Patachitra Paintings – A Spiritual Endeavor


Image – Wikimedia

India is a land of various folk art forms and one such unique expression on canvas is Patachitra. Also, known as Pattachitra, it is a form of scroll painting, done on cloth. Derived from two words, ‘pata’ meaning cloth and ‘chitra’ meaning picture, Patachitra is based and originated from the eastern Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal. It is also practiced in Bangladesh. 

Types of Patachitra paintings

Image – Wikimedia

The Patachitra paintings are divided into Odisha and Bengal Patachitra paintings. The main difference between the two is their themes. The Odisha Patachitra is centered on the depiction of Gods and is confined to temple and religious forms of art. On the other hand, the Bengal Patachitra, though also derives its inspiration from religious texts, the paintings were used for story telling of mythological and folklore tales. 

Each of these types of Patachitra paintings is further sub-classified. 

There are three types of Odisha Patachitra paintings. The cloth based paintings are called Patachitra. However, the paintings done on walls are known as ‘Bhitti Chitra’, whereas the ones done on palm leaves are called ‘Tala Patra Chitra’ or ‘Pothi Chitra.’ The painting style of all these types is closely similar as the same artists were commissioned to create all these different types of paintings. 

The Bengal Patachitra paintings are divided into many sub-types, such as Chalchitra, Durga Pat, Medinipur Patachitra, Tribal Patachitra and Kalighat Patachitra. 

Odisha Patachitra

Image – Wikimedia

History of Patachitra

The Patachitra paintings probably originated as early as the 5th century. The old temple murals in Puri, Konark and Bhubneswar are evidence to Patachitra paintings being an artistic form in the early centuries. The paintings are closely tied with the spiritual and cultural facets of temple traditions in Odisha. In fact, Lord Jagannath’s present image is often associated with the Patachitra paintings. Every year the deities or idols in Jagannath Temple are taken for a bath during Debasnana Purnima for 15 days. It is during the absence of the deities, that the Patachitra paintings of the Gods are made by the best of Chitrakars. The three Patachitra paintings that are made during this time are of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. These paintings are known as Anasar Patti where the public offers prayers and homage to them. 

Style and Technique of Patachitra paintings

Style and technique of Patachitra paintings
Image – Wikimedia

The entire painting is handmade. First the canvas is prepared. The cotton cloth or strips are coated with a mixture of tamarind seeds made from chalk and gum. The cloth is rubbed with stones and left to dry.  Once dried, the leathery finish of the cloth or patta indicates that it is now ready for the artist to work on. The artists practicing Patachitra are such experts that they do not draw a sketch. Instead, they directly use paint to draw the outline of the picture. The colors are then filled and the final image is given a lacquer coating to withstand different weathers and add a slight sheen to the painting. In fact, the painting is held on top of a fire, such that the painting’s back is exposed to the heat. Lacquer is applied on the other side of the painting. 

Patachitra paintings are created following a set of rules. There are basic techniques and styles that are fundamental to them. For example, the painting must have a floral border. Similarly, the images or face profiles of deities have elongated eyes and prominent facial expressions. Also, Patachitra paintings use natural colors.

Colors in Patachitra Paintings

Colors in Patachitra paintings
Image – Wikimedia

Painters use natural colors and prepare them with care and arduous work. The gum from the Wood Apple or Kaitha tree is the base which is usually used for creating the colors. Black is derived from the lamp soot, white from the paste of conch shells. Similarly, yellow comes from the Hartal stone and orange from the Gerua stone. Leaves of the Hyacinth plant are powdered to make green, whereas, red comes from the Hingula rock. Indigo is prepared from Ramaraja and violet from blackberries. The Patachitra paintings usually use bright vivid colors and their paint brushes are also naturally made from the hair of animals. The paintbrush stick is made using bamboo. 

Over time, in spite of artificial colors and canvases, most Patachitra artists continue to use naturally available ingredients and eco-friendly methods to create their paintings. 

Themes in Patachitra Paintings

Themes in Patachitra paintings
Image – Wikimedia

Besides the paintings depicting Gods and Goddesses associated with the Jagannath Temple, the Bhakti Movement in the 16th century saw Patachitra paintings of Krishna and Radha. Tales and scenes from epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata were also painted and continue to be themes around which Patachitra artists create their piece of art. 

Also, there is not much depiction of natural beauty or landscapes in Patachitra paintings. The focus is on figures and their expressions that are highlighted through their face or body language. The image lines are clear and distinctive and the postures articulate the mood of the figure. The outfits of the figures are also believed to have an influence from the Mughal era. 

Tala Pattachitra

Image – Wikimedia

Tala Pattachitra or Palm leaf Pattachitra is another popular form of art. Here the palm leaves are sewn together to form the base or canvas for the painting. The picture is sketched using white or black ink and the palm leaves are held together in a way, such that they can be folded or unfolded. 


Chitrakars of Pattachitra
Image – Wikimedia

The Chitrakaras in earlier days were said to follow a strict schedule while painting. For example, they were to remain vegetarian, wear new clothes or not sleep on a mattress. Once the painting was completed, certain prayers were chanted before it was taken to the temple. Also, traditionally, the men and women in the house were involved in the creation of the paintings. Women helped in preparing the glue, canvas and the lacquer coating. The main artist, usually the men, made the images and gave the painting its final touches. 

Today Patachitra artists have spread out, though most still remain confined to the eastern Indian states. However, around 14km from Puri, in the village of Raghurajpur, there are more than 100 chitrakara families who practice Patachitra paintings. It is the only village in India where practically every household is involved in this artistic pursuit. The paintings are created for the Gods and its artists have in recent times diversified their skill to create palm leaf paintings, carvings on coconut shells, Tussar painting and more. Some other villages where this art form continues to flourish are Paralakhemundi, Sonepur, Chikiti etc. Besides, artists today use the Pattachitra style to create wall hangings, showpieces, toys, wooden carvings etc. Many also teach this art form both domestically and internationally. 

Bengal Patachitra

Bengal Patachitra
Image – Wikimedia

The Bengal Patachitra is similar to the Odisha Patachitra in style and technique. However, the only difference is in the theme. Bengal Patachitra paintings are more social and cultural in nature. They are based on society, traditions, folklore and religious or mythological stories. The Patachitra artist in this school of art is known as a Patua. Hence, many believe that the origin of Bengal Patachitra may be connected to the history of Patua Sangeet. However, there is no clear evidence of when this art form began. 

Also, a song is always related to a Bengal Patachitra. The artist sings the songs, while unfolding the painting. The song known as Patua Sangeet or Poter Gaan, along with the Patachitra were means to bring forth to the public issues, such as current news, elections, folklores, family planning, ills of dowry system and more. Some of the villages where this art form was most popular include Bardhaman, Birbhum, Murshidabad, Jhargram and more. 

Image – Wikimedia

The other types of Bengal Patachitra, such as Chalchitra create the idol of Durga as a background. Similarly, Durga Pot is a piece of art that is worshiped. The Bengal Patachitra is also varied because there are subtle differences in color or design from region to region. For example, the scrolls of Birbhum or Bankura prefer red colored backgrounds, whereas, those of Hooghly use dark brown. 

Finally, the Patachitra paintings are a traditional form of art that are deeply interconnected with the spiritual and religious aspects of certain geographic regions in the country. However, their intricacy and exceptional artistic details have made them renowned all over the world. 

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