An ancient tool, a special sharp, pointed, iron needle is used to etch the drawings onto the palm leaves. Pure lamp-black is then rubbed on the palm leaves which fill in the grooves where the drawing is engraved. The extra black powder is then washed off with soap and water, and this leaves the black to settle in the lines of carving. Mythological stories and scenes are depicted in Talapatra Chitras. Some have interesting variations such as a flip-fold, where a hidden image appears which is always an erotic, Kamasutra pose.

The main subject of Pattachitra paintings is the local deity Jagannath, and this art is mainly associated with worship and rituals. In the art, like in the temple, the Lord is represented in a totem-like appearance, along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. These deities are represented icononically in black, white and yellow, respectively. Pattachitras representing the Jagannath deity are known as Srikhetra Pati. The iconic face of Jagannath is also full of symbolism. The two large eyes represent the sun and the moon. Associated with the universe, he is regarded as Anandi, having no beginning, and Ananta, without end.

Pattachitra depicting Radha Krishna
Pattachitra depicting Radha Krishna | Niranjan Moharana

Since Jagannath is regarded as an incarnation of Vishnu, Pattachitra also covers many facets of Vishnu. The Dashavatar, or the ten incarnations of Vishnu, are depicted in the Pattachitras and offered to the Jagannath deity with musical recitation through fables. Gita-Govinda, a famous literary creation on Radha and Krishna's romance, is read and adorned through the palm-leaf manuscripts and Pattachitras in many villages in Orissa.

Episodes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita are also inscribed and painted. Some convey the ritual art of religious practices or vows, known as Bratas, and modes of worshipping the gods and goddesses of Odisha. Durga, Ganesha and Nartaki, a dancing girl in Odissi dance posture, are elaborately painted. Odia folklore is another fascinating subject painted and recited.

Interestingly, like elsewhere in India, there are close links between sculpture and art here too. For instance, mythological stories seen in the rock-cut caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri, near Bhubaneswar, like the incarnations of Vishnu as Varaha, or the sacrificial boar, is also depicted in Pattachitra.

Nature-based Pattachitras
Nature-based Pattachitras | Peepul Tree

Nature-based Pattachitras bearing the tree of life, birds and animals are beautiful versions of the art too. The Kama Kunjara and Kandarpa Rath are elaborate representations of damsels arranged in the form of an elephant and a chariot. Other themes include erotic subjects.

Indian art historian, O C Gangooly believes that Patta paintings are exceptional, not only in the history of Indian paintings but also worldwide, among any form of European painting, because of their uniqueness and ritual significance.

Apart from Odisha, this artwork is also widely practiced in West Bengal and both of the versions have been awarded Geographical Indication tags. Meanwhile Raghurajpur town, the home of this fascinating art, was declared as a ‘heritage village’ by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage in the year 2000.

The unfortunate Cyclone Fani that hit the coast of Odisha in 2019 caused loss of lives and a lot of damage to infrastructure, agriculture and along with that, also washed away many priceless pieces of the Pattachitra art in Raghurajpur. There have been many attempts to revive Pattachitra paintings over time.

It is a living art form practiced even today, yet villages like Raghurajpur need recognition by our own people, as well as those across the world.

Peepul Tree featuring Pattachitra
Peepul Tree featuring Pattachitra

Platforms like Peepul Tree are helping this wonderful art form reach a wider audience, while also preserving its story and legacy. Peepul Tree is working with Pattachitra artisan Niranjan Moharana, a National Awardee based in Puri district of Odisha. His spectacular Pattachitra artwork on Peepul Tree features mythological depictions of the local deity, Jagannath, Ganesha dancing in Krishna's pose, Radha & Krishna, and nature, and animals depicting the incarnations of Vishnu.

Artisan Niranjan Moharana with his art work
Artisan Niranjan Moharana with his art work | Niranjan Moharana

B Mohanty in his book Pata-Paintings of Orissa published in 1984 mentions an illuminating quote by Dr M Krasa, a Czech scholar with a remarkable contribution to Indian studies: "Strange is this world of the Orissa Paintings, a world in itself where every article and ornament keeps its unchanging shape, its place and importance, where every animal has its own stylized features, every personality its unerring marks of identification, defined by the ancient texts, religious myths and local tradition. It is a world of myths and gods, a world of folk imagination, the reflection of millions of Indian peasants, fishermen and craftsmen, their joys, their hardships, binding faith and exacting beauty. So the paintings speak the language of their creators, they give realistic expression, a clear symbol and humorous details. They are familiar to the eye, close to the heart, bringing joy, expressing life."

Pattachitra Shree Lakshmi Painting
Pattachitra Krishna Vastrachori Painting

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