Pattachitra, narrating Lord Jagannath’s tales -

Literally meaning a ‘painting done on cloth’, Pattachitra mainly hails from the state of Odisha. As an artform dating back to the 12th century, it’s utterly fascinating to trace back its roots- to evaluate where it has reached today, it is important to know where it has come from.

                                                Pattachitra Krishna 

A Pattachitra Painting. Image


Historically, Pattachitra came into existence in order to depict Lord Jagannath’s tales. Krishna’s leelas have been an important motif for the paintings as well. Thus, the main themes of Pattachitra revolve around religious narratives, mythological stories and folktales.

The artiste caste of Odisha, the Mahapatras or Maharanas originally began to engage themselves in this art.

Orissa Pattachitra. Image Source:


 Anyone engaged in the artform earned the title of ‘Chitrakars’ for themselves. Let us further dwell into the artist and their art- The Chitrakar and their Pattachitra!

A Pattachitra Artist at work. Image Source:


Before the actual process of painting even begins, the artist has to start with the preparation of the canvas on which the painting will take place: the cloth. The cloth is coated with the stone powder of chalk and glue made using tamarind seeds. This is done to give it a soft, smooth finish, making it strong and semi absorbent for the paint.

A rough sketch of the painting is then made using a brush. The colours to be used majorly in the painting are further applied- they consist of yellow,black, white and red. All these colours are naturally sourced-  Red from the shingle stone, Yellow from haritala stone, White from crushed, boiled, and filtered shells and Black is prepared out of lampblack.

After the colours are filled in, the artists use a black brush to create fine strokes for the finishing. To make the painting durable and water resistant, it is held over a charcoal fire and lacquer is applied to the surface.

As we just explored, Pattachitra artists truly begin their art from scratch!

The artform is known to be disciplined; within a few set of rules and systems- the artists create something magical and unique every time.

Utterly fine detailing is done so that folklores can be illustrated through the medium of paintings.

This intersection of different kinds of art is something we can find in many Indian artforms- so often paintings are made with a purpose to illustrate tales. It is indeed a tough job in itself, to transform words into illustrations on the canvas. Quite remarkable how gracefully the task is taken up by our artists!

 Another interesting fact about Pattachitra artists is that while passing on the art to their offspring, artists do not reveal some major secrets to them. It is then their work to embark a journey to explore the true joy of making art, by themselves.

While the artform was mostly done by men in the past, slowly women engaged in the art are also being recognised.

Over time, they have grown to not restrict themselves to cloth and have started to paint on palm leaves, tussar silk, bags, wall hangings, coconut shells etc. Slowly, Pattachitra is developing a household name.

A Pattachitra Clutch, as seen on


Further, Chitra-pothies, which are stacked painted leaves held together by a string illustrating mythological themes, have also been made historically.


                                         Pothi Chitra, depicting mythology. Image Source:


Chitrakars have started to adjust as time has passed, and are now beginning to sell their art in compatible forms in order to fuel their survival. Like mentioned before, Pattachitra can be now found in bags, earrings, wall hanging etc etc. While the essence of the artform can now easily be captured in commercially saleable items, we cannot forget its roots- for they exist deeper than what can be seen at front; and are the reason why the artform is standing firm, till date.



 ~Written by Misha Jaiswal



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