Papier Mache – The Story of Odia Mukha and its Master Artisan

Imagine Odisha or in that matter rural India before economy was made open in 1990s and penetration of cheap Chinese goods in rural market. Imagine rural Odisha before the flooding of television channels’ cheap entertainment shows such as Sas Bahu and the spread of much hyped social media and free mobile phone entertainment.

Festivals and rituals thrived in Odisha’s rural landscape. Janmasthami, Dussehara, Ramleela and a score of other festivals were celebrated with great pomp and festivity along with folk operas and dramas illustrating mythological stories of Hinduism in general and of Odisha in particular.

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Folk performance in Rural Odisha

Also read here

https://blogvirasatehind.com/2018/03/15/dola-jatra-the-other-rath-yatra/

A major attraction of these folk mythological dramas were the characters wearing papier mache masks, Hanuman, Hiryana Kashyapa, Narasimha, Vishnu, Devi, Shiva and so on. Patronized by the feudal kings of Gadajat Odisha, papier mache artisans thrived in several rural pockets. But sadly as the globalization has taken stroll the tradition has dwindled to a large extent. These days the folk drams are still a big hit among local communities, but the mukhas have been replaced by bright florescent coloured silk cloths and body painting.

No one knows when papier mache made its way to Odisha, but for generations the craft has been thriving as mukha chitra in the rural heartland.  Now the mukhas that have survived from past have made their ways to museums, both in India and overseas.

And their miniature versions have found new patrons at Raghurajpur and Puri for home decorations.

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For more on Raghurajpur read here

https://blogvirasatehind.com/2017/06/23/raghurajpur-an-open-air-museum/

Papier mache according to Wikipedia is a composite material consisting of paper pieces of pulp, sometime reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch or wallpaper paste. Literally it is also referred to as craft of ‘chewed paper’, ‘pulped paper’ or ‘mashed paper’.  

Though I have been acquainted and bought a few miniature mukhas from Raghurajpur in the past my understanding was limited until when I came across a splendid papier mache chariot depicting Lord Krishna as the charioteer carrying Arjuna to the battlefield of Kurukshetra at ODIART Museum in Lake Chilika. It was one of the highest standards of any craft I have come across. The chariot is designed in the Odia Ratha style and influenced by traditional patachitra art. I was simply floored and could sense a strong connection between the object and its creator through divinity and passion.  Later I came to know about Sri Purussottama Mahapatra, its creator who lives in Kapiliswara area of Old Bhubaneswar.

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Travel Tips

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 close 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 fisher folk 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.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com 

Purussottama Mahapatra lives in the address below at Bhubaneswar. 

Purussottama Mahapatra

Sassana Padia, Kapileswara

Old Town, Bhubaneswar 751002

Phone: +91 9937881342, +91 7008039025

Purussottama ji is Odisha’s no one papier mache artist. But his journey has never been simple. In the film below he shares his journey during the formative period of his career.

Even though he is in 60s he is strong and promising. With a simple phone call he gave me time and introduced the process which is carried out by him; his wife and son however offer helping hands.

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What keeps him busy on daily basis is creating a range of colourful birds, which are in high market demand and each sold for 250/300 INR. When you see them together you are almost drawn to a bird sanctuary where the chorus of birds have come to a sudden pause.

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Then he showed me an unfinished peacock of life size. What a stunning beauty even though the painting was yet to be done.

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The next was an unfinished bowl depicting Krishna’s themes.

His pitara however had many more surprises; one such was a puppet, entirely his own visualization.

While being drawn time and again to his unique creations I also witnessed the process.

First the desired object is created in clay, which is then kept for drying for a couple of days. Once dried thoroughly it becomes a solid core. The core is then wrapped and glued with a number of paper strips.  Then the core is removed. The glued paper pieces are now ready for desired alternation. In cases of birds, wings and tails are added. Following it the object in making is coated with paste of chalk powder. The last step is painting and then your papier mache craft is ready.

Apart from the Mahabharata chariot, Purussottama Ji has also created recently a life size sculpture of Krishna’s Giri Govrardhana lifting. Some of his masks are also displayed in Bhubaneswar’s International Airport.

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I spent nearly three hours at his studio. But one thing that disturbed me was the lack of zeal and passion among young generation artisans, who want quick monetary success with little effort. So it is difficult to predict about the future of papier mache craft after Purussottama Ji. The production will be there but not sure about the standard and creativity.   

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