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Picture perfect

Patachitra paintings remain impervious to modern influences and the painters proudly stick to tradition



An intricate patachitra takes as long as a month to be completed. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

WHEN AN art form is a thousand years old, it deserves a closer look. The untrained eye can miss the fine details in a patachitra. But look again and you will be drawn by the mystique of this ancient and traditional art form.

The word patachitra is derived from the Sanskrit pata, which means a painted piece of cloth, a tablet or a plate, while chitra translates into painting or picture.

Two brothers, Durgaprasad and Hariprasad Mishra brought their patachitras to the city at the Orissa Crafts Fair in Malleswaram. This devotional art form is a folk style mostly dedicated to the worship of Jagannatha, his sister Subhadra, and brother Balabhadra. Durgaprasad, a post-graduate in history, and Hariprasad, a qualified Sanskrit teacher, hail from Puri where most of the chitrakars are based. "The art form is an integral part of our culture. The paintings adorn the chariot in the Jagannath Temple as well as the temple walls. We usually portray scenes from epics like the Ramayana or the life of Lord Krishna." The Dasavathara, depicting the 10 incarnations of Vishnu is also a popular theme. Some paintings are truly exquisite with lines from Jaideva's Geeta Govinda etched on them.

Along with appreciating their beauty, one must value the work that goes into the paintings too. The process of preparing the pata is arduous, usually taking at least five days. It involves the preparation of a tamarind seed paste, which is mixed with water in an earthen pot and subjected to further treatment. It is known as the niryas kalpa. The chitrakar then selects two pieces of cloth of equal size and sticks them together with this paste. Clay powder is then added to the mixture and two or three coatings of this mixture are applied on to the prepared canvas on both the surfaces. When the canvas is dry, it is polished, a process that takes several hours.

The chitrakars mainly use colours and tools made of natural ingredients. Conch shells are used to acquire shades of white. Lamp soot and the gum of the bilva fruit are used to obtain the colour black. Hingulal, a red stone, and a yellow stone called hartala, are pounded to extract the respective colours. Leaves are boiled with the gum of the kaitha fruit to obtain green. Blue and indigo are prepared from a soft stone called rajabarta. Dried coconut shell doubles as the palette while the brushes are made of keya root.

A lot of work goes into the final touches of a patachitra, especially outlining of faces and jewellery in minute detail. The painting is finally coated with a protective film of varnish.

The average painting is completed in a week. But there are intricate ones that take as long as a month. "We get our inspiration from our environs. Orissa is steeped in tradition and ancient temples are abound in our state," says Durgaprasad with pride.

The paintings are very popular with connoisseurs and, of course, with tourists, especially Westerners.

The brothers point out that time and technology have not wrought any change in their work. "It is our tradition and the process will remain the same, no matter what," asserts Hariprasad.

HARIPRIYA SRINIVASAN

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