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A tiny focus for traditional arts in rural Odisha

Every painting here is poetry or a mythological story that could not only see but feel. Such is their beauty. The painting tools in the hands of the artists here have narrated hundreds of stories and thousands are waiting to be told. Tourists come here looking to quench their thirst for art.

Raghurajpur, a tiny rural oasis of tree-lined pathways and murals on 120-odd houses is located a mere 14 km away from pilgrim paradise of Puri in the state Odisha in India. It just might be impossible to leave Raghurajpur without taking back a souvenir and gaining more knowledge about artifacts.

1212148 (3)The pattachitra, traditional cloth-based scroll painting is the identity of this crafts village. It is a way to make a living for the inhabitants as each one of them is a skilled artist. Art blows in the air and runs in their veins. If you are an art connoisseur you will be amazed to find what awaits you here.

One can experience one of the finest traditional art and craft traditions of the country, here. You cannot take a trip through the village without stopping and taking a closer look at each hut. Talk to people and you would know how they fill colours even in most darker corners of their lives. Apart from art, their knowledge of Hindu mythology is amazing.

The artists here also sell their creations, but it is entirely different from what we experience in urban sphere. The visitors invite artists not only with business on their mind, but to offer rare insights of their masterpieces.

Pattachitra is a traditional form of miniature painting done on cloth (patta). The ‘patta’ prepared by coating of chalk and gum. After it is dried, the patta is polished and then the artists begin their work by using natural dyes. A scene from a story is drawn on pale green strips of palm leaf. The artist then incise his sketch with a stylus, fill incisions with soot, wash it and then dries it till the strips became as hard as wood. The strips are stitched together to make a five feet long scroll which can take three to five months.
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Some depict stories from the Panchatantra, some are on religious tone while others focus on Puranas, the Ramayana, Mahabharata or on Dashavatar. Lavishly illustrated and heavily researched by the artists for accuracy and detail, the pattachitras feature unique perspective of mythology, allowing us a kind of vision to see the era gone by. The paintings are being sold from thousands to several lakhs of rupees.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), has selected Raghurajpur to revive the ancient wall paintings of Odisha. Not only Pattachitra, but the community of artisans in Raghurajpur also boast a rare collection of art in one place. Some of them are National Award winners . They create other handicrafts items such as palm leaf engravings, stone and wood carvings, tusser paintings, cow-dung toys, papier mache toys among others.

The timeless, natural and artistic beauty of Raghurajpur is enough to make even the non-lovers of art fall in love. And while the chance to experience the elegance of the village is worth a detour from the nearby Puri, there’s another incentive to visit- Gotipua dance.

12121410 (3)The performance of ‘Gotipua’, a traditional folk dance form of Odisha, leaves audience astounded. It is also said that Gotipua served as a base for the traditional dances in Odisha. The boys dressed in sarees and beaded ornaments perform the back-breaking acrobatics with a perfect ease. Gotipua which is one of the classical dance forms of India is a precursor to ‘Odissi’. After decline of ‘Mahari’ or ‘Devadasi’ tradition, it was developed in 16th century. Gotipua in Odia means ‘single boy’. The art form was essentially designed as one where boys perform in girls’ costumes. The boys are given painstaking training for years. They can perform Gotipua till age of 13. The best gotipua dancers had gone on to become some of the most famous Odissi dancers. Poetry from Gita Govindam, Odia bhajans and ‘shlokas’ are used for music.

The picturesque artists’ village has been hosting the two-day annual `Vasant Utsav’ (spring festival) from many years. The festival presents a kaleidoscopic view of Odisha’s culture through this festival. A seminar and workshop on patta paintings is organised during the festival to impart the knowledge about this ancient art.

After several decades of almost uninterrupted dedication towards the art, the artists still find wonder in creating something new. As a 82-year-old puts it, “No joy is bigger than telling and retelling the ancient stories through Pattachitra, the stories we have known since birth.”
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