Tala pattachithras of Orissa are pin-tip thin paintings etched on a string of palm leaves and highlighted with the black of lampblack or kohl. These palm-leaf illustrations tell stories from mythology and events in daily life.

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Introduction:

Usage:

Tala pattachitras are a storytelling device and purely decorative illustrations depicting the never-ending repertoire of stories in the Indian epics.


Significance:

Being more durable and tensile than paper, palm leaves are excellent elements for recording. They are three times stronger than the hand-made paper. Various historical records and stories are highly indebted to this medium for their survival through the ages.

The illustrated palm leaf manuscripts stored in Orissa State Museum are Gita Govinda, Usha Vilasha, Ushaharana, Bidagdha Madhava, Amara Sataka etc.,which provide for us a living record of the sartorial styles, cosmetics and coiffure, dance forms, myths and legends, and above all our efflorescent heritage of socio-cultural traditions.


Myths & Legends:


History:

The earliest known and most effective mode of preserving information were putting down drawings and symbols. Starting with depiction of life scenes in Stone Age caves, to trading seals with undecipherable scripts and to volumes of written text in the form of books, these are the forms which have survived the erosion of time.

Palm leaf inscriptions was an ancient and much used technique in India. In 1442 C.E. the Persian ambassador Abdur Razzak wrote about a dafterkhana (wing or annex of documents) where a number of writers were engaged to write down accounts on palm leaf. Similarly the Portuguese traveler Duarte Barbosa has expressed surprise over the scribe’s briskness of writing with the stylus on long and rough palm leaves.

Lipikaars or scribes etched copies of ancient literature and sacred verses on palm leaves, about two thousand years ago. Some worked under the patronage of kings and temple authorities while some other scribes did it as a hobby leisurely at home or in educational centres. The later group mostly committed grammatical or linguistic errors due to the lack of expertise and experience. The palm leaf manuscripts on Shrutis Vedic Texts ),Smritis ( Dharmasastra ), the Puranas including Ramayana as well asMahabharata and Bhagabata were presented to scholars of respective field, so that they could recite and interpret them during public discourses. This undertaking was meant to achieve merit (punya) and to spread popular education. Most of the temples, mathas had a specific time in the afternoon or evening for this purpose. The inscriptions on palm leaves would last a few centuries before new copies had to be made. Especially in the southern regions of India, a major bulk of the literary and scientific traditions have been passed on through palm leaf inscriptions. Tamil and Grantha (sanskrit script) were scraped onto the dried leaves and rubbed on with lampblack, kohl or turmeric to increase contrast and readability. The shelf life of these manuscripts were three to four centuries, even in south India’s tropical climate. After which, the scribes set about to make new copies.

Palm leaf paintings may have been an offshoot of inscribing these manuscripts. Stemming from making small decorations around them, these would have gradually taken over as an art form in itself. Elaborate tales came to be told in these etchings and the surfaces were congenial to fillings of colour too.

The 19th century spread the use of the printing press and led to the decline of the palm leaf manuscripts. The Talapattachitra paintings are the only presently practiced form of palm leaf inscriptions.These manuscripts are nearing the end of their lifespan and are facing disintegration, so projects are underway to recover, preserve, and translate them to ensure that the traditional knowledge that they contain is not lost to history.

The abundance of palm groves in Orissa made the palm-leaf manuscript culture very popular through the ages. The need for ink and pens were nil and it was easy to scribe and engrave with just an iron stylus and some black dye. The Oriya writing due to its round and linear shape, facilitated the growth and development of palm leaf manuscript writing and the tradition even continues till the present days.

In Orissa, the Pata paintings are deeply rooted in religion. It has grown and flourished under the cult of Lord Jagannath of the Jagannath Puri templewas constructed. 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 Bharat’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 being that the entire village has devoted itself to this art form.


Design:

When the Talapattachitra leaves are stretched out like the open bellows of a harmonium, the world of mythological epics and tales step out. All of these are contained in these inch-thick pile of leaves delicately strung together by threads. The artists sometimes cut out voids and patterns to give it a delicate stencil-like appearance. These are mostly placed over a layer of solid leaves to give more dimension. They seem even more intricately beautiful when the artists place bits of coloured paper under the lace-like cut outs, accentuating the beautiful compositions. Some areas can open like small windows to reveal a second image under the first layer.

Colors are hardly used in Talapattachithra. They are only used as fillers and in very subdued tones. Vegetable and mineral colors are used for painting.

Stories from the Mahabharatha, Ramayana and the tales of Lord Jagannath form the undying glaciers of inspiration for the paintings. 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.

The representation of the human forms or figures are 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, 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 Pata 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 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 favored 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 back wards are painted near the pinnacle of temples and two peacock 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.


Challenges:

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 lead 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 painting 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, has lead to the poverty of the artist.


Introduction Process:


Raw Materials:

The artists select new leaves of the Palm tree that are about to open, or the tender young leaves, which are dried and then used for painting. A sharp iron stylus tool is used to etch the drawings. Cotton threads are used to string together the leaves.

The colours used are made by the artists from natural sources.
Black: Lamp (carbon) black mixed with wood apple gum used to rub into the etching and create contrast.
Red pigment: Ground Cinnabar (iron oxide) it is locally known as Hingula.
White: Burnt conch shell powder mixed with plant gum.
Yellow: Prepared out of the adhesive of wood apple mixed with Turmeric powder.
Blue: Ground juice of Indigo plant leaves mixed with some plant gum.
Green: Ground bean leaves, mixed with plant gum.


Waste:


Tools & Tech:

A strong iron hatchet is used for cutting leaves from the palm tree. Small iron tools are used to work on the leaves. A sharp pointed iron stylus is mostly used for engraving and terracotta pot is used for boiling water. A chisel, bodkin and drill are the other tools used for preparation of wooden cover board. Stone plates and stones are used for preparation of pigments. These are mixed and stored in coconut shells. Different types of hand-made brushes are used to paint in fillers as per design requirements.


Rituals:


process:

Tender leaves of the palm tree are plucked and seasoned. The seasoning is done in various ways. Some hang the palm leaves in their kitchen, take them out and apply turmeric paste to them. In some parts, leaves are dried completely under the sun and are then kept under the mud or silt of a pond for 10-15 days. After this, they are removed, cleaned and dried again, under the sun for some time and finally a paste of turmeric is applied on the surface of the leaves. In some parts of Western Orissa, the palm leaves are allowed to boil with paddy husk and then they are cleaned with soft cloth and kept alternately under dew and sun for a few days. After the seasoning, the leaves are cut into the required lengths.
A thick stylus with a sharp needle point is used to inscribe on the leaves. The leaf surface is balanced and pressed between the stretched fore-finger and the thumb of the left hand. These fingers are kept at a ‘V’ shaped angle between each other. This helps in holding the thin leaf in a tighter grip. The right hand moves the stylus in smooth, light pressured, rounded movements to inscribe the paintings in to the leaf. The stylus has to be held at a proper angle for the right depth to be attained. The natural grains of the palm leaves make the movement against it difficult and just the right amount of pressure has to be put on the leaves so that they do not tear.
After the etching, lampblack or kohl is rubbed over the leaves. The etchings take in the lampblack and the rest get wiped away. Then, according to the final design of the Talapattachitra, the voids are cut away to make stencil like patterns or layered on other leaves.


Cluster Name: Raghurajpur-Puri

Introduction:

'Raghurajpur' of Orissa has been given the title of heritage village. This village is unique in that, all the residents of this village are artists, who have dedicated their lives to painting.
district Raghurajpur-Puri
state
population 3000
langs Hindi, English, Oriya
best-time August-March
stay-at village rest houses or stay at Puri
reach Chandanpur village is 14 km from Puri on NH 203 ( Puri-Bhubaneswar Road), a right turn to reach Raghurajpur (1-2 km from Chandanpur)
local Small Village
food

History:

The major concentrations of artists and art forms can be found in places like 'Raghurajpur', 'Paralakhemundi', 'Digapahandi', 'Chikiti', 'Berhampur', 'Dharakot', 'Bargarh', 'Sonpur', 'Keonjhar', 'Dandasahi' of Puri, 'Sadar Block', 'Balisahi', 'Chitrakarasahi', 'DolaMandap sahi', 'Markendeswar sahi' of 'Puri Municipality'. From among these sites, 'Raghurajpur', a village about 12 km away from Puri has attracted worldwide attention as a 'Heritage village'. It was declared as a 'Heritage village' and a 'Rural Tourism Centre' by 'The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)' in 2000. All the residents of the village are artists. The village holds the unique distinction of having maximum concentration of 'Pattachitra' artists. As per a local survey at least 22 households are pursuing this art form but in practice all most all households in the village are linked with the Pattachitra business as an artist or as a promoter.

Raghyrajpur-odisha

Geography:

Raghurajpur is located near the 'Puri-Bhubaneswar' road near 'Chandanpur'. It is approximately 52kms away from Bhubaneshwar and 14kms away from Jagannath temple. To reach this village, one has to get down at Chandanpur bus-stop which is about 10 km from Puri and 50 km from Bhubaneswar on National Highway No.203 connecting Puri and Bhubaneswar. From Chandanpur one has to take a cycle-rickshaw or walk on a 1.3 km scenic road to reach this village. One may also hire a taxi either from Puri or from Bhubaneswar to reach the village. The nearest airport is Bhubaneshwar. It takes less than 4 hours to reach Puri from the Bhubaneshwar Airport.

Environment:



Infrastructure:

The village of almost 120 craftsmen households has been developed by the 'Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)'. A shrine for the local deity has been built at the entrance which leads to several rows of houses. Raghurajpur is also known for its dance tradition called 'Gotipua' and has a dance school named 'Dasabhuja Gotipua Odishi Nrutya Parisad' where many budding talents are trained. 'Gram Kutir' or village rest houses are available to visitors. An amphitheatre and water tank buildings are located nearby. The neighbouring districts of 'Chandarpur' and 'Puri' are the main sources of raw material and utility supplies.

raghuajpur-infrastructuer

Architecture:

The artists live in simple mud houses having a thatched or corrugated sheet roofs. Some have moved on to build sturdier houses with brick and concrete. The artists have made beautiful paintings on the walls of their homes. Due to the nuclear family system prevalent here, the land has been partitioned into several smaller sections. As a result most of the families are now forced to live in smaller two room dwellings. Adjacent houses would share a common wall to save space leaving no space for windows. The main door and the ventilating holes above them are the only source for light and fresh air. The rooms in the houses are built one behind the other and the houses would have a front porch. So to access the innermost room one needs to go past the porch and the front room. The front porch doubles as a work-space for the painter as well as an art demonstration space where visitors can see the artists display their art skills. Shrines of deities made of mud and stone, are located right at the entrance to the village. This is also a community meeting place.

Culture:

In this region the residents belong to various Hindu castes like the 'Maharana', 'Mahapatra', 'Sunar', 'Swain', 'Sahoo', 'Godia', 'Pandit', 'Naik', and 'Pradhan'. Castes which master in Patachitra and Palm leaf paintings are the 'Maharanas', 'Mahapatras', 'Sahoo', and 'Swain'. There are roughly about 50 to 60 families that practice 'Patachitra paintings' and around 30 to 40 families that make 'Palm leaf paintings'. The remaining castes are involved other crafts like 'Cow-dung toys', 'Wooden toys', 'Stone carving', 'Paper Mache' and 'Coconut shell painting'. Craft is the main occupation here followed by farming. Most children are mostly educated to an intermediate level out of which very few receive college education. The child marriages of the older times are not practiced anymore and regular marriages are the norm. There are two types of marriage- 'Danda- Vivah' and 'Dwara or Tola Kanya Vivah'. In the former type, the groom along with a wedding procession visits the bride's house. The wedding is performed with much pomp and show and the bride's family gives an expensive dowry making it a costly affair. In the latter however, the bride visits the groom's house for a simple ceremony involving very little dowry. However, the former is the more popular kind of marriage with over two thirds of the marriages being performed in the 'Danda-Vivah' style. The dowry consists of household articles given in a painted dowry box. Paintings of various deities are an important part of the dowry articles. Raghurajpur is also the birthplace of 'Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra', the great 'Odissi' dancer. He earned his training in Gotipua dance in this very village. Now, 'Maa Dasabhuja Gotipua Odissi Dance School', 'Gotipua Gurukul', have been established in the village under the guidance of 'Guru Maguni Charan Das'. Even today, young boys of the village practice the Gotipua dance. Raghurajpur also hosts an annual spring festival in the months of February and March named as 'Basant Utsav - Parampara'. It was first organized in 1993 by the 'State Tourism Department and Astern Zonal Cultural Centre', Kolkata.

People:

The main occupation of the village is 'Pata' painting. The Chitrakara or painters are engrossed in their work most of the day. While the men folk and the boys are busy with paintings and related works the women do the cleaning and cooking, fetch water from the rivers and the wells, dry leaves and twigs for fuel and in their spare time they also help in the preparation of canvases and colours for the paintings. In the evening after the day's work, the villagers gather in front of the temples or in the 'Bhagwatha griha' and join in 'Bhajans' or just simply gossip, till it's the time for dinner and bed. Every member of the family is invariably engaged in doing something related to the paintings. The elderly men, if not busy in playing a game of 'Ganjifa' then they keep themselves engaged in painting toys, masks, coconuts etc. which do not demand a very high quality of craftsmanship. The clothes worn by the Chitrakaras are pertaining to tradition and the comfort with which they can work. The women are mostly draped in a sari without blouses, with the end covering their head. The men traditionally wear dhotis and do not wear shirts. Some are seen with a 'Gamcha' or towel thrown over their shoulders. Many youngsters have moved onto contemporary attires like shirts and trousers.

people-odisha

Famous For:

Pattachitra, Stone Idols, Paper Mache idols, Anasar Pattis, Tala-pattachitra and Gotipua dance form.

Craftsmen

List of craftsmen.

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