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India is a country rich in art and culture. Among the most unique, exquisite, and intricate forms of art is the Pattachitra. The name of this art form comes from the Sanskrit word patta, which means “cloth” and chitra, meaning “picture”. As the name describes, Pattachitra refers to art in the form of pictures or paintings illustrated on cloth. Considered as one of the oldest art forms that still exists to this day, Pattachitra is believed to have originated from as early as the twelfth century.

Socio Economic and Gender Contexts of Patta Painting (A Study in Development Perspective)

The traditional art form is popular and practiced predominantly in the Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal. Those who create Pattachitra paintings are known as chitrakars. Pattachitras were originally produced for use in rituals, as visual accompaniments during the performance of songs, and as mementos for temple pilgrims. They commonly depict icons from Hindu tradition, religious stories, mythological narratives, especially those inspired by the Lord Jagannath and the Vaishnava sect in Hinduism, as well as folktales. Some of the most popular themes that are brought to life through the cloth paintings include temple activities, Dasabatara Pati which is Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations, Panchamukhi which is an image of Lord Ganesh as a deity with five heads, Badhia which refers to the representation of the Jagannath temple, Krishna Lila which shows Lord Krishna wielding his powers as a child, as well as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, just to mention a few.

Large Sampoorna Ramayana (Fine Art) Patachitra Painting

The art of Pattachitra is one that is painstakingly created to produce such intricate visuals on cloth. It is a type of art form that is quite disciplined in that it involves prescribed rules and restrictions. One of these rules is the use of a floral border around the painting, as well as the use of natural colours, which are a must for all Pattachitras. Often, the icons and narratives that are portrayed are created in profile or side view, and with elongated eyes.

To start a Pattachitra painting, Chitrakars begin by following a traditional process to prepare the cloth canvas. Chitrakars take a white stone powder and gum formed out of tamarind seeds and apply it on fine cotton cloth with a gauze-like texture. The cloth is then rubbed between two stones and then dried. This coating process gives the cloth’s surface a type of leather-like finish and helps the cloth canvas take in the natural coloured paint. 

Jagannath in Sona Vesha (Shringar)

The colours used in Pattachitra paintings are unique to the art. The primary ingredient in the paint comes from the gum of the Kaitha tree. This gum is used as a base to which different raw materials, typically vegetables and minerals, are added in order to create a variety of colour pigments. For instance, white-coloured paint is achieved by powdering, boiling and then filtering conch-shells. On the other hand, black colour is created by burning coconut shells. The natural paint colours used for Pattachitra paintings are bright and vibrant shades, including red, yellow, indigo, as well as black and white. As with the naturally made colours, the brush used to create the images are also natural and made from the hair of domestic animals. A small bundle of animal hair is tied to the end of a bamboo stick in order to fashion the paintbrush. 

In creating the iconography and images on Pattachitra paintings, talented chitrakars do not use any pencil or charcoal for initial sketches or drawings. Such experts in the traditional art form, are able to draw directly on the canvas with no outline or guide, using a brush with either light red or yellow colour. These outlines are then filled with different colours to create vivid cloth paintings. Once all the colours are applied, the final lines are drawn, and the finishing touches are completed, a lacquer coating is applied on the Pattachitra. In order to apply the lacquer finish, the Pattachitra painting is held over a fire with the back of the painting exposed to the fire’s heat as the fine lacquer is applied on the painting’s surface. This lacquer protects the Pattachitra from weather and other external elements while giving it a glossy finish.

Hand-Painted Pattachitra Silk Scarf from Orissa

A living art that is still created to this day, Pattachitra paintings have not only endured but have also evolved throughout the years. Today, some Chitrakars have created paintings on tussar silk, as well as on palm leaves. Aside from ritual use and as keepsakes for pilgrims, Pattachitras can now also be seen as eye-catching wall hangings and showpieces, much like traditional paintings. The cultural significance and renown of this art form, not only in India but all over the world, cannot be denied or even overstated. As such, learning centres have been established in order to teach the art form and to guarantee that the brilliant Pattachitra art continues to endure for generations to come.

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