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Journey through heritage

IT'S A land of pristine beauty, its coastline lashed by the waves of the Bay of Bengal. Amidst the palm leaves rise superb shikars of the ancient temples of Orissa, representing the glorious apogee of the North Indian style of architecture. Around the temples of Lord Jagannath, Lingaraja and others, the artistic culture was nurtured, including the beautiful crafts heritage.

The `mukut' made for Lord Jagannath and the other gods, has been handcrafted in silver filigree work by traditional craftsmen. The icons are made of sand stone. If Pipli applique work torans and chchatris adorned the `raths', patachitra paintings dressed up the walls of the temples. Even the lightweight `dotted' punki toys are mostly of the images of Lord Jagannath and his consorts, while the woven Ikat saris have religious motifs such as the Lakshmi `pada' and so on.

Today, craftspersons create stunning artefacts that are functional and contemporary. At an exhibition-cum-sale of Orissa's handicrafts and hand woven textiles on at Sankara Hall, TTK road, the variety of lifestyle items compel attention.

The credit for all that goes to the craftspersons, some of who are demonstrating their intricate art at the exhibition. While some of them are paramparic craftsmen, others have learnt the arts. Excerpts from an interview with some of them, who were present:

What does your craft mean to you? When did you begin working?

Hari Prasad Mishra: Pipli work is a tradition passed won from my forefathers. I learnt it at home...

Bhagwan Sahu: I come from a traditional weaving family. We learnt the art at home and were taught by our parents. I am a B.A. B. Ed but chose to weave saris. We still work at home.

Mahendra Maghi: I learnt my art from my guru Bhagwan Maharana. Today, my whole family has taken to the art.

Would you say that allowing children to work at home is akin to child labour?

A Patachitra artisan: I will teach my children when they are 12 or 13. It is like crafts in school. Is that child labour?

Purnachandra Karan: We work as a family in crafting silver filigree ornaments. I learnt the craft from my father and my children have learnt from me. They also go to school. Learning the family craft is something to be proud of. How can it be called child labour and how else can the vocation be continued?

Raghunath Sahu: My children are planning to study further, but they also learn the art of weaving. They have the freedom to choose their vocation when the time comes.

Deeply entrenched as they are in tradition, have Orissa's craftspersons taken easily to innovation?

Hari Prasad Mishra: Yes. We all know that garden umbrellas and linen wall hangings sell well in the hotel industry. But we also make the chchatris for the `rath' festival...

Sushant Sahu: Today, the demand for non-traditional themes is great, and forms nearly 70 per cent of our work. However, our main work is crafting stone icons for temples.

Raghunath Sahu: Apart from saris, we also weave a lot of dupattas and yardage linen.

Lakshmikant Das, Rajkumar Singh: We work with tribal artisans who specialise in dhokra ware. We give them the designs as per the market demand.

Is the number of craftspersons in Orissa dwindling? What does the future look like?

Purnachandra Karan: There are about 30,000 filigree artisans in Cuttack, who are doing quite well for themselves. Filigree jewellery is in great demand both in the country and abroad. I do not see the craft vanishing. Also being a temple art, it will live on...

Sushant Sahu: I come from a non-hereditary family and am a stone carver. I supply to Utkalika and also undertake export orders. I think the craft has a bright future.

PUSHPA CHARI

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