Patachitra: the Indian art of painting on cloth

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A moving folklore goes that once a king’s priest’s son dies, the priest is completely heartbroken and yearns for his son. Brahma, the Hindu God, appears before the king and asks him to paint a lifelike image of the son so that he could breathe life into it and resurrect the son to life.

And thus, the art of painting was born. Orissa can be called the land of paintings. Patachithra, is the art of painting on cloth. It is almost always closely linked with Lord Jagannath, the prime deity at the Jagannath Temple of Puri, a beach town in the State and is said to have come into existence in the 8th century. There are families who paint these Patachithras and are called Chithrakars. They painted images of Lord Jagannath and sold in the local towns of Orissa, but now, the art form has caught the attention of tourists and art lovers. They also paint images of deities on palm leaves. Bold, bright colours are used in the Patachithras.

The process

In the Sanskrit script, Patha means cloth and Chithra means painting. Before the painting, the cloth is given a coating of gum. Then it is burnished by rubbing rough grain and polished stone, so that it acquires sheen.

The cloth is then smoothened out and snipped up to the desired shape and then painted using vegetable and mineral dyes. Once this is done, the cloth is given a protective coating of a lacquer glaze, called jausala. The whole process is extremely painstaking and takes a minimum of 5 days to complete.

The brushes that are used comprise of mangoose’s hair or extracts of the keya plant and lot of intricate work is involved.

This art is sure to not die out like many Indian handicrafts since it has acquired an international status due to the intricacy and workmanship involved in creating such 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.

Dastakaar

Dastakaar is an annual fair held in kalakshethra grounds in Chennai and this year, a stall was dedicated to these paintings. From wall hangings to small gift items, a lot of paintings were displayed by Mr. Debyank Bannerjee, an artisan hailing from Midnapore in West Bengal. He says, “It is difficult for us to market our products because art forms, in general, are dying because we don’t have an effective plan to sustain and compete in the retail market. We travel across the country to keep this dying art alive.”

“I loved the pata-chitra scrolls. Though slightly on the expensive side, they are definitely a collector’s piece, says Aarti Sivanandh, a lawyer and a lover of crafts and frequent visitor of Dastakaar.

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 

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