Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Raghurajpur PattaChitra: India’s Miniature Art Honed for over 2500 years

Incredible India always ends up surprising me with its hidden charms. 18 households in a tiny village by the southern banks of the river Bhargavi and surrounded by trees of coconut, mango and jack fruit is carrying on the legacy of an art form that originated around 5 B.C. This art form is what you must be knowing as ‘PattaChitra’, but what you might not know is the beautiful story behind this miniature art and its chitrakaars (painters). And that is precisely what I intend to bring out to the world through this article!

One of the ancient Patta Chitra creations of Raghurajpur, Odisha - These hold heritage value

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Bijay Kumar Bariki and Akshaya Kumar Bariki at and +919937371147 or +919938668732

Raghurajpur, located on the banks of the dis-tributary of the mighty Mahanadi river and only about 15 kms from the spiritual hub of Puri, is like any of your traditional Indian villages. Narrow houses located on either side of narrow lanes, a temple on each lane, a sit out area in front of each house, total wooden interiors (beams, pillars, doors and the likes) and traditional decor is how Raghurajpur looks at first glance. But, once you step inside one of their homes, you will realize there is a deeper story that is an integral part of the lives of the people living in this village.

Exquisite miniature art of Goddess Durga created at Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

As soon as you step inside, you will stop and stare with awe at the intricately designed paintings. These could be patta chitra (traditional Odisha cloth painting), tado patra (palm leaf painting), tusser silk paintings, toys made out of cow dung and/or papier mache, colorful masks, stone carvings and much more that decorate the walls of the home. Somewhere in between these paintings, you will see a picture of the chitrakaar of the house being awarded by the President of India, you might also notice a Padma Bhushan or a Padma Shree award gathering dust on the walls of their home. But, this is only the external view.

Beautiful Raghurajpur Pattachitra of Krishna and his gopikas in an elephant and horse form

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

The true surprise element comes when you see the men of the Chitrakaar family at close quarters. As a person who hails from the Brahmin caste of India, I thought it is only us and a few select kshatriyas who undergo the Upanayanam ceremony. But, I was proved wrong when I saw all the chitrakaar men of the of Raghurajpur family proudly flaunt their white sacred threads. Upon questioning them, I got to understand that they are not brahmins, but because they had to serve the lord at close quarters, they underwent the Upanayanam ceremony to gain rite of passage to work for the gods.

The original side view Patta Chitra of Raghurajpur that depict the avatars of  Lord Vishnu

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

These chitrakaars carry surnames such as ‘Mohapatra’, like the Brahmin Mohapatras of Odisha and Bariki and all they do is create with their hands. They work alongside priests in the temple and are exceptionally busy during the Rath Yatra or Car Festival and during that time of the year when the deities of Jagannath Puri become sick after a ritualistic bath.

Intricate paintings on every home wall at Raghurajpur village, Odisha

These Anasar Patti paintings that are created for the people to worship during the god’s sickness is what really took the Raghurajpur chitrakaars to a different level and plane.

Raghurajpur Pattachitra in different forms, colors and depicting different stories

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

This understanding blew my mind away as coming from a fairly orthodox family and living in a caste driven society like all of us Indians, this ancient process of following a Vedic initiation supersedes all castes. And this further piqued my interest in hearing the complete story from them.

Krishna and his Gopikas Patta Chitra created by the chitrakaars of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Apparently, many centuries ago, possibly in the Mauryan empire, under the reign of King Ashoka, a few skilled artisans were chosen to create paintings and handiwork to decorate the gods and places of worship. These artisans and their families were given a piece of land by the then king in today’s Raghurajpur to practice and hone their skills. All the different miniature forms that come from this tiny village of Odisha is legacy of the families of these artisans or chitrakaars.

Inside the home of a Raghurajpur Chitrakaar

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Some of them specialize in patta chitra, for some their art form of choice is masks and toys, others specialize in tado patra or the palm leaf painting. Irrespective of their strengths, the people of Raghurajpur have artisan blood flowing through their veins. They deeply believe in the fact that they were born into this world to create magic through their fingers and imagination.

Saura Tribal Art portrayed on glass bottles at Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Through painstaking work, natural colors, vivid imagination and lots and lots of patience, they recreate the stories from our Hindu epics and other popular themes. The original artisans used to create a more side view kind of creative (the ones with the pointy nose and elongated faces) with a pretty standard set of colors. Today’s artisans follow a new radical approach with front view images and a rich riot of colors (seems like someone introduced Photoshop to them). Some of the artisan’s from today’s era still proudly show the original creations of their ancestors and when asked if they are for sale, they simply mention that these paintings are immortal and not for sale.

Raghurajpur artisan showing his father's famous Patta Chitra painting

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Irrespective of the era, their work is simply outstanding or should I say mind blowing. The more time I spent with the artisans of Raghurajpur, the more I got to see their best creations and the story behind it. Each one of them possesses an unique style, a keen eye and a nimble set of fingers that simply create possibly the best miniature art work that I have laid my eyes on.

An elephant face wall hanging made by an artisan of Raghurajpur

I had a Raghurajpur PattaChitra painting of Krishna and his Gopikas and a Tado Patra painting of the famous Saura tribal art (something on the lines of the famous Worli tribal art of Maharashtra) hanging on the walls of my house even before I went on this trip. But, I understood the true details around it only when I spent time with the chitrakaars of Raghurajpur.

A Raghurajpur chitrakaar who has received an award from the President

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Bijay Kumar Bariki and Akshaya Kumar Bariki at and +919937371147 or +919938668732

In case you are wondering, the base for the PattaChitra is created using threads from an old saree that is then mixed with chalk, tamarind seeds and a gum like resin from the bark of a local tree. After the drying process comes the base of the PattaChitra that is ready to be painted upon.

Saura Tribal Art on bottles as seen at Raghurajpur

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Historically, artisans never used measuring devices and used to make all the drawings with a free hand. Such paintings test the skill of the chitrakaars, but these days, the painters use all measuring and alignment devices to draw the sketch out and then they add the color into their image.

Cow Dung Toys made at Raghurajpur, Odisha

The colors come from natural products, like rocks from a neighboring hill and kajal from the burnt thread of the lamp. White is prepared from conch shells, Yellow from Haritala, a kind of stone, blue from indigo, green from leaves and other natural products for various colors. The natural gum of a fruit called ‘kaitha’ is mixed with the colors along with water in coconut shells to ensure the colors stay fast.

Elderly Raghurajpu Chitrakaar showing me his papier mache creations

There is no chemical that goes into any of their paintings. The Tado Patra only uses a palm leaf, a sharp pencil like object and the kajal. There are no other colors used in it. The Tusser paintings do not have the base of the PattaChitra, but due to the softer silk cloth, the paintings look nicer.

Tado Patra depicting the gods of Puri Jagannath Temple

Even the brushes used to make the paintings are made using natural products like hair of animals such as buffalo, squirrel, rat, etc.

Amazing Patta Chitra miniature art of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Bijay Kumar Bariki and Akshaya Kumar Bariki at and +919937371147 or +919938668732

The usual PattaChitra paintings lasts at least a 100 years, if not more. The chitrakaars say that Tado Patra or the palm leaf painting can last forever. The Tusser silk painting however is prone to damage by insects and hence has a relatively lower shelf life, but still worth about 40 to 50 years.

An elderly Raghurajpur artisan who is creating wooden toys

Everything from the picture of Thakur ji or Jagannath with Subhadra and Balabhadra to stories and avatars of Krishna, Ganesha, Vishnu and other Hindu deities, these different art forms portray this in a gorgeous way. After all, this was how the artisans honed their skills for many centuries.

A Raghurajpur Chitrakaar and his creations

These days, one will find many modern variations, but the classical stories still catches the eye of all. After all, it is through such rich paintings from India’s unique cultures that we can keep all our beautiful mythological stories alive and present in our living rooms.

Lovely paintings of Ganesha created in Tusser Silk by the Artisans of Raghurajpur

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Today, there are close to 120 households in the village of Raghurajpur, but only 18 of them come from the lineage of the original Raghurajpur Chitrakaars. It is their family and their family alone that gets to paint at the Puri Jagannath temple. It is those families who create the best paintings as the learning has been passed down in their family either genetically or through the family school.

Tusser silk miniature art magic from Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Nearly all the other households are involved in creative work that may or may not include paintings, but if you spend time with most of them, you will know that they are good businessmen as they have the gift of the gab. May be, such people might be able to change the future of this village in a postive way. But, if you wish to meet the real chitrakaar who is quiet and patiently works on his paintings, you have to visit one of these 18 households.

Raghurajpur artisan showing all the Patta Chitra paintings from his trunk box

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Pattachitra and other art forms from Raghurajpur has largely remained untouched by the rest of the country as that part of the country never saw any invasions. They somehow managed to evolve in their own isolated pocket and that is what makes them truly special and one of India’s best miniature art creators and possibly the best of Incredible India’s hidden ‘unique culture’ gems.

For those interested in Buying these Paintings

Tusser Silk Paintings of Krishna and his gopikas at Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at and +919437506882 or +919938505532

The government designated this village as a heritage and crafts village in 2000, but unfortunately, these artisans are still struggling for a sustained living. Most of their work is bought by middle men and rich heritage shops from across the country for extremely low prices and sold to us customers for a  hefty premium.

Raghurajpur Chitrakaars decorate even their homes with their paintings

Some foreign tourists do pay the village a visit from time to time, but the artisans say that Indians are their biggest customers, but they don’t visit them in their village. Rather, they buy their products from Puri, Konark, Bhubaneshwar or other cities.

A moment from the Bhagvad Gita portrayed on the walls of a Raghurajpur home in Odisha

Even people who have received awards from the President of India are struggling to make a basic living. To see such a rich culture of India in near poverty is an absolute shame. And my heart goes out to them. I want to help them and that is where I need your support.

A Raghurajpur artisan showing me his various paintings

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

If you or anyone in your network wishes to buy their products either for individual use or for bulk-selling, please reach out to the artisans directly. I have mentioned their name and phone number under each of the key pictures.

The stories of Lord Ganesha depicted through the Patta Chitra miniature art of Raghurajpur

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

You could place special orders, like a Patta Chitra Sambalpuri Saree, a special painting for your new home, a painting for your hotel or office or anything that appeals to you. You can get a much richer idea when you speak directly to the artisans of Raghurajpur and I know that you will get the best price as you will be procuring a quality product directly from the creators.

Raghurajpur hand paintings go on to a custom silk saree

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

A lot of these paintings require painstaking work and hence take time, sometimes many months too. So, it would be best to place your order in advance lest you get caught in last minute hurries.

The small village of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Please do keep in mind that I am doing this act of social service through this article and I have no association with any of these Chitrakaars or any associations and I stand to gain nothing from any of this. I am simply aiming to use the reach of my blog to let the world know about this heritage village and its creative inhabitants who are carrying the legacy of more than 2000 years. I just wish better days for them!

The board says a lot, but Raghurajpur is small village with very skilled people

Thank you for all your support and goodwill!

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