Pothichitra : Palm Leaf Miniatures

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Odisha has something enigmatic about it, which is veiled by the tall coconut trees and houses made of large designed red bricks. We had been travelling through the heartland of the state for the last two days, yet weren’t able to feel its true pulse. The search took us to two villages near Puri, Raghurajpur and Nayak Patna. These two villages, situated quite close to each other (less than 200 metres away from each other), form an integral part of the Oriya culture, because of its contribution to traditional art.

Raghurajpur

Raghurajpur has been declared as heritage village and is famous for the Pattachitra. The scenery, houses, people – reminded us of old television programmes on Doordarshan like Malgudi Days and Surabhi. The walls were vibrantly coloured. Odisha’s interiors give you an impression of the unexplored and raw beauty of the country. We could clearly imagine how exquisite the village would look during the monsoons with the canals full of water and trees lush green- reverberating with freshness.

Pattachitra

The canvas for Pattachitra is prepared by taking two layers of old cotton sarees and coating them with a gum made out of conch shell powder and tamarind seeds. It is then rubbed with stones and dried. The colours used in the paintings are obtained naturally like conch shell for white, lamp black by burning of coconut shells for black, vegetables and stones for other vibrant colours. The brushes used for the paintings are made of hair of domestic animals. The theme of Oriya painting centres on the Jagannath and the Vaishnava cult. The price of an artwork depends not only upon its size, but also the amount of intricacies involved. A piece by a senior artist will cost you more than that by a student. Some of the pieces may even cost as high as fifty thousand rupees or even 1 lakh for foreign buyers. The products are sold to the local dealers and are sold in shops around the village and a place called Pipli nearby. Some pieces also go to the glamorous showrooms in Bhubaneswar, Delhi Haat, Mumbai, etc.

Sisir Kanta Satapthy, a Pattachitra artist, was quite generous in explaining us the details and intricacies involved in the making of the art pieces. He told us that Jagannath has 25 forms, all of which have been beautifully embedded on the many of the Pattachitras. Images of Ganesha, Radha-Krishna, animals and trees have also been crafted.

Nayak Patna and Pothichitra

Nayak Patna is the village of Pothichitras. Pothichitra is a traditional art-form of Odisha in which the artists use palm leaves, which are processed, tied and sewed together, instead of a paper. You can say they are magical carvings on dry palm leaves as on a first glance you will not believe that these have been carved by human hands, owing to the amount of details involved. Since ages, the livelihood of the people living in Nayak Patna comes through this art form. Every house is an artist’s humble abode; you are always welcome to go inside to the workspace and experience the creative burst. The village is basically in the form of a broad lane with houses on either side.

When we arrived there, we found the villagers – the artists – quite enthusiastic about showing us around their home-based galleries in an effort to sell some items. Yes there were some, who were so engrossed in their work that little did they care about two young backpackers strolling through the lanes, inquisitive about them and their work.

Guruji Maga Nayak

The village gets its name from the family of Guruji Maga Nayak, who is a pioneer in this art form. He and his three sons Prasanna, Santosh and Prashant run a small school where they teach the children of the village about the various techniques and intricacies involved in this heritage art-form. They have received several regional and national awards in appreciation of their effort to keep this art form alive. Being Saraswati Puja, Guruji’s school was closed and we approached his home. We were invited inside to have coffee. We accepted the request, sat with the artist and his sons, had coffee and chatted freely- about Odisha, Pothichitra and the modern times. We showed Guruji a Lonely Planet issue which had a mention about him and his work. The eldest son seemed to be excited about it, but Guruji was nonchalant.

Guruji’s family has preserved age old Pothichitra scriptures. They showed us a hundred year old piece made by their ancestors depicting the Ramayana. Guruji complained that Raghurajpur has been declared as the heritage village and most of the foreign and Indian tourists are attracted towards it now, leaving Nayak Patna bereft of popularity as well as commerce, to some extent.

Guruji and his sons came to bid us goodbye up to where our bike was parked. In Nayak Patna and Raghurajpur lies a uniquely spectacular grandeur of art and heritage. And as we waved towards them, a strong feeling respect for these simple men and women-the carriers of this grandeur- aroused somewhere deep in our hearts.

St. Thomas Fine Arts

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“So, where are you from?”

“Changnaserry”

“What does your father do?”

“He is a professor with the Edathua College, his name is Jim Jacob.”


Mr. Jacob smiled at my friend James. He has known my friend’s father (Jim Jacob) for
quite some time. They were members of the Edathua Lion’s Club and knew each other quite
well through the club meetings and functions.

While all this was being conversed in Malayalam, I was busy taking the pictures of the
statues kept neatly on the showcases, and tried to figure out what they were talking
about through their facial expressions. Kerala’s social life is quite different from
what we have in most part of the country. There is a new town every 10 kilometres on a
drive past the local canals and muddy fields. You are sure to have acquaintances or even
friends in the next town who meet every week maybe at a common church or for one of the
numerous festivals of Kerala.

St. Thomas Fine Arts is situated in Chapakulam, near the St. Mary’s Church which is one
of the oldest churches in India. The 90 years old workshop is headed by a man named
K.K. Chacko who is also the grandfather of Jacob. There are four especially skilled
workers who are trained to perfection in their art. Years of experience and practice go
behind every stroke made by their uli (pointed tool) which is stuck gently by a hammer
from the top.

After having spent some time at the church, we were guided by our generous houseboat
guide to this place. A small corridor entrance that leads you to the workshop surely
gives an out odd eerie impression on the mind but it’s all worth at the end when you
are exposed to the artistic brilliance inside. We were greeted by Mr. Chacko who was
very kind in taking us with him for a tour of the place, explaining every bit of the
long processes involved throughout the workshop area.

Many of the churches in Kerala & Tamil Nadu give contracts to St. Thomas Fine Arts for
sculpting big and small statues of Mother Mary & Jesus Christ. Every project has a
cardboard prototype with sections divided for their convenience. On the actual statue,
these are in turn dealt with some seriously focussed hours of soft hammering, according
to the prototype.

Apart from this, there is a small showroom that exhibits a number of hand crafted
articles based on Lord Ganesha, Lord Krishna, Elephants, Boats and many other things
which are an integral part of Kerala – God’s Own Country. The showroom attracts mainly
the foreigners during the tourist season and the prices shoot high during those days.
The fine arts shop has got its own importance in the area. No doubt why Jacob returned
back to help his grandfather take forward the century old business after 6 long years,
having left at the age of 16 for higher studies.

It’s always intriguing to learn something about the heritage artistic skills which are
inherited from our ancestors over centuries. It’s an altogether awe-inspiring experience
to see how Gods are made in God’s Own Country.