“Patta” literally means “cloth” and “Chitra” means “picture” in Sanskrit. The Pattachitra painting tradition is closely linked with the worship of Lord Jagannath, and stories from the Ramayan, Mahabharath and of Radha & Krishna are the other main themes.
These paintings were traditionally done only by males. However, in recent times, some women artists have also taken up this artform.
The origin of Patachitra paintings is linked with the famous Jagannath temple of Puri, which was built by the Choda-GangaDeva. The style was kept alive over the centuries due to the demands of millions of pilgrims who come to the shrine of Jagannath from all over India. The patachitras are generally located as the earliest indigenous paintings in the state of Orissa, apart from fragmentary evidence of cave paintings in Khandagiri, Udaygiri, and Sitabhinji. Mohanty traces the origins of Pata paintings to the eighth century AD
The history of patachitra painting is linked inextricably with the history of the Jagannath cult. The patachitra “chitrakars” (painters) are temple functionaries who live in and around the temple town of Puri . Now, the community of chitrakars have spread beyond Puri district, and they have also begun using a variety of non-religious themes in their paintings. However, this has not reduced the creation of patachitras based on Jagannath icons and traditional religious themes and these still remain the core of the pictorial content of patachitra paintings.
The painters or Chitrakars are found mainly in the district of Puri, Orissa and more specifically in the crafts village of Raghurajpur. The tradition of making patachitras is passed down the generations from father to son.
Process, Talent & Skills needed
The “pattas” are made from silk or cotton through an arduous process that takes the women a minimum 5 days to complete. First, a natural glue made of tamarind (imli) seeds is prepared. This paste is made by (i) soaking tamarind seeds in water for about three days, (ii) grinding them with a pestle till they are jelly-like in consistency, (iii) mixing the ground pulp with water in an earthen pot, and (iv) heating this into a paste traditionally called niryas kalpa. The canvas on which the painting is executed is then made by sticking together two layers of (traditionally) cotton cloth using this natural glue paste.
Then, soft clay stone is powdered and mixed with the glue paste and 2-3 coatings of this mixture are applied on the prepared canvas on both sides. This stone is is found in the Nilgiri mountains and is chalk-like in consistency and white in colour. Nowadays, the chitrakars buy this stone from local shops.
The canvas is then left to dry completely, which takes more than half the day, after which the cloth is cut into the required shape and size. Finally, the surfaces of the patta are polished using a rough burnishing stone, and later with a smooth stone or wood. After the above steps, the patta is ready to be painted on.
The powdered colors are made by grinding stones that yield particular colors, and the chitrakar buys these colors in the powdered form from the local shops. The color pigments are mixed with glue made from the sap of the elephant apple and the chitrakar mixes these colors in dried coconut shells. The chitrakar starts and ends his painting with the color white. First, the painting borders are drawn on all four sides. Next, the chitrakar outlines the figures with very thin white lines. Body colors are then added, and the characters are clothed with fine brush strokes. Small and fine white decorative motifs are then painted in white. After the painting is complete, it is lacquered, thus making it water-resistant and durable.
Materials used, durability
The artist’s palette comprises a variety of colors – white, red, yellow, black, green and blue, all of which are derived from natural sources. Conch shells are used for white, black comes from lamp soot, yellow from ‘Hartala’ stone, red is made from ‘Hingulal’ stone, green comes from plants and blue from indigo. These extracts are then cooked with the gum from the ‘kaintha’ (elephant apple) fruit tree, and the colours thus become easy to work with.
The paintbrushes used by the chitrakars are typically made of the keya root. The finer ones have wooden handles and are made of mouse hair. At the centre of the brush are about a dozen long mouse hairs, which, when dipped in paint, have a needle-point edge.
This popular folk art of Orissa pays close attention to definition and detail. Hindu mythological themes, and specifically images of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra are prominently found in this art form, as also are scenes from the epics, picturizations of fables, myths and folk-tales, royal processions, court ladies, and animals and birds. The symbology used for gods in Pattachitras is very realistic in terms of form, shape, and accessories, and it is easy to observe the continuity and similarity in the images depicted in the various patachitras. The borders vary from thick lines to geometrical patterns and floral depictions with intricate detailing.