Singing and Dancing on the Ferry Boat of Love
A Brief History of Patachitra–The Traditional Painting of Orissa
The cultural History of Orissa can be traced to Prehistoric times. Traces of Prehistoric civilization are evident in different parts of Orissa. The history of Art in Orissa began with the Mauryan rule over Kalinga in ancient Orissa, when stone was used as the medium for art. The first specimens of Plastic art in Orissa date back to the third century B.C. found at Dhauli near Bhubaneswar and Jaugarh in the district of Ganjam. Later it seems that the art activities in Orissa were influenced by the contemporary all India trade during the period from the first century BC. to at least the fourth or fifth century A.D. The first mural painting of Sitabanjhi in Keonjhar district can be grouped with the mural paintings of Ajanta belonging to the Gupta period is the only evidence of early classical Orissa’s painting. From the seventh century onwards several royal dynasties ruled in succession over ancient Orissa and the political and cultural life becomes more clear, the sculptural art took a definite shape form this period with the building of beautiful temple complexes in Bhubaneswar and other places in Orissa.
According to the royal patronage and also due to the teachings of Vaishnv scholars, the tradition of Patachitra painting seems to have got associated with the Jagannath temple of Puri in the Ganga period (Circa A.D 1110 to 1435)
In the temple of Jagannath there are the daily rituals of rousing the deites, feeding and putting them to bed at night. There are besides many periodic and festive rituals to be observed on different auspicious days. The most important of these festivals is the Rath Yatra (Car Festival), but there are a number of other important festivals to keep the Sevaks busy throughout the year. In most of these festive nitis (rituals), the chitrakar (artist) has an important function.
The painting of the Anasarapati during the Ansara that is the primary ritual function of the chitrakar and the need for the substitute icon might well have been the basic reason for creating the seva itself. For at least fifteen days of the year the creations of the chitrakar received some obeisance and worship from the devotees. Besides the painting of the substitute icon, the other important function of the chitrakar is to decorate the cars (Rath) during the Rathyatra and other festive occasions. Chitrakar was one of the original 35 orders which was introduced by Jagannath temple. There is a legend among chitrakars of Puri that the Srimukh Singhar seva was also performed by the chitrakar earlier having had their origin in rituals of the Puri temple several hundred years back. The chitrakars in later periods seem to have moved to other parts of Orissa, specially the so called "Athara gadajata" (Eighteen feudatory states) areas.
Besides the seva, chitrakars have traditionally painted Gods and Goddesses and religious stories on Matha and Temples works. At one time particular chitrakar families were attached to particular Matha and temples. In their spare time they engaged themselves in doing other paintings on Patta for commercial sale. In the older times the chitrakar would even setup a shop in the important market places of Orissa. Not only Pattachitra viz. Yatri Pattl’s, Ganjifa Card sets, Paper Masks, wooden image toys of Jagannath etc.
Patachitra was an already existing art form before palm leaf illustration made their appearance in the 15th century and later. Though the chitrakar must have been affected in his work by the new style of drawing on palm leaf, he continued his work following conventions practiced for generations. Even though some chitrakars may have illustrated some palm leaf manuscripts, the writing and illumination was mostly done by scribes and artists belonging to other castes like "Bhamin, Karan, Vaisya" etc.
Patachitra, a traditional style of painting has often been compared to the western Indian school and is said to have been influenced the latter. The beginning of the this linear conception can be traced back to Ajanta Painting, Jain Painting, where ever it might have originated.