Patachitra is an interesting form of art that the people of Orissa developed centuries ago. Like many other art-forms of the region it developed over time drawing from the cultural and traditional values of the land. The paintings of Patachitra are all based in Hindu mythology, particularly inspired by the followers of Jagannath. This is interesting because Jagannath himself is a tribal figure that does not have a life story of its own like Ram and Krishna. People who worship Jagannath believe that he is the cause of all amterial creation.
The painters of Patachitra are known as chitrakars. The production of a Patachitra involves the work of multiple artists, who often come from the same family. The canvas is first prepared by applying a solution of chalk and gum made from tamarind seeds, over a strip of cotton cloth. Flat stones are used to smooth the paste evenly over the canvas before it is left to dry. This step is rarely done by the person who will actually draw the image.
Once the canvas is dry the artist can begin. Only five colours are used in authentic Patachitras- yellow (obtained from a stone called haritala) , red (from a mineral known as hingula), green (from plants), black (from lampblack) and white (from grinding shells). The dyes are then prepared by mixing the pigments with water to obtain the desired hue.
The master painter then goes about to draw the lines of the image. The hand of the master is so skillful that he does not sketch his idea onto the canvas first, he paints directly with a brush. The lines of the drawing are done in black, light red or stark yellow. The next step is filling in the drawing of the master. The colours are filled in by a lesser skilled painter who aspires to be a master some day.
Once the painting is completed it is left to dry once more. It must undergo one final step before it is complete. Since vegetable dyes are extremely photosensitive i.e. reactive to light, it must be fixed onto the canvas to prevent it from fading. This is done by adding a lacquer coating over the entire surface of the canvas. The tradition of Patachitra has developed their own method of applying this lacquer coating to their paintings. The canvas is held over an open flame, high enough that it doesn’t burn or discolour the pigments. The lacquer is the applied to the canvas while it is still warm and finally left to dry.
The word patta actually means leaf and Patachitra art was originally practiced on palm leaves. The leaf was flatted and dried until it becomes hard. The drawings were scratched onto the surface of the palm and the lines were filled using black or white pigment. Then the elaborate drawing was filled in. Often these were made into books where layers of palm would be glued together to make a book. Sometimes the pages of these books contained little flaps of drawings that revealed other paintings when the flap was opened.
There is an ancient tradition of writing in India. Can you find out in what way it is similar to the palm leaf practice of Patachitra?
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