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Have you ever heard of Pattachitra paintings? You may not remember their name, but their colorful canvases are part of the visual imaginary of India, and surely more than once they have captured your attention. But how much did you know about them? The truth is that Pattachitra refers to a type of painting on cloth rolls, and is one of the oldest and most popular art forms in Odisha and West Bengal. This folk art is noted for its intricate details, powerful colors, decorative borders, and the mythological narratives and Hindu folk tales inscribed on it. In general, there are no distant landscapes, perspectives, and views.

The term "Pattachitra" comes from the Sanskrit words "patta-", meaning canvas, and "-chitra", which means image. Originally, these paintings served as a visual representation during the performance of some chant. Then, they began to be produced in a more popular context. The Pattachitra tradition is closely linked to the worship of the god Jagannath and Vishnu, beliefs belonging to different branches of Hinduism. The themes are clearly the essence of the art form, conceptualizing the meaning of the paintings. Therefore, the process of preparing the paintings involves painstaking craftsmanship that extends over several months.

Traditionally the painters, who are known as chitrakars, use vegetable and mineral colors without resorting to poster colors or modern factory-made murals. The most commonly used color is red, made from the mineral Hingula. The white color, made from snail shells by pulverizing, is obtained by a long and dangerous process, but in this way, the Chitrakars obtain the brightness for the colors. Black, obtained from burning coconut shells, is widely used for the wavy lines that mark the rhythm of the work. Other widely used colors are blue, yellow, and green.

Chitrakaras do not use pencils or charcoal for preliminary drawings. Instead, they use handmade brushes made from the hair of domestic animals, tied to the end of a bamboo stick. Canvas paintings are done on small strips of cotton cloth. It is very common for a family to work collectively on this type of painting, under the supervision of the family painting master. The women are in charge of preparing the glue, the canvas, applying colors to what we call the filler, and giving the final lacquer coating to preserve the work. For this, the canvas is prepared with a mixture of chalk and gum made from tamarind seeds. It is then brushed with the help of two different stones. The canvas is then placed in the sun to dry. Once dry, a powdered rice paste is applied, allowed to dry again, and applied on the other side. The mixture of gum and chalk gives the surface of the cloth a leathery finish, ready to decorate.

The men, on the other hand, simply draw the final lines directly with the brush with impressive precision. The painting is done in stages: first the border, then the outer lines of the figures in white, then the background, usually with trees, and finally the inside of the figures, always using different colors. Finally, a coat of varnish is applied to protect the paint and give the patachitra a brownish tone. These artists usually live near temples such as the famous Jagannath temple and their works are often sold to pilgrims who come to visit the temples of Orissa, a place of worship and artistic development.

The themes of the Pattachitra are usually folk themes involving rituals, gods, animals, birds, epic episodes, and also erotic themes. Secular pots represent important news events, scandals, accidents, etc., such as bus accidents in Narayangarh, rural elections, rationing system, family planning, evils of the dowry system, etc.

One of the most important aspects of this traditional art is its sustainability. Both materials and colors are prepared by the Chitrakaras themselves with biodegradable natural resources. This incredible art reflects thousands of years of history and does not pollute the environment, unlike modern techniques such as mural or digitally printed canvas paintings.

Very few survivals date back more than 200 years, but it is clear that the traditions are much older. Some regional traditions are still producing works. This old tradition of over a thousand years still survives in the expert hands of Chitrakaras in Puri, Raghurajpur, Paralakhemundi, Chikiti, and Sonepur, The Chitrakaras ensure that this art will prevail in the future. With their strong and bright colors, they are famous all over the world. With bright colors and intricate details, these paintings can be used as decorative items for the wall. Indian folk and religious art are increasingly in demand among collectors and customers who want to beautify their spaces.

The collective aim of this industry is to modernize the ancient heritage, which is of great antiquity. From the basic art form, it is possible to revive the old design, with a modern touch, and make it more accessible to all parts of the world right to the door of the home. It is not only a way to rescue the art forgotten by the vortex of modern times, but it is also a way to bring the hidden art easily and respect the environment since all our products are organic.

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Pattachitra : Handmade Art from Sustainable Materials

An art form that produces gorgeous handmade paintings by using 100% organic materials found in nature

4 min Read

Feb 11 2022

Nikita Gandhi


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