The heritage crafts village of Raghurajpur, about 10km north of Puri in Odisha, is home to about 140 families, all of whom have been Pattachitra painters for decades. The vibrant and intricate Pattachitra paintings are native to Odisha, dating back to the 5 BC, according to historic texts.
The paintings, based on Hindu mythology, are found on walls, canvas and even on palm leaves. Chennai-based Prathik Sudha Murali, a master’s student pursuing historical studies at the University of Madras, happened to visit the village a few years ago with a keen interest to learn more about the art and its history. When he learnt the village was ravaged after the recent cyclone Fani that hit Odisha in May, he decided to popularise the art in Chennai so the artisans could get back to their livelihoods.
“I was fascinated by the Jagannath (the deity of Puri) cult, and Pattachitra art has been a major element in that, which was how I happened to visit Raghurajpur. The village, which is entirely dependent on art for its livelihood, has seen generations of artisans working on Pattachitra paintings. I had interacted with a few artisans and purchased a few paintings then. It was after cyclone Fani that one of the artists got in touch with me to share the devastation that the cyclone had left on their village. It was very moving for me to see their houses crumbling down and most of the artworks damaged as a result. That was when I decided to find a platform for the artisans to showcase their works,” recalls Prathik, 26, the
Managing Trustee of Chennai-based Sahagamana Foundation.
The Foundation aims to promote classical, folk art traditions in the country and strive for the welfare of artisans, besides organising heritage walks, exhibitions, workshops, etc.
Prathik, who also delivers lectures on heritage for various conservation organisations, says he felt compelled to popularise Pattachitra paintings in Chennai so the artisans can rebuild their lives. Through a tie-up with Wandering Artist, his Sahagamana Foundation is giving the city an opportunity to interact with the artists and learn the basics of the art form.
“Some of the paintings like the Ramayana take nearly two months to finish and the artisans had lost most of their work in the cyclone. Many are in debts after having rebuilt their homes. The art is still done the traditional way — on palm leaves, a handmade canvas and on walls, and uses entirely natural colours. Ground semi-precious stones, and colours like indigo are mixed into resins extracted from trees to create the natural paints. I feel each of the paintings is a wonder as it involves a tremendous amount of labour,” elaborates Prathik.
Through ‘Utkala Varna—The Colours of Odisha’, an exhibition and workshop of Pattachitra art to be held in the city, one can learn many such intricacies of the art form, he adds. A third generation Pattachitra artist from the village, Sachikant Sahoo, along with his guru Harihar Maharana, will be in Chennai to conduct the workshop.
Sachikant says, “Most of the affected artists have built temporary homes, but many of us have lost our paintings after the cyclone. Even though all the families living in the village are completely reliant on the art, it sadly doesn’t have as much popularity. Art is our only way of earning a livelihood. We will be bringing to Chennai our paintings, as well as those of a few other artists, who have been badly affected by Fani.”
Utkala Varna, the exhibition and workshop of Pattachitra art will be held on November 16-17 from 10 am onwards at Wandering Artist in RA Puram.