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The first known use of the paintings, which are as old as the Jagannath temple, was a ritualistic one. The paintings were placed as substitutes for the temple idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Maa Subhadra for a period of 15 days. Due to this annual ritual, paintings came to be called as Anasarpati. The reason for this is that those 15 days are called Anasar, as the devotees cannot see (darshan) the Lords, but can glance at the beautiful paintings of them.
A traditional usage of Pattachitra is to decorate Ganjifa cards (playing cards) and also to decorate the chariots of the Rath Yathra ritual. The art form has made its way into many contemporary and decorative uses like adorning masks, coconut shells, bamboo boxes and as wall paintings.
The Pattachitra has its roots in religion. These are paintings which are known to act as replacements for the idols of deities. They are, hence, not only admired but deeply revered. There is a strong belief that a journey to Puri is incomplete unless the pilgrim took back with him some Yatri patis (souvenirs paintings) of Lord Jagannath. Since the Pattachitra has its origin in the Jagannath temple, the triad and the great cult have always been the main themes of the Pattas.
The origin of paintings is sometimes traced to a legend in the Chitralakshana, the earliest known treatise on painting. When the son of the King’s esteemed priest died, they very distraught and prayed hard. Brahma then appeared and asked the King to paint a life like picture of the boy, so that he could breathe life into it and thus bring the boy back to life. This is said to have been the first painting.
The Pattachitra is deeply rooted in religion. It has grown and flourished under the cult of Lord Jagannath and for the same reason believed to be as older than the time when the Jagannath Puri temple was constructed (12th century AD).
The existence of the Anasar Pattis speaks of the long standing link the art form has with the temple. On the Debasnana Purnima day (Fullmoon day of Jyestha) the Gods have a ritualistic bath to fight the heat of summer. As a result this, deities become sick for fifteen days. This period is known as Anasar and the devotees don’t have Darshan of their beloved Lord at the Ratnavedi. During that period three paintings of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Maa Subhadra are worshipped. These religious paintings are believed to have entered the ritualistic form due to this practice.
One of the other forms of Pattachitra, which developed around the temple were the Yatri Pattis. These were elaborate paintings of the deity triad along with portrayals of the Jagannath temple. At the time when photography had not come about, this was the only representation of the temple that devotees could take back. Since the craft too was a respected and worshipped act of creation, it became an essential take-away along with some holy beads, some cane sticks and Nirmalya.
Orissan temples and monuments are resplendent with their sculptures. There is a strong influence of these sculptures and depictions in the paintings. The paintings also derive a lot of inspiration from the dance form, Odissi. This dance form of Orissa is also said to be of an ancient origin on the basis of these sculptures and has been mentioned as Odra Magadhi style of dancing in Bharata’s Natyashastra.
Amongst the many places where this art form is practised, Raghurajpur, a village about 12 km from Puri, has carved a niche for itself as a Heritage village. The reason for this is that the entire village has devoted itself to this art form.
With the passage of time, Pattachitra has evolved to being a deeply respected craft. It is highly sought after. It slowly went through many transformations and changes in terms of methods of preparation, colours used, themes and marketability. In addition to the stories from the epics, the Pattachitras are now depicting life in Orissa, philosophy of the Buddha, Jainism and Jesus Christ. It has even gone on to depict historical incidents like the World Trade Centre fiasco.
These paintings have travelled from the temple precincts to drawings rooms and lounges of hotels.
Stories from the Mahabharatha, Ramayana and the tales of Lord Jagannath form the undying glaciers of inspiration for Pattachitra. The Odissi dance form also has left its influence on the art. The fine details with bold lines and colour combinations of natural hues lend a strong visual appeal to these paintings.
Some of the important themes are Thia Badhia (representation of the Jagannath temple), Krishana lila (Jagannath as Krishana demonstrating his childhood feats), Dasabatara Patti (the ten incarnations of Vishnu), Nabagunjara (a figure comprising nine different creatures), Kandarparath (Cupid’s Chariot - Krishna on a chariot fully composed of colourfully dressed, playful women), Rama-Ravana Judha (war between Rama and Ravana), Kanchi Abhijana (expedition against the Kingdom of Kanchi).
The sense of perspective is little and there is no feeling of far and near. Overlapping the forms is mostly avoided. The border is a mandatory ornamental feature, framing the painting. The designs have remained more or less traditional, deriving forms from the temple sculpture motifs of Orissa. The thickness of the border is governed by the size and subject matter of the painting. A painting sometimes can have two borders with the narrow one on the inside and the broader one on the outside.
Many different colours are used to depict particular deities. For example; Red is generally used to colour Hanuman’s face, Agni and Mangala. Blue is for Krishna, Vamana and Kalki incarnations. Yellow adorns Matsya, Kurma, Radha, Sita, Buddha incarnations etc. Black is used to depict Kali, Yama, Narayana and even Krishna in some old paintings. White lends colour to Balarama, Shiva, Varuna and Narasimha. In Pattachitra, the body colors of the Gods and Goddesses are not painted naturalistically, but follow certain conventions. As per Bharata’s ‘Natyashastra’, the Rasas portrayed by the images also have their own colors: ‘Shringara’ or erotic in blue, ‘Hasya’ or laughter inducing in white, ‘Karuna’ or pathos in grey, ‘Vira’ or heroic in yellowish white, ‘Raudra’ or furious in red, ‘Bhayanaka’ or fearful in black, ‘Vibhatasa’ or loathsome in blue and ‘Abdhuta’ or strange in yellow.
The representation of the human forms or figures is usually frontal. So are the streamlined eyes. The face and the limbs are shown in profile. The exceptions being the triad in the ‘Anasar Patti’, Lakshmi, Durga in Mahisasuramardini aspect, Nataraja, dancing Ganesha and Lakshmi-Narayana. The multi-headed forms of Brahma and Ravana are also given a frontal treatment to accommodate their many heads.
All male figures are of the same height and the women are drawn shorter than the men, with their heads reaching up till the man’s earlobe. Figures of old persons are given a slender build, bent posture, receding hairline with white streaks and wrinkle lines on cheeks and forehead. Every animal and person has its own stylized features defined by ancient texts, religious myths and local traditions.
All faces in Orissan Patta figures have long beak like noses, prominent chins and elongated eyes. In the female face, the nose is drawn as a flowing line from the forehead where as in the male face there is a dip between the lower forehead and the nose. In the female figures the eyes are more elongated, almost extending to the ears, the chin more rounded and the hair solid black. The nose of ‘Garuda’, Vishnu’s steed is made extra-long. The ‘Asura’ (demon) face has a nose curling upwards. Beards and moustaches are given to the faces of Rishis, Asuras, Sarathi, Jay-Vijay and Kings. The beard is generally pointed and forms three crescent shaped steps at the edge of the cheek. The moustache of the kings is shown long and curling up, Asuras is looping and those of commoners pointing straight.
‘Tribhangi’ is one of the popular poses in Pata paintings. This comes from the strong influence of the Odissi dance form. The name means ‘three bends’ and the posture is depicted with one leg bent, a curvature at the waist and the inclination of the head to one side. Among the other postures are ‘Virbhangi’ (heroic posture) with chest thrust forward. This is mostly adopted for Hanuman, demons, wrestlers, kings during war etc. ‘Lalitabhangi’ (delicate posture) is used for all females and also for the Vamana avatar. There are several postures like Padmasana (lotus posture) and Natajanu (kneeling), for depicting the way the characters are sitting and for what purpose.
The crowns also vary for the different types of figures. Four types of crowns are portrayed, named after the crest: ‘Banka Chulia’ (tilted plume) for Krishna, ‘Topi Kiriti‘, a royal crown for the kings and Gods like Indra and Vishnu, ‘Amba Kasia’ (tender mango) with the crest shaped like a mango for queens and ‘Pana Patri’ (betel leaf) with a heart shaped crest for Kali, Bhairavi, Tara and other Goddesses.
Trees are painted slender and willowy with each leaf and flower separately drawn. Since the background is mostly red or ochre, trees are often painted grey. They are drawn mainly to fill blank spaces unless the subject specifically demands so. Two most favoured trees of the Chitrakaras (painters) are the ‘Kadamba’ (nauclea cadamba) associated with ‘Krishna Lila’ paintings and ‘Bilva’ (aegle marmelos) associated with Shiva. Besides these, tufts of ‘Durva’ (grass) are also painted to fill up blank spaces.
As for animals and birds, the choices are not many. Ducks and cranes are shown on water and parrots and peacocks on trees. Parrots looking backwards are painted near the pinnacle of temples and two peacocks drawn on two sides of an archway. When there is a circular design within a square, four lion heads are drawn to fill the corner triangular spaces. Lions also signify the ‘Simhadwara’ (lion gate) of a temple. Deer are associated with groves of Vrindavan, horses and elephants with royalty. Other animals like buffalo or the mouse are portrayed along with Gods as steeds.
The sea is painted blue with white wavy lines with fish, crabs and shrimp shown as well. Mountains are painted as a series of piled up arches in grey. Nowadays, the Chitrakara treats the mountains with black hatchings. The sky is very rarely painted and it is never shown weather it is night or day. The sun or the moon is not painted either.
With the advent of photographs and many other quicker forms of souvenirs, the Yatri Pattis lost their limelight. They were taken over by laminated photographs, rings and lockets of the Triad. The natural colours were too laborsome to prepare and many artists were stepping away from it and turning to easily available poster colours. The artists of this generation are not adept at the traditional preparation of the colours.
This art form is now not confined to a particular caste. Therefore, the traditional craft guild has expanded. There is, however, no organised group for marketing or passing on the knowledge.Heavy marketing concentration in and around Puri and Bhubaneswar led to the decline in paintings in other villages. Therefore, barring some, the income of other artists is marginal and seasonal.
Every new and aspiring artist also wanted to be a small trader in the Pattachitra business. This was a strange trend that developed, maybe because the middlemen or traders received more profit than the rural artists. These factors and the lack of knowledge of market and scope have lead to the poverty of the artist.
Canvas – Traditionally only cotton was used to make the canvas but nowadays both cotton and silk are used. When choosing cotton, the artists mostly prefer pieces of old saris as they have a much softer texture than the starched mill cotton available in markets today. The canvas is soaked in a solution of crushed tamarind seeds and water for 4-5 days and then taken out. These are then dried and stuck to each other to make a thick canvas. After the canvas has dried, a stone called ‘khaddar’ is used to polish the surface followed by a finishing stone called ‘Chikana’ stone to give a beautiful sheen. The canvas is ready for painting and can be stored and cut into required sizes for painting.
Colours – Traditionally the palette of Patachitra paintings consisted of only five primary colours, white, black, blue, red, and yellow. Nowadays, many other colours like green, brown are also used. The colours used are all derived from natural sources.
Black – This is formed from lamp black or lamp soot. A burning lamp is placed inside an empty tin, till a considerable amount of soot collects on the underside of the tin. The soot is mixed with ‘Kaitha’ gum to achieve a smooth consistency.
Yellow – This is derived from a yellow stone called ‘Hartal’, which is found in Jaipur. The stone is powdered and mixed with water and gum for painting.
White –This is obtained with conch shell that is powered and boiled with ‘kaitha’ gum, till a paste is formed.
Red – This comes from a stone ‘Hingulal’, a locally available stone. The stone is powdered and mixed with water and gum.
Blue – This is obtained from a blue stone called ‘Khandneela’. The stone is powdered and boiled in the mixture of water and gum.
Green- This is made by boiling green leaves like ‘Neem’ leaves with water and ‘kaitha’ gum.
Brown – This is obtained from ‘Geru’ stone, which is powdered and mixed with gum and water.
These natural extracts are then cooked together with gum from ‘Kaitha’ (elephant apple fruit tree), which acts as a natural fixative and prevents the painting from decaying. A variety of colours are made by mixing the existing primary colours. Presently many artists use readily available poster colours as well.
Coconut shells – These are used as containers to mix colours with water.
Brush – Traditionally three types of brushes are used; broad, medium and fine tip and they are made with buffalo, calf and mouse hair respectively. Brushes with mouse hair are used for finer works like ornamentation; face etc. because they have a needle-point edge. Typically ‘Keya’ root is used to make the base of the brushes, while the improved ones have wooden handles. These brushes last about 7-8 months when used daily.
Pencils and eraser – HB pencils are used to draw the outlines and rough sketches before the final art work is painted.
Scissors – Scissors and various cutting tools are used to get cut desired sizes of canvas.
Chikana or Khadar stones – There are two types of stones which are used: ‘Khadar’ stone is used for evening out the canvas, and has a pinkish white color. While the ‘Chikana’ stone is used for giving a shine to the canvas. This stone is brownish yellow in color.
There are some strict religious rituals practiced by the ‘Chitrakaras’ (artists) before ‘Anasar’ as it is a temple practice. For example women are not allowed to touch the paintings, the ‘Chitrakar’ is strictly vegetarian during the days he is working on the painting and he has to sleep on the ground and not on a bed. Each painting starts with wear a new dhoti.
After the painting is completed, a ‘Mahasnan’ (holy bath) is arranged with chanting of mantras. The paintings are then taken to the temple and placed as idols. After the completion of ‘Anasar’, the paintings are stored in the temple.
Patachitra paintings are created on small pieces of canvas using pencils, brushes and paints. With strong lines and vibrant colours, these paintings are a visual narrative of the ‘Dashavtar’ and the stories of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. The tradition of Patachitra is closely linked with the worship of Lord Jagannath and is well known because of its exquisite workmanship.
Border areas are first demarcated on the canvas after which the initial sketches are made with pencil and filled in with paint. The outlines are later thickened with black paint. Eyes are the last feature to be made as they require skill and expertise. The process of creating a beautiful pattachitra is very similar to the adornment of a person.
Demarcation of the border – The ‘Chitrakara’ selects a ‘Pata Astara’ canvas of required size keeping in mind the subject to be executed. He then draws straight lines on all four sides to demarcate the space needed for borders.
While the modern day painter uses a pencil and a ruler for this purpose in the olden days this was achieved by holding taut a string dipped in white color over the canvas and lightly patting it. This would leave a white mark on the ‘Pata’.
‘Tipana’ (sketching) – This is done with a fine brush dipped in a diluted white color made of conch called ‘Sankha-Pani’. In the more elaborate and intricate pictures, especially the ones depicting stories, ‘Tipana’ is a very important part and is generally done by a senior and experienced artist. The Chitrakara makes a rough sketch on the canvas making faint outlines the figures and their actions.
The sketching and composition has to be properly done as it is nearly impossible to save a bad composition later on. While sketching, the pose is as important as the juxtaposition of figures, as this crucial in expressing the emotions of the figures. The head is drawn first- a circle with a hint of a chin. A torso is then added followed by the legs. The Chitrakara does not bother to sketch the feet, and the hands are sketched last. It is said that a good Chitrakara can start at the torso and branch out to the other parts.
‘Hingula-banaka’ (red coloring) – A flat red color is filled in all the spaces that are left outside of the figure sketches. Red or an ochre monochrome is generally the preferred background color and paintings with other colored backgrounds are rare exceptions.
‘Ranga-banaka’ (coloring) – Colors for the body are painted next. Certain descriptions of deities as mentioned in the ‘Dhyana-Mantras’ are maintained while painting the bodies.
‘Luga-pindha’ (putting on the dresses) – The garment colours of different deities are also painted as per the descriptions in the ‘Dhyana-mantras’.
‘Alankara-lagi’ or ‘Gahana-lekha’ (coloring the ornaments)- This includes the application of appropriate colors to the head dress, ornaments of the hair, face, ears, nose, neck, arms, waist and legs; and also various other attributes and weapons of the different Gods and Goddesses.
‘Mota-kala’ (thick black lines) – Portions to be colored black like the hair, outlines of garments and architecture are painted with thick black lines.
‘Saru-kala’ (thin black lines) – This is the most important stage of the painting as thin black outlines are applied around all the colored portions. This requires a high level of finesse in the workmanship. With fine black lines the face, the body, the dresses and the ornaments are outlined. While the facial features like eyes are painted, borders and designs are also made for the dresses and ornaments. It is this stage that gives life and expression to the painting.
‘Sankha-pota’ (white touches) – This is the final stage of the painting before the border. It is made using a fine brush and white paint. Spaces still remaining black in the monochrome background are filled up with a floral motif which may be ‘Pancha-Angulia’ or ‘Sata-Angulia’ (five or seven fingered). Dots are also used- a single dot called a ‘topi’ and a cluster of four dots arranged in a square is called a ‘punji’ or a foursome. Fine white lines are also drawn on the forehead and neck of the figures to give them more character.
Border – The border normally is painted at the very end. But painting it earlier or simultaneously is also sometimes done. The early paintings had very few and simple border designs. But the Chitrakaras nowadays paint a variety of borders depending upon the subject matter of the painting, and available space and so on. Quite often the main painting and the borders are done by separate artists, the border painter being of lesser experience and expertise.
Touch up and Finishing – During the course of thepainting, especially if the painting is a big one or it has been painted over a long period of time, it is possible that some portion might have gotten damaged- the paint might have scraped off or some lines might have smudged or faded. Such damages or any possible defects are then looked for and rectified before the final lacquering of the painting.
‘Jausala’ (lacquering) – This process is usually carried out by the women of the Chitrakara family. Charcoal is fired to red hot in an earthen pot and the painting is held face up over it. A 1:3 ratio mixture of lac and resin powder is then sprinkled over the painting. When the powder melts it is rubbed over the entire surface with a cotton ball. In another method, a piece of lac is impaled on a stick and held over a fire till it melts. It is then rubbed over the painting. Though lacquering is still done in the above manner, it is not unusual to see a Chitrakara giving a hurried finish of lacquer to the painting out of a can.
List of craftsmen.