The Heritage and Evolution of Pattachitra Paintings

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Paintings are one of the oldest forms of storytelling in the world. Pattachitra art is one of the oldest forms of art from Pattachitra – giving the artform its name. This art style was used to depict images of Hindu mythological stories and fascinating characters. You can spot Pattachitra art with its distinctive bold colors and Italian craftsmanship. If you want to add a unique piece of Indian art to your home, there is nothing better to choose than a Pattachitra painting.

These paintings incorporate Indian customs, rituals, and values in a unique and beautiful way that celebrates the Hindu faith and religion. This traditional art has evolved to appear in clothing and accessories, becoming living art that you can incorporate into your everyday life.

We’re looking at the heritage behind Pattachitra paintings and what makes them so appealing. If you’re looking to add a Pattachitra painting to your home, you can explore our range of artwork here.

The origin of Pattachitra paintings

The origin story for Pattachitra paintings is covered in legend and mythology. It’s closely connected to the story of Jagannath. On the full moon of May or June, also known as the birthday of Jagannath, the deities from his temple were given a ritualistic bath to keep away the summer heat.

Jagannath-Subhada-Baalabhadra In Padma Shringar

During this ritual, thousands of people would witness the procession of bathing, also known as ‘Snana Yatra’. Jagannath and his brother and sister are taken for a ceremonial path through this procession. As a result of this bath, the three deities develop a fever that lasts for 15 days, known as ‘Anasar’. For these 15 days, devotees are unable to see their god.


Shri Ganesha Lakshmi Yantra

Pattachitra paintings originally emerged of these three deities, giving devotes a means to worship them when the idols were kept away for the 15 days following the bathing. This style of art was originally known as ‘Anasar Patti’ in honor of the 15 days of seclusion before becoming known as Pattachitra.

The word ‘pattachitra’ means cloth painting and comes from the two words ‘pata’ and ‘chitra’. This type of art form is known as scroll painting and was typically carried out on cloth.  Pattachitra paintings come from Orissa in the 5th century. The earliest records of Pattachitra art come from the village of Puri. Pattachitra art is still popular in this region today. The craftsmen behind this artform are known as ‘Maharanas’ and ‘Mohapatras’.

Puri was originally established by King Narasingha Deva 1 of the 13th century Eastern Ganga dynasty. The artists who live in this village trace their origins back to the Savar tribe.

Lord Venkateshwara with Kirtimukha

The inspiration for the original Pattachitra paintings came from the architecture and temples around Orissa. The stories of the village were told through paintings, with the craftsmen narrating the stories through detailed paintwork. These scroll paintings were originally used for ritual purposes and were given as souvenirs to pilgrims heading to Puri and temples in Odisha.

The Jagannath and Vaishnavas tribes are widely credited for acting as the early patrons of the Pattachitra art form. Hindu gods were the main source of inspiration for paintings, such as Hanuman, Krishna, and Shiva. Hindu goddess also appears in the stories depicted in these paintings, including the goddess Parvati and Sita. The stories from Hindu scriptures in artform through Pattachitra paintings.

Although Pattachitra paintings originated in Orissa, it’s also popular across West Bengal. The main difference between the Pattachitra paintings made in Orissa is that they are made using cotton fabrics, while silk is used by the Maharanas and Mohapatras in West Bengal. In West Bengal, Pattachitra paintings were used as a visual aid during the performances of songs and musical pieces.


The signature style of Pattachitra paintings

What makes Pattachitra paintings distinctive and easy to spot is how the craftsmen behind the paintings blend the signature elements of folk stories and classic art. While the overarching feeling will always be towards the folk stories and mythology that inspires the stories captured on the paintings, they also have a classical feel to them.

You can also spot Mughal influences amongst the Pattachitra art that has been incorporated into apparel and accessories. These paintings will have distinctive dark lines with natural dyes and colors that are naturally derived from fruits and vegetables.

Every Pattachitra painting tells a story, with the background usually being simply to allow the characters at the heart of the story to be the focal point of the painting. Classical elements, like flower motifs, are commonly incorporated into these paintings to make them more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

One thing that you’ll spot in every Pattachitra painting is a border, which usually relates to the story being told at the center of the painting. Beyond the paint used for the painting and the original textile, no other embellishments are used on Pattachitra paintings.

Pattachitra paintings and apparel

Fashion is a form of living art, making it no surprise that Pattachitra painting has found its way into numerous saris designs. These paintings are typically incorporated into saris made using cotton and silk textiles. Adding Pattachitra paintings is a quirky way of giving the traditional saris a refresh and making them feel both contemporary and traditional all at once.

In apparel, Pattachitra paintings are typically incorporated using bright uses to give the clothing a vibrant color palette and to narrate the stories in jewel-tone hues. Although Pattachitra paintings are becoming increasingly popular for saris, you can also see them in everyday accessories, including household items. Pattachitra paintings are finding their way into virtually every form of living art, whether it’s clothing, accessories, or stationary items.

Ashtaganesha with Ridhi and Siddhi

Pattachitra painting is unique, not only in India but across the world, due to its ritual significance and the uniqueness of its character. Both the Pattachitra art made in Odisha and West Bengal have been awarded Geographical Indication tags. Raghurajpur town, hailed as the original home of Pattachitra art, was named by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage to be a ‘heritage village’ in 2000.

There have been numerous attempts in recent years to revive the popularity – and tradition – of Pattachitra art by introducing it to younger generations who aren’t as familiar with the tradition behind it. One way of achieving this is through incorporating Pattachitra art into apparel and accessories, making it a form of living art that takes on an even greater meaning.


Pattachitra art and paintings today

In West Bengal, Pattachitra artists are known as ‘Chitrakar’, with most of them living in the Naya village in the Medinipur district. Amongst the best-known artists of Pattachitra art is Khandu and Radha Chitrakar and their seven children. Their daughter Monimala, in particular, is known for her signature use of bold and primal colors, which she used to develop her own style of Pattachitra art.

Today, Pattachitra art is registered under two different names depending on its origins. Those styled after the tradition and motifs of Odisha art are known as ‘Orrisa Pattachitra’, while its West Bengal equivalent is known as ‘Bengal Patachitra’.

Traditionally, the colors used to create Pattachitra paintings are natural. It’s not unusual for seashells to be powdered before being soaked and heated to create a white-colored paste. Black is made using an earthen plate that is smoked over a burning wick. Natural powder and everything from stones and green leaves are used to create more vibrant colors.

Hingula, a stone found in Orissa, is powdered to create a red pigment, while yellow is made using the Harital stone. Blue is made using a stone called Khandanella.  These are the most significant colors within Pattachitra art.


The Fair Mahishasuramardini Housed In A Cut-Glass Temple

Pattachitra art is still closely tied to the sculpture and mythological stories that inspired the original scroll art centuries ago. It’s not uncommon to find Pattachitra artwork with nature – particularly the tree of life – at its heart.

A Czech scholar, Dr. M Krasa, summed up Pattachitra art best in his 1984 book ‘Pata-Paintings of Orissa’. He said that “the paintings speak the language of their creators, they give realistic expression, a clear symbol and humorous details. They are familiar to the eye, close to the heart, bringing joy, expressing life”.

If you want a unique but traditional way of incorporating Indian mythology and folklore into your home, Pattachitra art is one of the most expressive ways of doing that. Every piece tells a unique story, whether you’re drawn to the bold and vibrant colors or the intricacy of the details behind the painting. Every Pattachitra painting tells a story.

A picture tells a thousand words, and none does it more beautifully than a Pattachitra painting. You can shop our extensive collection of Pattachitra art here, including paintings of various sizes to display across your home.


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