Hailing from the village of Raghurajpur, the village of pattachitra artists in India, Purusottam Swain's family has been painting for generations.
The name Pattachitra has evolved from the Sanskrit words patta, meaning canvas, and chitra, meaning picture. Originally from Odisha, Pattachitra is thus a painting done on canvas, and is manifested by rich colourful application, creative motifs and designs, and portrayal of simple themes, mostly mythological in depiction. More than anything, the themes are clearly the essence of the art form, conceptualising the meaning of the paintings.
Of Painted Temples
As the scorching summer sun rises on the day of Snana Punam, the priests of the Lord Jagannatha temple in Puri, Odisha, take the idols out for their ritualistic bath with 108 pots of water. But, as the tale goes, this caused the gods to catch fever and they needed to take rest to recover! During this fortnight of rest, known as Anasar, the Mahapatra chitrakars (or artists of the village) create an intricately adorned painting of the Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra, and Maa Subadhra so that devotees could continue to offer their prayers.
These traditional paintings (chitra), created on fabric (patta) turned into canvas using natural gum and chalk are popularly known as Pattachitra. Since the 12th Century AD, the Pattachitra paintings flourished in the temple town of Puri, with skilled chitrakars adorning canvases, temple walls, and walls of homes during marriages and other festive occasions with detailed artwork.
Heroic tales of gods and goddesses from the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana are painted in bold colours of red, white, and yellow with a distinctive style of sharp fish-like eyes, lyrical swaying bodies, and dots adorning the canvas like jewels and stars sprayed across. Ornate borders of flowers and carved pillars emulate the temple sculpture motifs of Odisha.
The elaborately fashioned imagery of the Pattachitra paintings that originated in the small village of Raghurajpur, Odisha, are now appreciated across the world. Steeped in ancient Indian mythological culture and classical romances, with vibrant colours and outstanding craftsmanship, Pattachitra has become a distinct art form that has captured our imagination.