This Utkal Divas, let's celebrate the Pattachitra Painting of Odisha

In the land of Lord Jagannath, lies a sacred art form that is devoted to Lord Jagganath. On the State's Foundation Day, let’s see how these artists devote their lives to preserving and promoting the Pattachitra Painting of Odisha. 

Hitanshu Bhatt
New Update
pattachitra painting of odisha

As Odisha is a revered place for the famous temple of Lord Jagannath and the Jagannath Rath Yatra here is famous in India and the world over, a thriving yet still unknown art form flourishes in the state dedicated to the Lord. It is said that Lord Jagannath falls sick and is quarantined for 15 days before the Rath Yatra every year. The deity is then taken off the throne for treatment, as explained by Sachikanta Sahoo, an artist who works on the committee for the Jagannath temple. During this period called ‘Anasara’, the throne of the god cannot be left empty. So, a unique Pattachitra Painting known as 'Anasara Patti', made by the artists of Raghurajpur Village (the village of Pattachitra Painters), is placed on it for the days the god is undergoing treatment.

The painting depicts Lord Jagannath in the form of Anantnarayan, Subhadra (the sister of Krishna), and Balarama (the elder brother of Krishna) in the form of Bhubaneswari and Balbhadra (Anant Vasudev), respectively. These representations are placed on the throne and worshipped by devotees for a few days in place of the actual deity. We interviewed two such artists who have practised this art form for years and are the true saviours of this regional craft, discussing what goes into making it mainstream and how it has evolved over the years.


Pattachitra Painting of Jagganath, Subhadra and Balbhadra by Sachikant Sahoo 

As said, Pattachitra Painting is a traditional art form of Odisha, dedicated to the Lord. Pattachitra means 'cloth painting.' The cloth or canvas is handmade and involves a delicate process. The process of making the canvas starts with applying chalkstone powder on a used saree or curtain, then a paste made with Imli (tamarind) seeds is applied on the layer of chalk powder, and this cloth is then dried for approximately 24 hours in the sun. Once dried, the cloth is rubbed against a plain stone to give it a fine texture and flat surface, and later, the cloth, which is cut into appropriate sizes, is used to make the painting. After the canvas is ready, natural colors are made with different materials, like kerosene smoke mixed with wood apple tree glue to get the black color, conch shell powder mixed with the same glue to make the white color, and gold mining stone to obtain red color. 'These pastes are made into a coconut shell and mixed using only a finger to maintain consistency and prevent the color from spoiling,' says Ashish, a Pattachitra artist from Odisha who has been practicing this art for over 16 years. Currently, this is the only technique used to maintain the authenticity of the art form.

So what has changed over the years?

Contemporary Art Work of Pattachitra Painting by Ashish
Contemporary Art Work of Pattachitra Painting by Sachikant

We say time changes a few things while keeping in place the old nuances. As for Pattachitra painting, the process might be the same, but there has been a shift in designs used for making the painting over the years. Over time, the artists have changed the pattern from only religious to contemporary. 'We have started using modern designs and topical movements to blend with the art of Pattachitra while keeping the legacy still in place,' says Ashish. Sachikant, who has been providing his service during the Anasara at the Jagannath temple for 8 years in a row, also says, 'This service work of painting for the temple gives me immense honour, and I would like to continue this for the rest of my life. However, as my full-time profession, I also have to adapt to modern styles and designs for commercial purposes.' Compared to earlier days when his grandfather used to paint, the paintings were only meant for the temple; they are now used for various purposes, including wall art, showpieces, house decor, and gifting.

But after all the changes does the art form still get the recognition it deserves?

The Mask Lady Painting by Ashish which went viral

Like every regional art form, how many people know about Pattachitra Painting or, for that matter, understand the intricacies and delicate work that go into it? The artists say they try to evolve in every possible way to make people recognize this craft but feel more is needed at times as people may prefer mainstream art over regional crafts. Even after being from a famous place like Odisha, it remains limited in people's access and sometimes hides on the shelves of the artists practicing it.

With over 16 years of experience, Ashish has learned one thing: he still needs to approach and preach to people about this art before actually presenting it to them. To make people believe in the hard work behind the painting, he has to actually demonstrate the process. He believes in promoting it to as many people as possible through social media and online courses he takes by partnering with international art-promoting organizations like Kathith. Social media has truly been a blessing to him for amplifying his work. Recalling an incident where his painting went viral, he says, 'I once created an original Pattachitra painting with a modern twist to spread awareness about COVID-19. It was copied by someone and became famous in the media and newspapers. Luckily, I got my credits and recognition after much hassle, and that is when I understood the power of social media and started using it extensively for promoting this art form.' Sachikant also feels that with regular workshops and exhibitions on Pattachitra and its significance, people will know more about it.

Opportunities for artists like them on a bigger scale will help them build an income source for themselves.

He once received a project for a 15-foot ceiling, which he had never done before but was eager to take on. He was in a dilemma for 4 days after taking such a big project but later, when executed, it turned out to be one of his finest creations. Sachikant believes that experimenting with your work while staying true to its original form can really help preserve the age-old traditional art forms of India.

While this art form has transitioned from temples to smartphones, the essence of it still remains intact, with artists like these giving their years of life to keep it alive.

Lord Jagganath land of Lord Jagannath Jagganath Subhadra Balbhadra Rath Yatra Anasara Patti Anasara Pattachitra Painting Utkal Divas