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What is Patachitra?

Patachitra is a general term for the traditional scroll painting in Odisha. In Sanskrit, Pata means ‘cloth’, chitra means ‘picture’ or ‘painting’. In other words, Patachitra refers to the traditional painting of Odisha, India, where generally the themes that are chosen are based on Hindu mythology, specially inspired by Lord Jagannath and the Vaishnava cult.

The special features of Patachitra paintings

There are certain typical characteristics of these traditional forms of painting drawn by the ‘chitrakaras’ or ‘traditional painters’ of Odisha. - As mentioned above, the themes are from Hindu mythology, especially more of those that feature Lord Jagannath and and various facets of the Vaishnava cult. - Painting done on canvas, the Patachitra is one of the most popular art forms of Odisha. - The colors are rich and vibrant, the motifs and designs very creative, the themes portrayed being quite simple, the narrative mostly from religious texts, the epics. - The Patachitra painting art is believed to be more than a thousand years old.

A brief History of the Patachitra

- The paintings of Orissa can be divided into three categories from the point of view of medium, i.e. paintings on cloth or 'Patta Chitra', paintings on walls or 'Bhitti Chitra' and palm leaf engravings or "Tala Patra Chitra' or "Pothi, Chitra'. The style of all these remains more or less the same at a specific time because the then artists were commissioned to work in all these media, it is believed.

- The painting on cloth, the 'pattachitra', resembles the old murals of Odisha especially religious centres of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneshwar region, dating back to the 5th century BC. The best work is found in and around Puri, especially in the village of Raghurajpur.

- This old tradition of Oriya painting still survives in the places like Puri, Raghurajpur, Paralakhemundi, Chikiti and Sonepur. In the past, there was no distinct separation between the master painters and master sculptors; so the possibility of a simultaneous origin of painting and sculptural art in Odisha could not be ruled out. In fact, even today in Odisha, these two crafts are combined in one and these artists and known as Chitrakaras, their title remains mostly Mohapatra or Maharana.

- Strangely enough, painting appeared in Odisha rather later, several centuries after the construction of the great temples of Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark. There exists a good number of paintings from 18th century onwards in many temples and Mathas especially in the southern districts of Odisha. Lord Jagannath in the present from is being taken as the origin of the Patta style. The colour schemes of the deities of Puri are quite similar to those of the Patta style.

- The oldest record of Patta Paintings does not probably go beyond the establishment of the present shrine of Shri Jagannath at Puri. It may be due to the fact that paintings do not survive like sculptures. The paints inside the shrines of Lord Jagannath at Puri make the date probable.

- The oldest classical marble paintings of Sitabanji at Keonjhar do not conform to the present style of Patta painting wholly. The wooden statues of the three deities are also covered with cloth and then overlaid with glue mixed with chalk, and then given paint only with four limited colours of red, yellow, white and black.

- The deities who are held in high esteem by the Oriyas and who inspire religion, life and activity of the people also carry with them a tradition of art and painting which is as old as the deities themselves. If the Savara origin of Jagannath is accepted, the date of the Patta paintings can be dated back to an earlier period. These paintings were originally substitutes for worship on days when the temple doors were shut for the 'ritual bath' of the deity.