This pata-chitra – cloth painting, rendered in vertical format on a fine piece of cloth, a blend of mercerized cotton and silk, using primarily the blue and black and the subdued tones of yellow and green as subsidiary palette, represents the ten-armed Goddess Durga enshrining a magnificent sanctum. Typical of Orissa pata-chitra tradition, in the painting most of the forms and effects are line-drawn, the brush seems to have been used only for rendering background against which such forms are discovered or for rendering the thicker areas, though these could be both, the brush-work as also the densely drawn lines. The judiciously used colours attribute to the white of the background the status of yet another colour – the one like others, and perhaps more effective than any of them, for it is in its contrast that they all find a form, effect and their entire magic. The sanctum’s interior has been conceived with deep lustrous blue, and the sky above, with as dark black. In characteristic Oriya tradition a large number of miniaturized flower-plant-motifs scattered all over break the monotony of this deep blue interior, and the tiny cloud-motifs, rendered in light blue floating in the space above, of the sky. The Oriya pata-chitra painters are unparalleled in creating most delightful effects: a kind of lyricism and rhythmic vibrancy, out of a deep background in blue or even black, which could otherwise be monotonous, by sprinkling over it multiple repeats of any design-motif, even an irrelevant floral pattern, a dot, or whatever. The painting’s pata-chitra character, typical of Orissa tradition, reflects as powerfully in the style of its architecture, especially in the tiered temple-tower, pedestal and the sanctum’s arched opening with moderately deep corbels, and in the beautifully painted facade.
The ten-armed goddess is holding in her hands on the right side sword, trident, disc, lotus-bud and an arrow, and in those on the left, snake with shield, conch, mace, bow and in the fifth, the demon’s hair. In an astonishing move, she gets up from over her mount lion and while supporting her massive figure just on a single foot, set firmly on her mount’s back, she charges upon the demon with a mighty blow of her other foot, and another, that with her spear on his chest and the completely dismayed demon submits to her and to his destiny. Baffled by her blows as he is, the goddess catches hold of the demon’s hair and drags him close to her feet where her mount lion charges at him and tears his figure, and her ferocious snake, one of her attributes, shakes him with horror disabling his all mental faculties. The goddess rises into the space pervading it in entirety and the demon, overpowered by her blows, falls on the ground blow.
Installed in a sanctum the figure of the goddess, obviously the goddess Durga – the most widely worshipped female divinity and one of the most widely worshipped deities of Hindu pantheon, is essentially a sanctum image. Durga’s votive images, enshrining sanctums, are mostly in operative forms though at the same time she has a form that is all-pervasive, the act she is represented performing being just the most insignificant aspect of her being. She is usually represented as killing a demon, in most cases the buffalo demon Mahisha, known in the popular tradition as Mahishasura, and hence, the goddess, as Mahishasura-mardini – suppressor of the demon Mahisha. In popular sculptural/visual traditions Mahisha, meaning buffalo, is a figural blend of human and buffalo anatomies, mostly a human head emerging from a buffalo’s body; however, sometimes, as here in this powerful painting, he is also represented only with human anatomy. In myths and conventions of visual representations, it is mostly Mahishasura whose body the goddess’s lion is alluded to as tearing for accomplishing the goddess’s crusade against evil powers. Sword and shield are widely alluded to as being Mahishasura’s attributes. This determines the demon’s identity as Mahishasura.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.
The traditional Pattachitra is a scroll painting that is done on
cloth. This is revealed in the name; Pattachitra is a Sanskrit
term made from two words i.e. Patta meaning cloth and Chitra
meaning picture. The main subject of this painting is portraying
Hindu mythological narratives, scenes from religious texts, and
folktales. Pattachitra paintings are especially practiced in
eastern Indian states such as West Bengal and Odisha, and also in
some parts of Bangladesh. This art form is closely related to Shri
Jagannath and the tradition of the Vaishnava sect. It is believed
that Pattachitra art originated in the 11th century and the people
of Odisha practice it even today without any discrepancy. Bengalis
use these scroll paintings for ritual purposes (as a visual
device) during the performance of a song or Aarti.
Pattachitra paintings are characterized by creative and
traditional motifs/designs, decorative borders, and bright
colorful applications. The outline of the figure and motifs are
bold and sharp. Some common shapes and motifs seen in these
paintings are trees, flowers, leaves, elephants, and other
creatures. The artists of Odisha and Bengal still use the
traditional method of painting which gives a unique look to it
The process of painting a Pattachitra begins by preparing the
canvas (patta). Generally, cotton cloth is used for making the
canvas. The local artists dip the cotton cloth in a mixture of
tamarind seeds and water for a few days. The cloth is then taken
out and dried in the sun. Now natural gum is applied over it to
stick another layer of cotton cloth on it. Thus a thick layer of
cotton cloth is formed. This layered cotton is sun-dried and a
paste of chalk powder, tamarind, and gum is applied on both
sides. The surface of the cloth is then rubbed with two
different stones for smoothening and it is again dried. This
process gives the cloth a leathery finish and it is now ready to
The painters prepare and use vegetable and mineral colors for
application in the painting. White color is made from conch
shells, black is made by burning coconut shells, Hingula is used
for red color, Ramaraja for blue, and Haritala for yellow.
The artist now makes a double-lined border on all four sides of
the canvas. The local artists are so expert in painting that
they do not draw figures and motifs with pencil but directly
draw them with a brush. The paint brushes that the painters use
are made of the hair of domestic animals, a bunch of which is
tied to the end of a bamboo stick. The figures are now painted
with natural colors using the indigenous brushes. The outline is
thickened with black color.
Finally, the painting is varnished/glazed to protect it from any
damage and to get a glossy shine on the surface.
The making of a Pattachitra is laborious work and therefore, one
painting may sometimes take over a month to complete. Due to their
classical look, these paintings are admired by people from all
over the world. The artistic skills used in Pattachitra are passed
down from one generation to another and thus are preserved to
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