Divine Scroll: Pattachitra Art from Odisha

Pattachitra is a traditional art form from Odisha that is based on Hindu mythology. The name is derived from Sanskrit word for cloth “patta” and picture “chitra”, denoting cloth-based scroll painting. The art work is specially inspired by Lord Jagannath and the Vaishnava cult and all the colours used are naturally obtained. Since the beginning of the Pattachitra culture, Lord Jagannath (an incarnation of Lord Krishna) has been the major source of inspiration, while also including motifs of folklore.

These paintings, ‘pattachitras’, resemble the old murals in Odisha especially those found in the religious centres of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneshwar region, which date back to the 5th century BC.

Traditionally the painters are known as chitrakars. A patta painter’s home with all the members of family is his studio. Female members prepare the glue, the canvas, fill in the colours and give the final lacquer coating. The master hand, usually a male member, draws the initial line and gives the final finishing.

Patta paintings are done on small strips of cloth (cotton or silk). The canvas is prepared by coating the cloth with a mixture of chalk and gum made from tamarind seeds. It is then rubbed with the help of two different stones. The cloth is then dried. The gum and chalk mixture gives the cloth’s surface a leathery finish on which the artists then paint with vegetable colors. The painters do not use pencil or charcoal for preliminary drawings. These expert painters draw directly with the brush either in light red or yellow. The colors are then filled in. The final lines are drawn and the patta is given a lacquer coating to protect it from wear and tear, thus making the painting glossy. This process of glazing/ varnishing is carried out by holding the painting over a fireplace so that the back is exposed to heat.

Palm leaf pattachitra (or Tala Pattachitra  in Oriya) is created by first waiting for all the leaves to dry out after being taken from tree. These are then sewn together to form a canvas. The images are traced by using black or white ink to fill grooves etched on rows of equal-sized panels of palm leaf that are sewn together. These panels can also be easily folded like a fan and packed in a compact pile for better conservation.

Among the few practitioners of this art form in traditional technique is Debasis Sethi. Having learnt this art form from his guru in Odisha nearly 13 years ago, he yearns to bring new life to this traditional & intricate art-form.

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