Pattachitra paintings have been considered a form of folk art since their inception. However, their significance lies not only in their use as a medium for story-telling but also as a form of cultural expression that draws on traditional beliefs and practices while incorporating new ideas into existing traditions. Native to Orissa and West Bengal, the “Pattachitra” is one of the crucial art forms that depict the essence and heritage of Indian Mythology. 

In Sanskrit, “Patta” means cloth, and “Chitra” stands for a picture. The Pattachitra Art of India specifically belongs to Puri, the holy land of Lord Jagannath. Experts believe this form was invented by the Mohapatras (a local community of Orissa). Raghunath Mohapatra is one of the renowned masters of Patta chitrakars. 

Pattachitra Art
Image credits: Wikipedia

The credit for creating enormous patta paintings goes to the artists who travelled from village to village across Orissa, where local rulers commissioned them to document their exploits on canvas. The pattachitra paintings also feature images of deities from Hinduism, such as Ganesh, Laxmi & Saraswati, Shiva & Parvati, Lakshmi & Vishnu etc. These artists believed that they had mastered their craft before proceeding to other villages, where they painted murals depicting scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata legends on plaster walls during this period.

The Uniqueness Of Pattachitra Paintings

The Pattachitra genre is not restricted to any particular geographical area or period: it has been around for centuries across India. However, some common characteristics that define this genre include:

  • The depiction of mythological scenes from Hindu mythology;
  • The use of linear perspective;
  • The use of colour;
  • Elements such as clouds and rainbows;
  • Images of animals
Pattachitra art
Image credits: eBhubaneshwar (1); Home Grown (2)

For Pattachitra, artists generally prepare the canvas traditionally. First, fine cotton cloth is coated with white stone powder and gum made with tamarind seeds and left to dry for some time. The colours are the USP of this incredible art form, as warm palettes mostly dominate it. Also, artists master their strokes with hand-mulled paints with mineral pigments, like chalk white, Indian yellow, red lead, indigo, or charcoal-based black.

 The Inception Of Pattachitra

The art form originated in Orissa and was first recorded in the Vedas. However, the earliest known images of gods and goddesses were found in the caves of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh. Pattachitra paintings possess an arresting quality borne out of the Orissan populace’s high regard for decorative arts. Although the patronage of Hindu deities and a derivative of the fusion between Eastern and Western artistic styles contributed to their appeal, the Mughal Empire’s dominance in the Orissa region by the Maratha Confederacy ultimately provided the impetus for their proliferation and development. 

Patterns began emerging in the composition, portrayal, and choice of scenes depicted by the artisans. Over time, artisans inherited master copies from which they based their work. The growing presence of the British and other European nations in the area at the turn of the nineteenth century modified chitrakars’ subject matter and trade practices. To accommodate their chiefly Christian patrons’ indifference-at best-toward religious paintings, engravers began altering compositions to incorporate secular content such as royal courtship rites or mythical characters with mass appeal.

Pattachitra art
Image credits: WordPress (1); Kalantir (2)

The Basics Pattachitra Paintings

The subjects of Pattachitras focus on religious and mythological folk themes that predominantly include tales of Krishna Leela, motifs of Lord Jagannatha, and visuals for Indian God and Goddesses. Pattachitra is a classic form of art that comes with a set of rules and restrictions like:

  • A mandatory floral border
  • The subject has to be a part of Indian mythology
  • Strict usage of single-tone colours
  • Well-defined figures and postures
  • Bold, clean and sharp lines
  • No landscapes, perspectives, or distant views
  • Incidents have to be shown in close juxtaposition

Are Patta Paintings Famous In The 21st Century?

Along with the passage of time, Pattachitra Art of India has also witnessed an applaudable transition. Initially, it was only on clothes, but as we all know, the 21st-century era turns and twists; art forms are also not an exception. Patta paintings are also seen on wooden boxes, bowls, kettles, Tussar silk sarees, bags, and other showpieces. In recent times, Pattachitras are a classic amalgamation of folk and classical elements. 

Image credits: Hands on studios

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