The tender leaves of palm trees are strung together to form the canvas for 'Tala-pattachitra'. On this the artist etches the narratives with help of a stylus tool. The stories are revealed when the etched grooves are smeared with 'lampblack'.

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

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Tools & Technology

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.

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Rituals

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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.

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