ODISHA-VII: Raghurajpur , Revering the gods with Art and Commerce

Tripoto

An old craftsman making papier mache toys, Raghurajpur, Odisha

Photo of ODISHA-VII: Raghurajpur , Revering the gods with Art and Commerce by Rupa Abdi
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The exquisite art of Patta Chitra showcasing Krishan Leela

The yearning to revere the gods is embedded in the Indian psyche and in Raghurajpur, it finds expression in form of creative visual arts. This creativity flows out on surfaces of walls, cloth, paper, dried palm leaves, coconuts, betel nuts, terra cotta and whatever else is available. There is at least one artist in each of its 120 households.

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Fading Mural Paintings, Raghurajpur

About an hour's drive from Bubhaneshvar and 20 minutes from the temple town of Puri is Raghurajpur, a heritage crafts village in Odisha. It is a home to various artists including the Patta Chitra artists who have been practicing an art form dedicated to the divine, which is both painstakingly long and at the same time exquisite -a craft man's equivalent to Bhakti Yoga.

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As you enter this unique village, after having driven along thick groves of coconut palm and betel-nut trees, you come across rows of houses, with their outer walls decorated with intricate mural paintings, art works hanging from the roof edges, artists sitting out on their small porches, working on their art works.

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A typical house in Raghurajpur, advertising its wares
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Betel nuts put out to dry in the sun

You might even come across a pile of betel nuts put out to dry in the sun, or an old artists drying her mud and cow dung creations in the morning sun.

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You will also be surrounded and pursued aggressively by young men insisting that you visit their house first and have a look at their artistic wares. Good luck with that because you will not be able to shake them off !!

Photo of ODISHA-VII: Raghurajpur , Revering the gods with Art and Commerce 7/33 by Rupa Abdi

Pattachitra and the cult of Jagganath

Patachitras is a specialised form of art which dates back to 5 B.C. and belongs to the tradition of temple paintings. It is one of Odisha's earliest art forms. Primarily portraying Sri Jagannath, its themes later extended to the Hindu epics and mythology. The paints, made from naturally available raw materials, are used in accordance with a strict code. They were once used as decorative artifacts to adorn the sanctum sanctorum of temples — as colourful backdrops, on the seat of deities, over curtains and pillars, at the threshold.

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A typical Patta Chitra kept on a house porch for sale

The term patta chitra has its origin from the Sanskrit. Patta means vastra or cloth and chitra means paintings. The use of cloth for painting has been an age old tradition in Odisha and the rest of India. It is believed that patta chitras were sent to China from Odisha during the rule of Bhaumakars and the craftsmanship was highly appreciated. This art has evolved, nourished and flourished under the cult of Lord Jagannath.

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Pinch out to see the details of these beautiful patterns

A typical ritual in the temple, illustrates its link with Lord Jagannath: On the Debasnana Purnima day (full moon day of Jyestha) the deities have a ritualistic bath to fight the heat of summer. As a result the deities become sick for fifteen days. i.e. the first fortnight of Ashadha. This period is known as Anasar and the devotees don't have darshan of their beloved Lord at the Ratnavedi (jeweled platform where the deities are placed). During that period three paintings, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Maa Subhadra are worshiped. These paintings are prepared by the traditional patta chitrakaras. These chitrakaras observe some rituals while working on these paintings.

Photo of ODISHA-VII: Raghurajpur , Revering the gods with Art and Commerce 10/33 by Rupa Abdi
Images of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Maa Subhadra (center) on a Patta Chitra

The chitrakar has to be vegetarian during the period of painting and sleep on the ground without using any bed. He has to put on a new dhoti while working on the paintings. Women are not allowed to touch the painting. After the painting is completed, a Mahasnan (grand bath) is arranged through chanting, of mantras and then the patta chitras of the deities are placed in the temple for worship and darshan. After the completion of anasar, the paintings are preserved at the store of the temple.

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The process begins with creating a canvas, or the surface on which the painting is to be executed. A gummy paste of boiled tamarind seeds and soft granite powder is plastered on a stretched piece of cloth, twice over, so that it becomes stone hard and does not crack.

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Lord Ganesh
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Kali vanquishing the Asura

Once dry, the bare outlines of the painting are sketched with charcoal or limestone (chalk) by a master painter. This is usually done free-hand and from memory, though decorative motifs like borders and certain geometric forms are copied from pre-cut stencils in order to save time.

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Patta Chitra depicting Saura style of painting and mandals
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A black and white Patta Chitra influenced by Saura art motifs

Talapatrachitras

In the rectangular folds of crisp yellowish-brown leaves, deftly strung together with thread, are intricate fine drawings carefully etched and cut out, depicting scenes from great mythological epics. They are called Talapatrachitras, (tala – palm, patra – leaf, chitra – drawings).

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Numerous minute etchings of Lord Ganeshas inside a larger Ganesh

Among the popular themes of illustration are the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata in these palm leaf paintings. Stories of gods and goddesses are also depicted with minute details of ornaments, hairstyles, animals, flowers, trees and elements of nature.The Master artist of Tala Pattra Chitra

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The Master artist of Tala Pattra Chitra
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Miniature Ganesh

Palm leaves are first cut into equal sized strips and treated with turmeric solution. The antibacterial properties of turmeric are for the longevity of the painting. After being dried for a few days, the etching and the coloring begins. The artist uses an iron stylus to etch scenes from the epics between the veins of the leaves.

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The finished product
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A coloured cloth is plastered under the palm leaf to give colour.

But while Patta Chitra and Talapatrachitra have flourished here, another has languished. The tradition of wall paintings, is slowly dying. Once nurtured by princely patronage, mural painting was a popular art form during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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However, with the passage of time and the absence of any royal patronage, wall painting gradually receded into the backwaters of Oriya culture as a forgotten art. A two-year research and documentation project by INTACH, from 1998 to 2000, supported by the India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore, brought to light about 70 sites in Odisha where murals existed.

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Fading art of mural painting
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A wall mural depicting a scene from Jagganath Yatra

Around 2002 a project was initiated by the Orissa Art Conservation Centre (OACC) in this village. The INTACH-managed OACC brought together some 60 wall artists from across the state to work in the village in an effort to revive the dying art of wall painting.

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Bal Krishna Leela
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Krishna Leela in various seasons

But it appears that after the project got over, this art has fallen back into neglect. The murals adorning the walls of the houses here suffer from the ravages of time and neglect.

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Wall murals of various avatars of Vishnu
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Apart from its master Pattachitra and Talapatrachitras painters, Raghurajpur is also known for Gotipua dance troupes, the precursor to the Indian classical dance form of Odissi.

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Raghurajpur is the birthplace of one of the finest Odissi exponents and Guru, Shri Maguni Charan Das, who was an Indian traditional dancer, known as one of the masters of Gotipua, a traditional dance form of Odisha. He was the founder of Dasabhuja Gotipua Odishi Nrutya Praishad, a school for Gotipua dance. Guru Maguni contributed to the revival of Gotipua tradition, which is widely considered as the precursor of the classical dance form of Odissi.

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This village is also home to crafts like stone and wood carvings, betel nut paintings,wooden, cow dung and papier mache toys, and masks.

Photo of ODISHA-VII: Raghurajpur , Revering the gods with Art and Commerce 31/33 by Rupa Abdi

There appears to be some kind of an unbalance in the socio-economic status of various house holds here. While a few seem to be doing well with aggressive marketing strategies, political connections and financial support from government and non-government sources, others appear to be doing not so well.

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Photo of ODISHA-VII: Raghurajpur , Revering the gods with Art and Commerce 33/33 by Rupa Abdi

Photo credits : Rupa and Razi Abdi

Travel Tips

Getting There

The nearest airport is Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha. Though Puri has its own railway station, the Bhubaneswar railway station is more convenient as it’s connected to major metros in the country.

Taxis and buses are readily available from Bhubaneshwar airport and railway station to Puri. As Raghurajpur does not offer accommodation, it is best to stay in Puri (which has budget stays and luxury hotels) and make a day trip to the village.

When to Go

The village can be visited throughout the year, though temperatures are scorching in the peak of summer, between April and June.

Art Workshop

The village hosts a five-week art residency every year, called The Raghurajpur International Art/Culture Exchange, where artists and art lovers exchange ideas and skills with the local craftspeople. Residency applications are open for international artists; More information is available on the following Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/www.riace.in/

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