How much do you know about India’s rarest art and craft? You might have heard about some specific rarities belonging to a particular community or territory. You also may have personally visited some of them. India is a very diverse country the way every community has been keeping the old tradition of their artistic work alive. This work is widely related to handicraft, embroidery, fine work, beading, weaving and many more! With the advancement of technology, the purity of techniques and process has been declining gradually.
But still there are some places and people whose artwork is totally unchanged. The only thing they know is that they are dedicated to their work. Somehow they are defining the best capability of human beings that turns out as a pure delightful feast to every beholder. This time I am going to let you know about the same kind of place, which is not much famous as many of you must not have heard about it. But I think this hidden gem should be acquainted to every art, history, and culture lover.
Situated 15 km away from the famous Hindu pilgrimage destination- Puri, Raghurajpur is the first heritage crafts village of Odisha state. The village is perfectly tucked in a dense stretch of beautiful trees of betel nut, palm, coconut, and jack-fruits. Bhargavi river, one of the tributaries of Mahi river flows through the village and adds another charm to serenity of this place.
The village has around 100 houses arranged in two streets, and there is a row of small temples in between. These small temples even show us the best of hindu culture through its minute artwork. Every street is like open art gallery. They do artwork on every possible existing object placed around. Toys of various size hung in the courtyard with paintings of god and goddess, birds flying to another world from walls along with fine nests and painted coconut, everything is pure delight to witness and feel.
It is hard to find houses whose wall isn’t painted by vivid murals. These murals are mainly centered on mythological stories related to deities and demons, or traditional and tribal art. Nested in the verdant countryside, this place is an absolute symbiosis of art, peace and worship as every single human is closely related to it. Isn’t it amazing to witness the folk of every age group involved in individual artistic work…from a child engraving a palm leaf in the corner to an old man carving the stone in facade?
It is mainly famous for its rarest and oldest art of Pattachitra, which dates back to the 4th century. But this is not the only thing that this place has to offer. This village is an abode to many rarest crafts, namely Pattachitra painting, Tasar-Silk painting, Palm leaf engraving, Cow-dunk toys, Papermask, Wood carving, Stone carving, Coconut painting, Betel nut painting, Bottle painting. They are still adding up new varieties from house to house, like aluminium painting on kettle and on other objects.
If you are an artist or interested in art, you could literally feel the magnificence and opulence of every meticulous art showcased there.
The fantastic thing is that this village is still closely related to Puri temple. Hence you could easily find an influence of Lord Jagannath and his life in every art form. In olden times, the villagers used to sell this artistic stuff at Puri temple during religious gathering. Then there was the time, when the intense affection of makers as well buyers took place in parallel world. This faith was the oasis of evolution in crafts, and what happened afterwards is still history.
It was one Bengali Brahmin, who came to this village a long time ago and settled in the jungle. For his immense faith, he thought to present something to his supreme being. He just painted a random object with vibrant colors to give it a different look of god. The most attractive thing he did was that he painted the face of god with a coal. This is why still we can see the face of lord Jagannath in a black color. This monk was the first artist of village, who introduced such kind of object painting to the rest of world. Apart from it, Jagganth Mohapatra was the source as a first person, who started to make this Pattachitra for the very first time. But the lovely thing is, it’s still kept intact by their progeny.
Pattachitra is made up of two words, Patta simply means cloth or canvas, and chitra means painting. So basically Pattachitra is a painting of mythological stories on clothes with organic colours. This art of Pattachitra painting is as old as Puri temple. The tradition has been passed from one generation to another with the passage of time, but the art preserve is so strong among local community.
In the beginning it was- “JATIRAPATTI”. It totally resembles the pattachitra, but it’s only confined to the stories of Puri temple and Lord Jagannath. This root-form had been gradually evolved in the form of other Hindu mythological and fantasy stories- which can be witnessed in a recent time.
The villagers are so welcoming that within a few seconds of your arrival, you will be welcomed with broad hands to their homes (which are like art studio), where every process is being taken place. Their intentions are not even of earning so much, but they do feel contented in presenting their art in front of you.
I was lucky to meet such amazing young artists of village, who introduced me to entire process of every art and craft. One of those is Sachikant, who is itself a national award winner for his work.
Hearing to locals, I got to know about many u unknown things. The canvas of Pattachitra is made up of one amazing process. First and foremost, a few pieces of cotton cloth are taken and soaked with water. This water contains filling of tamarind seeds. They put a coat of chalk and gum over it, and finally another piece of cloth is put over everything. It is rubbed well with the stones after drying, so they can get smoothness over surface. And this is how one canvas is being made! Isn’t it just amazing? Following to it, the final part takes place-the art of storytelling. Yes, the art of storytelling in visual form- in the form of colourful painting.
What made me amazed is they still use organic and natural colours for this painting, which are processed out of mountainous stones and sea-shells. In some instances, even a vegetable dye is used. They know very well about dazzling finishing with this raw material. For giving an edge effect by brush, some of them use “mouse’s hair”. I was literally out of words for whatever I was witnessing. This kind of art inspires me to look deep into our culture and its hidden aspects. Don’t you think this village is offering a lot?
Engraving and other crafts
One another wondrous thing I found in this village is “Palm Leaf Engraving”. With an iron pen or a thin needle, they engrave the intact dried palm leaf and then they fill it either with a black kajal, or other organic colours. Dashavatar of gods are mainly depicted on these palm leaves, but the intricacy is spell-binding. This gives one perfect visual treat and you could literally feel it from its meticulous vibrancy.
Just imagine, you are witnessing a painting of Lord Jagannath on one small betel nut piece. Or you are reading one entire story depicted on a coconut shell! I was totally astounded by the art of making colourful toys out of cow dung. It doesn’t end here, their painting work on silk and stone carving are also famous.
This village is also a root of famous Odishi classical dance-Gotipua. It is a traditional dance, in which the boys dress up in women’s attire as a symbol of Radha and her life with Krishna. This is followed by their live performance in streets with a large local gathering. You can easily witness it in any small event of temple or village. Odisha’s first “Padm Vibhushan” owner and Indian classical dancer cum guru, Kelucharn Mohaptra was also from this village. There are still some venues where classes are being run in a memory of this legendary dance guru. Memories from his past life could be relieved easily from the lanes of Raghurajpur. These all stories altogether make this place more alive and more vibrant.
This village has always been a real treasure, but it only got exposed after year 2000. It was the same year, when after a research of two years by INTACH (Indian national trust for art and cultural heritage) the village was declared “First Heritage Village of Odisha”. This was great help to local artists to be explored, and outsiders to explore something worthy. The invasion of foreign visitors increased, and locals started to earn something for their dedication-asking work. The government of India has invested 100 million INR for the overall development of this village with the purpose of effervescence of villagers to keep this tradition forward. Even state government is spending good amount on this village for preserving every bit of what they have.
Away from the hustle-bustle of a fast city life, this village is soaked with a pristine serenity and peace, which is potent enough to awaken out of every hidden artist.
This is not even enough to tell what exactly this village is all about. You need to go there for finding out the real grandeur of this small place. So whenever you go to Puri, or you put your leg in Odisha, don’t forget to pay a visit to this artistic fair of unseen crafts.
How to get there
The nearest railway station is Puri, which is well connected to every part of country with regular trains. If you want to go there by an airway, you need to board a flight to Bhubaneshwar, which is the nearest airport and falls 55 km away from this place. Road connectivity is very good, and you can easily go there by public bus or personal vehicle.