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Odisha Pattachitra: The Cultural Memorabilia of Rhythmic Lines

Source: By Shakti - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Illustrating the mythological stories of Lord Jagannath and various narratives of Krishna and Radha, the Odisha Pattachitra is the live chronicle of the history of Odisha. One of the oldest art forms to have survived over thousand years, these cloth-based scroll paintings are significant as cultural memorabilia to the millions of pilgrims who come to the Jagannath Temple of Puri from all over India.

The name “Pattachitra” has evolved from the Sanskrit word “patta”, meaning “cloth” and “chitra” meaning “picture”. Pattachitra is thus a painting done on cloth canvas and is manifested by bold lines, bright colors, detailed characterization, intricate designs, fine pictorial conceptions and olio of aesthetic themes. For the medium, Pattachitra can be divided into three categories i.e. painting on cloth or ‘Pattachitra’, painting on a wall or ‘Bhittichitra’, and painting on palm leaves or ‘Talapatrachitra’. 

Bloomed under the cult of Lord Jagannath, the pattachitras are generally located as the earliest indigenous paintings in the state of Odisha. According to scholars, the origin of Odisha Pattachitra date back to the 5th century BC, to the murals made inside the Khandagiri and Udyagiri caves of Odisha. Gradually, it evolved as a form to illustrate literature, poetry, and horoscopes on palm leaves. It is believed that the practice of painting on cloth may have originated with the establishment of the Jagannath Temple in the 11th century. The Pattas served as substitute icon for the wooden image of Lord Jagannath, Subhadra, and Balabhadra when these were removed for repainting.

Since Lord Jagannath and Vaishnava sect is the major source of inspiration, therefore, the subjects of Pattachitra are mostly based on mythological stories and folklores. Many Pattachitra paintings are amazing representations of the stories of Lord Jagannath and Radha-Krishna, the ten incarnations of Vishnu based on ‘Gita Govind’ of Jayadev, episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata and many more. Individual images of god and goddesses are also painted.
The uniqueness of Pattachitra lies in its overall finesse and rhythmic juxtaposition of elements. The intricate borders embellishing the central theme of every Pattachitra is the typical feature of these paintings. Delineated with decorations of flowers and foliages these backgrounds are usually in red. The paintings are the beautiful blend of folk as well as classical elements.

In Pattachitra, the postures are largely well defined and repetition as a style creates an interesting aesthetic appeal. Another feature is the lack of depth or perspective visualization in the painting, giving them a two-dimensional appearance.  Simple and rustic in appearance, these Pattachirtrapaintings require immense patience, intense hard work, and skilled craftsmanship.

Mainly practiced on treated cotton cloth canvas (pattas), a pattachitra painting takes at least five to fifteen days, while some even take months to complete. The preparation of canvas, known as ‘NiryaKalpa’, is a tedious time-consuming process. The cotton cloth is first dipped in a solution of tamarind seed and water for 4-5 days. The cloth is then taken out and sun-dried. Afterward, the solution and Kaitha gum are applied on the cloth then another level of processed cotton is placed and gum is applied to it. This is done to stick two layers. The layered cotton is then sundried. After this, the paste of chalk powder and gum is applied to it and Khaddar stone is rubbed to smoothen the cloth. When the cloth is smooth the Chikna stone is rubbed to give the cloth a shining. The painting is then done on the prepared canvas with the help of earthen and vibrant colors.

After filling the colors and drawing the final lines, the pattas are given a lacquer coating to protect them from weather, thus making the painting glossy. The colors used in pattachitra are prepared by the painters, using ancient methods, with vegetables and minerals. White color is made from the conch shells by powdering, boiling and filtering it in a very hazardous process. A mineral color named ‘Hingula’ is used as red and a stone named ‘Harikala’ is used for yellow. ‘Ramaraja’, a sort of indigo is used for blue and pure lamp black or black prepared from the burning of coconut shell is used as black color.

The brushes are also indigenous and made up of hair of domestic animals. The finer brushes are made from mongoose or mouse hair and the coarser are made from the hair of buffalo neck. The root of Kiya plant is also popularly used to make the brushes of varied thickness.

The Pattachitra artists are called ‘Chitrakaras’, mainly belonging to the Maharana or Mahapatra castes. Generally, the art is practiced by the entire family of chitrakaras. While the women prepare the glue, the canvas and help out in filling the borders, the master painter, usually a male, draws the initial sketch and gives the final touches to the painting. Though mostly done by men, the art form is now being taken up full time by women and young girls.

Having an uncanny resemblance to the old murals and paintings done on the walls of ancient Odisha especially religious centers of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneshwar, the Pattachitra are revered all over the Odisha. However, the best work is found in and around Puri, especially in Raghurajpur, a village where many chitrakaras live in an area dedicated to them called the “Chitrakar Sahe”. The village lies in Puri district, 52 kms from Bhubaneshwar, on the southern banks of river Bhargavi. Apart from Raghurajpur, Pattachitra and palm leaf paintings are also practiced till date in the villages of Paralakhemundi, Chikiti, Sonepur, Khandapada and Bhubaneshwar.

Earlier done on only on cloth or palm leaves and traditionally known to depict only religious and cultural aspects, today Odisha Pattachitra are experimenting with new mediums and themes. Now a days, Pattachitras are done on tussar silk, wood and other substances and can be seen as a rare collectable in the form of Ganjappa cards. Largely remained uninfluenced by other schools of Indian paintings, Pattachitra developed its unique style giving birth to the Puri School of Painting.



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