Pattachitra- the unbroken living tradition of Odisha – By Premjit Mohapatra

Utkala, Odisha’s ancient name literally translates to the Land of Rich Art. The land is blessed with a rich heritage of art forms which are fascinating in its plenitude and have a rich legacy that harks back hundreds of years. Almost every place is a haven of myriad creative forms where every motif and fabric is different and tells a different story through the vistas of time. They are of immense cultural value to the local communities or ethnic groups that have practiced the crafts for centuries and are representatives of their existence and tradition. One such exquisite craft is Pattachitra–The historically enriched canvas symbolised by its vivid detailing and colorful depictions provides a multitude of inspirations to revisit the old traditions, and help us understand Odisha’s past, through a crafts-based narrative. Pattachitra provides a link to our roots and is a part of our shared heritage.

Pattachitra is one of the oldest art forms of Odisha having a legacy of over a thousand years and manifesting in beautiful motifs steeped in Jagannath culture and Hindu mythology. Each piece illustrated through a melange of rich colours, fine details, and aesthetic designs represents, for its maker, an artistic journey imbued with the love and commitment to Pattachitra, and bears testimony to the Chitrakars (Pattachita artists) skill and exquisite craftsmanship.

The provenance of Pattachitra is linked to the Jagannath temple of Puri and kept alive by the demands of millions of devotees who throng to Puri from all over the world. As Pattachitra originated in the temple premises of Jagannath Puri the paintings have a ritualistic significance even to this day with the worship of “Pati Dian” (portrait of the Trinity made of Pattachitra) in the Puri Jagannath temple during the period of ‘Anasar’ (sickness).

The GI Tag associated with Pattachitra is owned by Odisha, where a little village called Raghurajpur on the banks of river Bhargavi near Puri is an abode of Pattachitra paintings. The Pattachitra from Raghurajpur has its unique style where the artisans produce sheer poetry on pieces of treated cloth, dried palm leaf or paper. The living art form of Pattachitra is practiced by families of Raghunathpur who have been creating this art for generations. The legacy continues to thrive with nearly 50-60 families practicing Patachitra paintings and around 30-40 families dedicated to Palm leaf paintings. The village also indulges crafts like wooden toys, stone carving, papier mache, coconut shell painting and cow-dung toys.

The traditional arts of Pattachitra has withstood the test of time cause generations of artisans have dedicated their lives to it, drawing inspiration from a shared value system, one that emphasizes honouring the traditions and its spiritual philosophy. The craft demands an unmatched understanding of the discipline, its tools, its techniques and its correct function, as well as a never-ending commitment to education and self-improvement. The Heritage village of Raghurajpur has been selected by INTACH to revive the ancient wall paintings of Odisha, today resembles a living museum of paintings courtesy the unending engagements and relentless efforts of the Pattachitra artists.

Despite the bleak prognosis for most traditional art forms, Pattachitra’s longevity and success could be attributed to its resiliency to adapt and innovate with the passage of time and not remain a static form. With time, Pattachitra has gone through a commendable transition to meet contemporary tastes and sensibilities. The Chitrakars (Painters) have painted on tussar silk and palm leaves and even created Pattachitra style wall hangings murals. Now, Pattachitra paintings are available on a variety of home décor products like serve wares, table tops, showpieces like vases, glass bottles and wooden boxes, home furnishing items like bedspreads in a variety of modern colors and designs. To suit the requirements of the modern times the Chitrakars are experimenting with varied themes including erotica. Pattachitra jewelry, sarees, dupattas, other apparels are also gathering recognition among its loyal patrons while creating enough buzz to get the attention of newer patrons.

Preservation of precious arts/crafts is always no more than a single generation away from being lost. Traditional crafts like Pattachitra will only survive if the skills live in each generation. The vital and constantly reinvigorated artistic traditions of Pattachitra need to be marketed

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