revive this precious art form. Helena, while learning Odia in Puri, met Panu Maharana, a Chitrakara trying to eke out a living by selling a few paintings to pilgrims and tourists on Puri beach. She was mesmerized by the sublime beauty of incredible Pata paintings and its vivid depiction of mythological lores and legends. She then established a strong bonding with the Chitrakaras of Raghurajpur, a village full of artists, 10 km from Puri on Puri-Bhubaneswar Road. Along with the master craftsman, Jagannath Mohapatra, she devised a marketing strategy for the promotion of Patachitras as souvenirs and the sustenance of art and artists on a local level. A gurukul ashram was set up in Raghurajpur where young artists were trained in the art and later a co-operative society that took care of the export of the Patas to countries far and wide.
The word Patachitra is derived from the Odia words Pata, which means cloth, and Chitra which means picture. Chitrakaras of Raghurajpur mostly use colour pigments obtained from minerals and a few from vegetable extracts. For white, conch shells are the main source, which are bought from the fishermen. The yellow pigment is extracted from a mineral – Orpiment (Arsenic sulphide). The mineral is ground into fine powder and then made into a thick paste by adding a little water and mixing with mortar and pestle. Glue is than added to the thick paste and made into small tablets and dried. Hingula (crude cinnabar), used for blood red, is available in mineral stone form and when pulverized yields a bright red. It is made into a paste and then into tablets. Chitarakaras also use Geru (red ochre) stone, which at first is finely ground, mixed with water and then allowed to settle. The water containing the pigment is boiled till it becomes a thick paste and then made into tablets after adding glue. Black pigment is obtained from lamp black. A wick lamp is lit with Polanga, a kind of oil and above it is placed a brass plate filled with water. After thirty minutes of burning, the soot gathered on the back of the plate is scraped off and glue is added. Blue is obtained from indigo, which is sold in tablet form. Before a Chitrakara begins painting, the colour tablets are soaked in water and then used after the canvas is dried and hard enough for etching. A gummy paste of boiled tamarind seeds and powdered shells or granite is plastered over the stretched cloth in layers to harden the surface.
Some of the popular themes found in Patachitras are the Vesas (costumes) of Jagannath, Kanchi-Kaveri expedition of King Purusottama Deva, Dasavatara (ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu), Krishna Lila, Rasa pictures and themes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Once used exclusively to adorn the walls and precincts of the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri, today the lively art and its symbols are etched onto the walls of the houses of the master artists in Raghurajpur. The symbols and style has been adapted to etch on palm leaves and also on the Papier-mâché sculptures and carvings.
Thanks to an initiative by INTACH and the state government, the entire village of Raghurajpur and the neighbouring Danadashai, have been turned into a crafts village, a living museum throbbing with creativity and pulsating with the colours of nature. All the houses here belong to master artists who are involved in some art form or the other.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu being received by the King of Puri
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Puri
Lord Krishna at Vrindavan and Mata Yasoda
A Scene from the Mahabharata
Sharada Ritu (Autumn Season)
Krishna and Radha
Raghurajpur is not just known for patachitras; it is equally known for a dozen other art and crafts, such as palm leaf etching, papier-mâché masks, and ganjifa.
It is also the birthplace of Gotipua, a dance that is performed by pre-teen boys dressed as graceful feminine dancers. Gotipua is the seed dance from which the classical Odissi dance was developed. Not just a village of national awardees but also the birthplace of the wizard Kelucharan Mohapatra, Raghurajpur is a village where art is in the air, soil and water.
Author – Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org