Jhoti Chita – Floor and Wall Paintings of Odisha


Image – Wikimedia

Floor and wall paintings are a unique artistic expression in India. People of different regions across the nation adorn their homes, with rangolis and designs that are intrinsically a part of their cultural heritage. Jhoti Chita is a traditional art that is painted on the walls and floors of rural Odisha. It is an important inclusion during festivals, spiritual and social occasions. Made from rice paste, the Jhoti Chita incorporates floral, geometric, animal and religious motifs in its designs. 

How Is Jhoti Chita Made?

Image – Moni Attractive Art

Jhoti Chitas are a common sight in rural Odisha, where women create figures or floral patterns on the walls and floors of their homes. Each Jothi Chita is made from semi-liquid rice paste. The patterns are either made directly with fingers or using a piece of cloth that is attached to a twig. Also, sometimes the surface on which the Jhoti Chita is made, is first smeared with Dhau, a red earthy color to provide the perfect contrast. 

The outline of the painting is created and then the paste is filled within the outlined borders of the design or sketch. Also, different techniques are used to draw the Jhoti Chita. Often the cloth attached to the twig is used as a brush to paint. On other occasions, fingers dipped in the rice paste are enough to create a stunning effect. Besides, sometimes the paste is just sprinkled on the wall and with a light touch and swirl of the hand the painting resembles a sheaf of paddy. 

Jhoti Chitas are always made with rice paste and are white in color. Thus, they are different from Rangolis, which are created using a variety of hues and shades. Besides, in Jhoti Chita the white signifies purity, peace and prosperity. 

When Is Jhoti Chita Created?

Image – Wikimedia

Jhoti Chitas are created on all festivals and occasions. This includes social customs, such as marriages, child birth etc. However, this art form flourishes and finds its true wings during the many festivals, such as Manabasa Gurubara, Basanti, Raja, Jhulana, Karthika, Lakshmi Puja, Dola etc. 

Manabasa Gurubara is perhaps one of the most important festivals in Odisha. And is also one of the main occasions on which the Jhoti Chitas are created with much enthusiasm and devotion. It is celebrated during the Hindu month of Margasira that usually falls between November and December. According to mythology, it is believed that Goddess Lakshmi is present in each house on every Thursday during this month. The Kharif crop is also harvested during this period. Thus, on each Thursday of the month, the married women of the household create Jhoti Chita that include designs of the feet of Mother Lakshmi. In fact, one of the main significances of the Jhoti Chita is to attract Goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to bring prosperity and happiness. And hence, several Jhoti Chita paintings have small feet or foot marks painted as a symbol of welcome for the Goddess. 

Symbolic Significance & Designs in Jhoti Chita

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On the face of it, the Jhoti Chita paintings are drawn for decorating the house on special festivals and occasions. However, they hold a significance that is much more than for sheer aesthetic or decorative purposes. Most of the motifs and designs drawn in the Jhoti Chita hold symbolic significance. Just as the feet are painted to mark the presence of Goddess Lakshmi, similarly, there are various other motifs that also have spiritual and mystical meanings. For instance, rice sheaves or paddy are drawn in a pile stacked in the shape of a pyramid during Lakshmi Puja and Manabasa Gurubara. Also, usually, the Jhoti Chita featuring the Dhana Shishaas or heaps of paddy is drawn on the outer walls of the huts. 

During Durga Puja, red dots are painted over white dots to signify the worship of both Shakti and Shiva. Also, several of the motifs and symbols used in Jhoti Chita are similar to the ones used in PattaChitra.

Symbols of Lord Jagannath and Lord Vishnu are also a part of several Jhoti Chitas. Some of these include, the lotus flower, wheel, conch shell and the mace or gada. However, the heaps of paddy always signify the presence of Lakshmi and are a symbol of success and prosperity. 

One of the most beautiful and detailed paintings is called the Swapna Padma Chita which is circular and quite huge in size. The Jhoti Chitas are also drawn in grain storage areas, or on earthen pots, doorsteps of homes and around deities. 

However, there are also figures and designs that are drawn for sheer artistic and aesthetic reasons. Some of the designs that are commonly painted in the Jhoti Chita include the peacocks, the Kumbh, fish, elephants and other animals. The motifs are both in floral and geometric patterns creating a visual marvel for all to see. 

Besides, once the Jhoti Chita is created no one walks over it. Certain paintings that are offerings for Gods and Goddesses are not even swept away with a broom. Instead, they are wiped with a wet cloth. 

Role of Women in Jhoti Chita

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Like several traditional arts, the women of rural Odisha are the backbone of Jhoti Chita. Besides, married women are the main flag bearers and artists that create the Jhoti Chitas. 

With their exceptional creative skills, that are honed over generations, the women showcase their artistic inclinations manifested through the various designs, motifs and patterns of the Jhoti Chita. Also, since the paintings have a strong connection to Goddess Lakshmi, it is imperative that women play a crucial role in the creation and sustenance of this art form. 

Manabasa Gurubara

Image – Wikimedia

Interestingly, the festival of Manabasa Gurubara celebrated during the month of Margasira is an important occasion for the creation of this traditional art. The Jhoti Chita is an important part of the rituals, which includes the singing of a popular folklore story. According to the story, Goddess Lakshmi, is impressed with cleanliness and bestows her blessings on the woman who sweeps and keeps her home clean. And hence, the women clean their homes before the prayer and draw the Jhoti Chita that has the drawings of small feet or Laxmi Paada Chita. This signifies that the Goddess is pleased with the way they have performed this household chore. And thus, blessed them with Her presence. 

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A jar called Mana is placed in the middle of the Jhoti Chita and is filled with the newly harvested paddy. The puja is then performed and is concluded with distribution of traditional dishes, such as Chitau, Manda Pitha, Kakara, Khiri and more. Also, on this day, every woman recites the Lakshmi Purana with utmost dedication. The same ritual is followed on all the Thursdays of the month. 

Besides, the Jhoti Chita is also drawn below the Pidhaa Marei or a wooden pedestal on which the idol of the Goddess is placed. 

Floor and wall art paintings are abundant in India. They are temporary creations that fade away with time, only to be restarted and reimagined all over again for the next festival or occasion. The Jhoti Chita is a wonderful art form that is a representation of the social, cultural and religious beliefs of the people of Odisha. Though rural women practice this art form, many women living in urban areas too continue to follow its traditions. 

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