The tradition of iconographic painting practised in West Bengal and Odisha on scrolls made out of cloth, patachitra tradition is among the many art forms to emerge from the Jagannath Temple, Puri. Initially, patachitra was called anasar patti in reference to the fifteen-day ritual period known as anasara or anavasra, during which the idols in the Jagannath Temple were kept in isolation, creating a need for substitute images to be in place for worship at the temple. Therefore, paintings of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra were painted on scrolls. Patachitra was originally practised by the artisan class of Odisha, the Mahapatra chitrakars. In Bengal, it is a blend of the tradition of patua along with bardic oral traditions, hence forming a part of a performance tradition.
The patachitra scrolls, while traditionally painted on a gauze-like fine cotton cloth, are also rendered on palm-leaves and handmade paper. When painted on a cloth, the canvas goes through several layers of treatment. The first base involves a coat of soft, white stone powder made out of chalk and glue derived from tamarind seeds. This strengthens the surface, making it smooth and semi-absorbent enough to absorb paint. Instead of making preliminary drawings from pencil or charcoal, the artists directly begin making rough sketches through brushwork using light red and yellow colours. This is followed by the application of main flat colours, most commonly, white, red, yellow and black. The painting is then finished with fine strokes of black brush-work, which give the effect of pen-work. Upon completion, the painting is held over a charcoal fire and the surface is sealed with lacquer. This gives the painting a glossy finish and makes it resistant to dust and water. The colours used for patachitra are naturally sourced; white is derived from the powder of conch-shell, yellow from the stone Haritala, red from the red oxide stone (geru) and red sulphide of mercury (hingula), black from burning lamps and coconut shells, blue from indigo and green from leaves. The gum of the fruit kaitha is used to mix and bind the colours together. Given the dense narrative depiction, the fabric is partitioned into sections, each known as a pata. Often, the paintings would be made on scrolled cloth (jorani patas) so they can be carried. The travelling artists would roll open these scrolls and sing the narrative depicted. When rendered over palm-leaf manuscripts, patachitra is known as talapatachitra. These palm-leaf paintings are made with sharp drawings etched out through incisions on zig-zag folds of leaves and are strung together by threads.
Patachitras depict religious, mythological and folkloric themes. Foremost among these are Vaishnavite narratives of two of Vishnu’s avatars: Jagannatha and Krishna. Prominent depictions include highly stylised paintings of the Jagannath Temple, scenes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, and regional mangalakavya texts such as the Chandimangala and Manasamangala. The painters follow certain conventions from the classical treatises on Indian art such as chitralakshana, paying attention to formal aspects of painting composition. One of the most distinguishable features of patachitra is its typical style of portraying faces such as long noses, prominent chins and elongated eyes. The paintings also have ornately designed borders that follow the colour scheme of patachitra’s narrative scene.
The tradition is presently concentrated in and continued by the artist community of the village Raghurajpur in Odisha. No longer restricted to ritual use, these paintings enjoy a commercial market within India and internationally and are now rendered over a wide range of materials from synthetic cloth to paper, and in varying sizes.
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