Pattachitra; An Ancient Folk Art that Reflects the Ethos of India

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Traditional art is an aspect of people's culture, with skills and knowledge passed down through generations. It largely spread through word of mouth or by following in the footsteps of a cultural group. 

Patta painting is regarded, as an important form of Odia painting, which developed in the 12th century at the Jagannath temple in Puri. Jagannath temple has been a centre of Orissan art and culture.

Puri and Raghurajpur are considered a realm of myths and gods, as well as folklore of Pattachitra. This style evolved under the patronage of the Ganga kings and the Bhoi Dynasty's king. The painting's objective was to popularize the Jagannath worship among the millions of pilgrims that visited Puri.

The origin of the Patachitra paintings can be traced back to the 8th century AD and, is considered as one of the earliest forms of indigenous paintings. The term Pattachitra is derived from the Sanskrit words patta, which means canvas, and Chitra, which means painting. Thus, Pattachitra creates a scroll painting on canvas that is manifested, by rich colourful application, innovative motif and designs, and depiction of a simple theme, generally mythological in depiction.

The majority of these paintings portray Hindu deity legends. Pattachitra is reminiscent of the old murals of Odisha, particularly the sacred centres of Puri, Konark, and Bhubaneshwar going back to the 5th century BC. The best work can be seen in and around Puri, particularly in the village of Raghurajpur and Dandasahi.

The Divine Lord Venkateshwara from the Temple Town Puri

According to custom, the successor of Vishwavsu Savar, the first tribal chief of mythology who began the worship of the Lord, make hidden worship of the Lord; make secret worship of the deities in the chamber by offering those fruits and coconut. Meanwhile, the "trinity" of Nilamadhava (Jagannath), Ananta (Balaram), and Bhubhaneswari (Subhadra) are worshipped in three separate Patachitra created by the temples' folk artists. The tale of these three siblings was initially presented on Pattachitra. These deities are ironically in black, white and yellow, respectively.  The two large eyes represent the sun and moon. They also shared Navagraha stories and experiences from their lives.

Different Styles of Pattachitra Paintings

Pata paintings come in a wide range of styles, including paintings of Jagannath, the holy trinity, and paintings of their chariots. Pattachitra is based on the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvat Gita, and various Puranas and kavyas among others. Pattachitras of folklore and animal and bird stories, as well as erotic Pattachitras.

Scenes from the Ramayana

Samudra Manthan (Churning of the ocean)

Orissa's chitrakar, or artists, are Sudras by caste. It should also be mentioned, that almost all of the chitrakara family members assist the artist in producing portraits of mythological deities. Women and children are typically involved in the preparation of colour paste. The artist creates the sketches and then adds the finishing touches to the piece.

Process of Making Pattachitra Paintings

To begin, the folk-painter selects two pieces of cloth and sticks them together with a paste made from tamarind seeds. Tamarind seeds are soaked in water for two to three days. When the seed swells and softens, they use a pestle to pound it into a fine, thick paste. A little water is added into the clay pot along with the material, which is then cooked to a fine paste. This gum, is used to bind these two textiles together to form a pati.

Folk art colours are manufactured from natural elements such as china clay, soft clay or chalk, conch shell, red stone, yellow-brown ochre, and so on. The artist uses seashells for white, which are abundant on the beaches of Orissa. Folk women make collyrium by holding an oiled leaf over the smoke of a burning flame. Charcoal is used to create the black colour. The green colour is created by combining the juice of the green leaf with the gum in a proportionate amount. The red and yellow colours are made from red and ochre by powdering the stone with the paste-stone respectively. The blue colour is made from a bluestone called rajabarta. The colours also represent each character's Rasa in a storey. Hasya, which means "laughing," is depicted in white. Raudra, or rage, is depicted in red, whereas Adhbhuta, or astonishment, is depicted in yellow.

In painting the patas, the traditional artist used five primary colours. These five natural colours are likened and identified with the heavenly colours of Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sihasana, and Neela chakra by Orrisa's folk painters and saints. These are known as Pancha tattva, which refers to the five constituents.

Jagannath-Subhada-Baalabhadra In Padma Shringar

A floral border with intricate designs and leaves is required in Pattachitra paintings, as the Chitra highlights the folktale and story. The lines are bold, crisp, and sharp. There are no landscapes, viewpoints, or distant vistas in general. All of the incidents are shown near one another. The Pattachitra style combines folk and classical influences.

Over time, Pattachitra art has seen a significant transformation, and chitrakars started painting on palm leaves and tussar silk.

In Oriya, the art of painting on palm leaves is known as Tala Pattachitra. Palm leaves are picked from palm trees and dried. They are then sewed together to create a larger canvas. The images are traced on this, using black or white ink to fill grooves etched on rows of equal-sized palm leaf panels. These panels can also be folded like a fan and stored in a compact pile for better conservation. Palm-leaf illustrations are frequently more extravagant, and this is achieved, by superimposing layers that are bonded together for the majority of the surface while leaving some sections open in the shape of small windows that expose a second image beneath the first one.

Shashabhujadhari Ganesha (composite figure), Watercolour painting on palm leaves

Pattachitra paintings are not just limited to cloth; palm leaves or silk. Currently, it is practised on sarees, purses, wall hangings, and even showpieces. These scroll paintings are not restricted to South India but have branched out to the western parts of India and western countries. Under the leadership of the American Friends Service Committee, one exhibition was staged at Puri Town Hall in 1953, and two shows were held in Delhi and Calcutta in 1954. Sri Nabakrishna Choudhary, then Chief Minister of Orissa, worked hard to revive Orissa's indigenous art form.

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