Legacy of Eastern India- Pattachitra Paintings

Originating from the Indian western states of Odisha and West Bengal, Pattachitra is an art form that essentially makes use of “Patta” or a piece of cloth for canvas. It is one of the iconic art forms of India and holds a special place in the arts and crafts industry.

The Origins-

This age-old tradition is believed to have originated in the 5th century with themes primarily depicting Lord Jagannath and scenes from his life.

Some of the finest traces of the Pattachitra painting from the past can be found in Raghurajpur, a village in the district of Puri that is famous for its heritage crafts.

Artists working on this medium were called Chitrakaras and they often were commissioned to make art for palaces and kings. They used to work with natural pigments and followed set guidelines that gave Pattachitra paintings their unmistakeable identity.

The Present Times

Although artisans still make use of a piece of cloth and natural pigments to make Pattachitra paintings, the art form has evolved to meet modern sensibilities and resource availability.

For instance, art back then was made for religious and worship purposes while now it is majorly made to be displayed in homes, offices, restaurants and such for interior appeal. Artisans now use brushes made of different animals’ hair for different purposes. For example, brushes made of buffalo hair are used for thicker lines while those made of squirrel hair are used for finer detailing. The themes have also been diversified from depicting mythological stories to more wider subjects such as geometrical shapes, flora, fauna and more. 

However, the guidelines we mentioned earlier are still majorly followed such as using bright hues, outlining details with black and making thick, decorative borders.

With such legacy, the traditional technique of making a Pattachitra painting is worth knowing.

The Process-

It can broadly be divided into a threefold process which involves:

  1. Preparing the Canvas:

A cotton cloth that is free of starch is often used for these paintings. It is first dipped in a solution of crushed Imli seeds and water for about 3-4 days after which it is sun dried.

Both sides of the cloth are then coated with a paste consisting of Imli, gum, and chalk powder and the cloth is again left to dry.

After that, the cloth is smoothened by rubbing a khaddar stone and a Chikana stone is used for giving the cloth a shiny effect.

  1. Preparing the Colours:

As discussed, Pattachitra painters make use of natural pigments which are obtained from vegetables, minerals, leaves, etc. For example, black is obtained by placing a burning lamp in a tin can and collecting the soot that forms while red is obtained from the stone hingual. Similarly, yellow comes from Haritali stone, white from Conch shells and green from boiling leaves.

All these pigments are mixed with water and gum to give them a uniform consistency.

More hues are created by mixing these primary colours together and coconut shells are often used for holding colours.

  1. Painting:

A Pattachitra painting is often started with sketching borders. A base sketch is then made based on the subject chosen. Once the sketch is ready, desired colours are filled in after which the entire figure and each detail is given an outline using black colour.

A coat of varnish maybe applied to prevent the painting from wearing off.

Although Pattachitra paintings were side tracked for few years, they are now being patronized and various centres are being set up across the state to teach and promote this art form. More and more women are being encouraged to make art to build themselves an identity and livelihood.

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