Thursday, September 02, 2010

Patachitra Art


B.K. Nayak, a Patachitra craftsperson from Raghurajpur near Puri in Orissa says, “In our village, over 500 people are employed in making both Chitra Pothi as well as Patachitra. A blanket term of Patachitra is attributed for the sake of convenience to these two distinct creative forms. While the themes depicted may be the same, the techniques are very different.”

The first is a craft, Chitra Pothi also called Tala-patra-chitra (palm-leaf illustration), that uses the ancient technique of manuscript engraving on palm-leaf strips to create illustrated panels that can be framed as art.

In ancient India and parts of South East Asia, strips of treated palm-leaf were used as paper. These engraved and inked palm-leaf pages would be bound together to make a book bundle. In some of these Pothis (manuscripts), illustrations were added to complement the text. This is perhaps the oldest form of the Chitra Pothi craft and much of the technique used remains the same to this day.

Nayak says, “For Chitra Pothi, we use an iron needle to engrave the designs carefully on the 'tal -patra' (palm-leaf). Then, an ink, usually kohl, is applied on the leaf. Sometimes, in the place of kohl, rice is burnt and the charred powder is used instead. The black colour remains in the engraved lines even when the ink is wiped from the leaf. The finished product is a set of panels assembled by stitching, to denote a picture. Lately, we have begun to selectively use natural dyes to brighten the finished product. In addition to panels, we now also make greeting cards and bookmarks in this technique.”

Unlike the usually single-coloured engraved panel of Chitra Pothi, Patachitra, is an art that uses Tussar silk or canvas as an even base. Nayak says, “The pata (canvas) is made with cotton fabric pasted together with tamarind glue and chalk powder. This resilient base is used to paint the subjects in natural colours made from ground seashells, bark and stone.”
Nayak narrates a fascinating ritual that merges religious ritual and local art, , “Sixteen days before the famous annual Rath Jatra (chariot procession), the presiding deities at the Jagannath temple at Puri – Subhadra, Balabhadra and Jagannath - are given a ritual bath on an occasion called Debasnana Purnima. Following this, the gods are supposed to be suffering from cold and fever. They are kept isolated from the public for a period of fifteen days. On those days. all the worship and rituals at the temple are conducted for Patachitra representations of the deities. At the end of this 'recovery' period, the wooden deities are repainted and presented to the public. Every year a new set of Patachitra paintings is made to take the place of the ailing deities.”

In both creative forms, the themes depicted are primarily Hindu religious and mythological. Dashavatara (the ten incarnation of Lord Vishnu), Ramayana and Mahabharata are favourite themes and the subjects are usually Krishna with Radha, Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha and the Lord Jagannath tableau. Nayak says, “To cater to a growing number of non-Hindu patrons, we have also begun to render village themes and scenes from nature in both creative forms.”
(An edited version appeared in Culturama's September 2010 Issue)

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