The present work attempts to understand the palm leaf illustrations from Orissa. Orissan artists produced a wealth of such material in the form of manuscript illustrations, which have received the attention of scholars in this field. Yet the need was felt to assess them in terms of artistic expression, the historical development of the style and their traditional content. Although the extant manuscripts are limited to a relatively short time-span, they represent a long standing traditional knowledge.
In Orissa itself, the tradition of illustrating the palm leaf manuscript, came to an abrupt end and its use in village life stopped due to changes in life style. Such manuscripts are now things of the past.
New awareness of the research and understanding of this tradition came through certain modern publications, of which the writings of the late Shri O. C. Gangoly and subsequently those of Prof. Deb Prasad Ghosh can be regarded as the pioneer attempts in this field. Shri O. C. Gangoly and Prof. Ghosh collected some of these manuscripts, the latter for the Ashutosh Museum of the University of Calcutta. Besides the Utkal University Library and the State Museum of Orissa at Bhubaneshwar, this is the most representative collection of such illustrated manuscripts. Certain publications on this theme by Shri Nilamani Mishra have been helpful in under-standing related problems.
These and other writers have encouraged me to study the Orissan palm leaf illustrations in some detail. As I wandered through the villages of Orissa, searching for the manuscripts, copying the drawings and trying to understand the meanings conveyed by them, I came across an unexpected treasure of material, which has proved highly rewarding for my studies. This treasure of material, which has proved highly rewarding for my studies. This treasure gave me an insight into the meaningful bhangimas of the illustrations. Prof. S. K. Saraswati, the then Head of the Department of Art and Architecture, Benares Hindu University, appreciated the idea and encouraged me in the present project. After Prof. Saraswati's retirement, his successor Prof. Anand Krishna helped and encouraged the present work. Going Through my collection of the copies of the drawings, he felt that he had been completely converted to an admirer of the Orissan art of manuscript illumination. It was he who urged me to look at the illustration. It was he who urged me to look at the illustrations from the painter's point of view and to try to understand the underlying ideas behind each mudra, landscape if any, or the compositional qualities. Through this approach the scenes started unfolding themselves before me.
The question of relating these "etched" drawings to a special of Indian art was also a problem to be tackled in the present work. These drawings cannot immediately be related to Orissan sculpture, which reached its height in the thirteenth century. The tradition could be linked with the Western Indian (Apabhramsa) painting on the one hand and the Andhra paintings on the other. It is noteworthy that these traditions have been kept alive by the local artisans till the last century when they came to an end.
I have tried to cull as much material in the present work as was possible from my survey work. Alas! Some of the manuscripts I searched for are reported to have been lost or sold over the years and they are no longer traceable. It would be sacrilege to claim that the present work touches the entirety of this style. Hopefully newer discoveries will make future studies more and more colourful and draw more adherents. An attempt has been made in the following pages to project the underlying ideas of these illustrations.
I wish to extend my gratitude to all who have unstintingly given their valuable help in the preparation and production of this work.
From the Jacket:
This book is on the drawings in the palmleaf manuscripts of Orissa drawn by the scribes-artists who had no family background of art, no training from any teacher.
These drawings are not drawn by pen or pencil but etched by the help of an iron needle called stylo on dry palmleaves.
They are based on the text of the manuscripts and the artists have shown their individuality in their drawings. They are successful in expressing their feelings through a few lines which they have drawn spontaneously but precisely within a limited space of one to two inches (which is the breadth of the palmleaf).
About the Author:
Dr. D. Patnaik was born in Orissa in the year 1918. he completed his graduation in painting from Calcutta. In general line he did graduation and obtained master's degree in Art History and Ph.D. from Banaras Hindu University. He taught Painting and Art History in the faculty of Fine Arts in B.H.U. and Kashi Vidyapith University of Varanasi for twenty-five years. He has written many articles on art subjects, written books on art and fiction. He is a well-known writer of books for children.
As he is painter, writer and an art historian he has nicely explained the source, secret and success of the illustrations in the palmleaf manuscripts. To understand the illustrations on has to understand the text of Oriya literature. Dr. Patnaik is well versed in Oriya literature, so he has explained the text to the reader clearly to understand the illustrations. He has also analysed the figures in such a way that the reader would enjoy the drawings and appreciate the skill of the artists in expressing the ideas.
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