Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.

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Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.

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At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.

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The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.

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At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.

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On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.

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At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.

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At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.

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On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.

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In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.

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After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.

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Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.

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At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.

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At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.

 

Etching Krishna and his Childhood

Tall and short, the tree grows in abundance on the coast of Odisha, both in a cluster and in solitary.  It is one of the palm trees, in Odia called Tala Gachha. The tree may not have cultural or religious significance unlike the sacred banyan tree but its leaves are the most sought after material for creative experimentation to illustrate Hindu gods, goddesses and their leela.

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From childhood, I have been well acquainted with the art and also with talapatra pothis or palm leaf manuscripts as it is referred to in English. Talapatra pothis are traditionally used to write horoscopes and its history can be traced back to the beginning of Odisha’s history.

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Depiction of Horoscope Writing in a Patachitra

However, in historical records, we have only from the 17th century now mostly preserved in the State Museum at Bhubaneswar. This may be due to the humid tropical weather of Odisha we have lost the earlier ones.

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A historical Pothi Chitra from 18th/19th-century exhibit at Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Specialized tools known as lekhani – Exhibit at Kalabhoomi, Bhubaneswar

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Among the contemporary talapatra pothi chitra one of the most stunning and richly illustrated that I have come across is a pankha (hand fan) exhibit at ODIART Purvasha Museum in Chilika. Narrating the story of Lord Krishna and his leela in a multitude of colours the talapathra pothi chitra pankha is a treat to eyes. The creator of the pankha is noted patachitra artist Bijaya Parida.

Travel Tips

ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum.

The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.

Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com

Also, Read Here:

Celebrating Seasons in Patachitra – a Tribute to an Artist’s Dream and Passion

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The pankha is a pinnacle of traditional Odia creation, but its process starts in nature.

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A tall Palm Tree
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Freshly cut leaves from a Palm Tree
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Dried leaves before they are processed for pothi chitra making

During my travel to Nayakapatna village near Raghurajpur in Puri District, I had got a chance how and who procure the leaves, process them before they appear in zigzag folds of yellow-green leaves. A special set of tools known as lekhani are used for etching the processed leaves. It is not an easy task. You need patience and perfection. First, it is drawn in a pencil and then in a lekhani. Colours are filled at the end. The style is influenced by patachitra painting.

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A stack of palm leaves
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A woman in the cutting and sizing process
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After the Cutting and Sizing with the help of various tools
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An artisan at work
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An artisan at etching work using a lekhani

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The pankha is made up four concentric circles out of which the outer three are filled in illustrations depicting Krishna’s all childhood episodes, mystical beasts, flora and fauna and geometrical patterns. Even the handle is not spared. The innermost circle has the depiction of patra-lata (vegetal motifs).

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It’s Process

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Looking closely at this masterpiece time and again I am reminded of how incredible Odia art has been for centuries. However, sadly with the penetration of foreign goods, especially the Chinese market the glory is fading away at a pace that was never thought up before. But there is hope as long as there is a support of museums like Purvasha and art connoisseurs. Fingers crossed!

Author- Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

Can anyone ever think of ‘Odisha’ without thinking of Lord Jagannath. No way!! Rhythms of Odia life deeply revolve around scores of rituals related to Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subadhra throughout the year.

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The trinity that resides in Puri celebrates festivals as any of us do. In the month of June, when the weather becomes excessively humid and unbearable, the deities are brought out from the temple for a holy bath. After the bathing ritual, the deities are traditionally believed to fall ill and are kept in a sick room for 15 days. During this period, no pilgrims are allowed to do the divine darshan. Historically, there was a need for substitute images for the public view and to which prayers and rituals could be offered. Anasara Pati, a painted sheet of cloth, depicting the deities used to be the substitute image meant for prayers by the pilgrims during the period of illness.  These patachitras were prepared by the master artists of the Chitrakara community.

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Anasara Pati – Image Courtesy: Prateek Patnaik

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Jatri Pati

The preparation for the making of Anasara Pati would begin on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trithiya. On this day, a Chitrakara would receive a piece of cloth to prepare canvas from the temple administration. When he would complete the painting, the family priest would come to his house to perform a puja of the Pati in the presence of all his family members. A day after this puja, a priest from the Jagannath temple would come to his house with a garland and accompanied by people carrying ghanta (gong), chalti (ritual umbrella) and kahali (pipe). Another puja would be performed at his house before the Anasara Pati would be rolled and tied with a piece of black cloth. The Pati would then be carried to the Jagannath temple by the Chitrakara in a ceremonial procession. This tradition of Anasara Pati goes back to the time of King Anangabhima Deva, who ruled Odisha between 1190 and 1198 CE.

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In Puri, there is a belief that a pilgrimage to the town is incomplete unless the pilgrim takes back with him/her five Patas of Lord Jagannath, five beads, five cane sticks and nirmalya (dried rice from the temple kitchen). In Bengal, as a ritual, every pilgrim returning from Puri, gifts one of these Patas and a few grains of the dried cooked rice, Mahaprasada, to his/her friends and relatives.

Though, Chitrakaras throughout history had deep connection with the temple and its rituals at Puri, in the 19th century, they fell into the trap of middlemen who exploited their situation adversely. They lost their source of livelihood and homesteads and started to look for other sources of employment. Many of them became daily wage labourers in betel-leaf gardens, carrying water and head loads of soil while some became masons and others agricultural labourers.

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Depiction of Pana Baraja – Betle Leaf Garden in Raghurajpur

It took more than a generation and the enterprise of an American lady called Helena Zealy, who was in Odisha between 1952 and 54, to revive this precious art form. Helena, while learning Odia in Puri, met Panu Maharana, a Chitrakara trying to eke out a living by selling a few paintings to pilgrims and tourists on Puri beach. She was mesmerized by the sublime beauty of incredible Pata paintings and its vivid depiction of mythological lores and legends. She then established a strong bonding with the Chitrakaras of Raghurajpur, a village full of artists, 10 km from Puri on Puri-Bhubaneswar Road. Along with the master craftsman, Jagannath Mohapatra, she devised a marketing strategy for the promotion of Patachitras as souvenirs and the sustenance of art and artists on a local level. A gurukul ashram was set up in Raghurajpur where young artists were trained in the art and later a co-operative society that took care of the export of the Patas to countries far and wide.

 

 

Raghurajpur

The word Patachitra is derived from the Odia words Pata, which means cloth, and Chitra which means picture. Chitrakaras of Raghurajpur mostly use colour pigments obtained from minerals and a few from vegetable extracts. For white, conch shells are the main source, which are bought from the fishermen. The yellow pigment is extracted from a mineral – Orpiment (Arsenic sulphide). The mineral is ground into fine powder and then made into a thick paste by adding a little water and mixing with mortar and pestle. Glue is than added to the thick paste and made into small tablets and dried. Hingula (crude cinnabar), used for blood red, is available in mineral stone form and when pulverized yields a bright red. It is made into a paste and then into tablets. Chitarakaras also use Geru (red ochre) stone, which at first is finely ground, mixed with water and then allowed to settle. The water containing the pigment is boiled till it becomes a thick paste and then made into tablets after adding glue. Black pigment is obtained from lamp black. A wick lamp is lit with Polanga, a kind of oil and above it is placed a brass plate filled with water. After thirty minutes of burning, the soot gathered on the back of the plate is scraped off and glue is added. Blue is obtained from indigo, which is sold in tablet form. Before a Chitrakara begins painting, the colour tablets are soaked in water and then used after the canvas is dried and hard enough for etching. A gummy paste of boiled tamarind seeds and powdered shells or granite is plastered over the stretched cloth in layers to harden the surface.

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Some of the popular themes found in Patachitras are the Vesas (costumes) of Jagannath, Kanchi-Kaveri expedition of King Purusottama Deva, Dasavatara (ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu), Krishna Lila, Rasa pictures and themes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Once used exclusively to adorn the walls and precincts of the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri, today the lively art and its symbols are etched onto the walls of the houses of the master artists in Raghurajpur. The symbols and style has been adapted to etch on palm leaves and also on the Papier-mâché sculptures and carvings.

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Thanks to an initiative by INTACH and the state government, the entire village of Raghurajpur and the neighbouring Danadashai, have been turned into a crafts village, a living museum throbbing with creativity and pulsating with the colours of nature. All the houses here belong to master artists who are involved in some art form or the other.

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Lord Brahma

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A Gurukul

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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu being received by the King of Puri

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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Puri

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A Shop

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Lord Krishna at Vrindavan and Mata Yasoda

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A Scene from the Mahabharata

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Sharada Ritu (Autumn Season)

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Rural Life

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Krishna and Radha

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Raghurajpur is not just known for patachitras; it is equally known for a dozen other art and crafts, such as palm leaf etching, papier-mâché masks, and ganjifa.

 

 

It is also the birthplace of Gotipua, a dance that is performed by pre-teen boys dressed as graceful feminine dancers. Gotipua is the seed dance from which the classical Odissi dance was developed. Not just a village of national awardees but also the birthplace of the wizard Kelucharan Mohapatra, Raghurajpur is a village where art is in the air, soil and water.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com