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.
Myths & Legends
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.