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Pattachitra: Tales of Yore on Fabric

PattachitraAll places have different forms of expression, whether it is through art, music, plays or any other aspect that depicts their culture. These “art forms” describe the traditions of the place and distinguish them. Pattachitra is a medium that expresses Oriya and Hindu culture. Folk stories and mythological tales of Hindu culture are depicted in the form of art.

The word Pattachitra comes from two Sanskrit words – “Patta”, which means “cloth”, and “Chitra” which means “picture”. This translation means “pictures on cloth”, the meaning holding more weight than just simple drawings. The major themes are Thia Badhia – depiction of the temple of Jagannath; Krishna Lila – enactment of Jagannath as Lord Krishna displaying his powers as a child; Dasabatara Patti – the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and Panchamukhi – depiction of Lord Ganesh as a five-headed deity. More than anything, the themes are clearly the essence of the art form. It is no surprise therefore that the process of preparing the paintings requires undeterred concentration and careful craftsmanship, stretching the preparation time of the patta alone to around five days.

What makes them special is not only the depiction of the Hindu religion and its traditions, but the characters as well. The emphasis given to the expressions and the characters tells a tale, and the stress on colours and painting techniques turn it into a beautiful collaboration between religion, culture and folklore.

There are borders designed intricately to frame the entire picture in each of these works of art. The frame brings the characters of the paintings to life. The intricacies are translated into other art forms as well. The beauty of Pattachitra is that each feature helps the painting stand out – from the design of the border to the use of colours. These paintings are hung as wall decorations; many have tried to imitate the styles, but nothing quite matches up to the level of the Pattachitras.

Painters of the Pattachitras are called “chitrakars”. They invest a lot of time and effort to make the “Patta”, as this art form is associated with spirituality. The paint used is vibrant and earthy, traditionally made of raw materials like mustard, vermillion, tea leaves and conch shells. Although time-consuming, developing the core of the paintings is an art in itself. The process, however, has been consolidated with regular paint. This emphasis is on the main trend – “vintage” in today’s culture. “Vintage” and authenticity play a major role in keeping this art form alive.

The paint is crucial to emphasise the elements in the art form. Something as simple as a floral design or a character is essential to the themes and characterisation as a whole. Just a stroke of a paintbrush and the colour used can depict emotions and clarity with intensity in a Pattachitra. The expressionism and intricate designs can define the entire story and theme in the Pattachitra.

The characters and setting of Pattachitra are also quite different from other paintings. Other forms of art have a definite perspective. The Pattachitra defies norms as there is no perspective. The painting is just made to be seen from a close point of view, whether it depicts an action or a story or just a character in it.

In this art form, lines are bold and the pull of the brush has the ability to bring out the subject’s expressions. It can go to the extent of designing the subject’s outfits and postures to even defining the character. The figures of the paintings are distinct in their actions and postures. Again, unlike many other art forms, the “background” mostly consists of designs and the frames rather than actual settings. This can be interpreted differently – some say it almost depicts a dream-like setting or it puts focus on the other details of the painting. The art form stands out as a folk story told by the chitrakars.


Text by Supriya Aggarwal

Images sourced from Wikimedia

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