Tall and short, the tree grows in abundance on the coast of Odisha, both in a cluster and in solitary. It is one of the palm trees, in Odia called Tala Gachha. The tree may not have cultural or religious significance unlike the sacred banyan tree but its leaves are the most sought after material for creative experimentation to illustrate Hindu gods, goddesses and their leela.
From childhood, I have been well acquainted with the art and also with talapatra pothis or palm leaf manuscripts as it is referred to in English. Talapatra pothis are traditionally used to write horoscopes and its history can be traced back to the beginning of Odisha’s history.
However, in historical records, we have only from the 17th century now mostly preserved in the State Museum at Bhubaneswar. This may be due to the humid tropical weather of Odisha we have lost the earlier ones.
Among the contemporary talapatra pothi chitra one of the most stunning and richly illustrated that I have come across is a pankha (hand fan) exhibit at ODIART Purvasha Museum in Chilika. Narrating the story of Lord Krishna and his leela in a multitude of colours the talapathra pothi chitra pankha is a treat to eyes. The creator of the pankha is noted patachitra artist Bijaya Parida.
ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum.
The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.
Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.
Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Contact No-9439869009, 9853242244
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The pankha is a pinnacle of traditional Odia creation, but its process starts in nature.
During my travel to Nayakapatna village near Raghurajpur in Puri District, I had got a chance how and who procure the leaves, process them before they appear in zigzag folds of yellow-green leaves. A special set of tools known as lekhani are used for etching the processed leaves. It is not an easy task. You need patience and perfection. First, it is drawn in a pencil and then in a lekhani. Colours are filled at the end. The style is influenced by patachitra painting.
The pankha is made up four concentric circles out of which the outer three are filled in illustrations depicting Krishna’s all childhood episodes, mystical beasts, flora and fauna and geometrical patterns. Even the handle is not spared. The innermost circle has the depiction of patra-lata (vegetal motifs).
Looking closely at this masterpiece time and again I am reminded of how incredible Odia art has been for centuries. However, sadly with the penetration of foreign goods, especially the Chinese market the glory is fading away at a pace that was never thought up before. But there is hope as long as there is a support of museums like Purvasha and art connoisseurs. Fingers crossed!
Author- Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org