The waves of a sea cutting across the sands are always heterogenous. Different in size, volume, height, texture waves in many ways are also illusive. They look beautiful from a distance. Once you try to touch them it breaks, it even splashes against you, it may hurt you but it will definitely wrap you around its embrace.Sitting on the beach at Puri a fleeting thought came to my mind that only if the harmony in the heterogeneity of the sea waves could be replicated in human lives. The sea at Puri – tumultuous yet beautiful, does all these to us. A trip to Puri for Bengalis is the quick fix to an extended weekend relaxation. Sometimes you loose count of the number of times you have been to this beach town. For most of us the first experience of the sea is at Puri, for many of us Puri featured in the first few trips after marriage, for many of our parents Puri figured in the list of to go to places before they became too old and infirm. Me and my friend planned a trip to Puri last summer, looking for some relaxation and some fresh sea breeze to rejuvenate our frayed nerves.
Customary visit to the temple, gazing at the waves sitting on the beach at daybreak and dusk and attempting to reorient thoughts and perspectives, walking through the narrow lanes of the old city, experiencing visuals of death and the rituals of last rites at Swargadwar, watching life and the mix of people at the beach, the lazy camels looking for children and their parents for a ride and livelihood,the faux pearl seller, the green coconuts quenching thirst, the sweet sellers with can fulls of Madanmohan,Channa Pora,typical delicacies of the state. We did it all at Puri. Early morning barefoot walk along the beach, the wet sand sticking lovingly on our feet, the tornado stricken dead trees, roofless houses, the occasional sea shells, the sand mounds built only to be washed away, the fishing boats at the mohona (river mouth)….. All that was Puri to us.
It was a lazy morning laced by unending Earl Greys and sharing life stories of both of us and one which was lashed by the combination of the rising sea waves and a torrential downpour, we decided to explore the surroundings. It was too wet for Konark, our choice zeroed on to Raghurajpur, the artists village barely 18 km from Puri. The drive past Puri was agonizing as we saw hundreds of coconut trees destroyed, houses broken… ravages of nature at work. The river Bhargavi was picturesque where the faithful had come for the holy dip for the first Monday of the month of Shravan for paying obeisance to Lord Shiva. I was overwhelmed by the crowd, the colors, the faith and above all the fervour of faith.
It was a rain soaked afternoon, the tress looked coy and green, the sky was azure, maybe it had a sad song on its mind when we reached a sleepy village adorned with coconut trees. It was Raghurajpur, now known as the artist’s village made famous by the tag of Heritage by INTACH. A sleepy village in its outside facade with lines of coconut trees and little ponds, Raghurajpur is a place where creative talent flourishes.With 150 houses,each family nourishes talent,there is one or more artists weaving magic on indigenous bases with organic colors.
Walking around I saw an old man sitting on the front porch of his house bending over a sketch while his kittens lay snuggily besides him. Several artists were eager to take us to their homes and I visited quite a few.Narrow houses located on either side of narrow lanes, a temple on each lane, a sit out area in front of each house, wooden interiors (beams, pillars, doors and the likes) is how Raghurajpur looks at first glance. But once I stepped in one of their homes,I realized there was a deeper and a sadder story behind the creative excellence.I saw pictures of the artist being awarded by the President of India, and a Padma Bhushan award gathering dust on the walls of their home.They were not well off but they looked happy and content.The satisfaction of creativity is so clearly manifest in their faces. Women too are excellent artists and balance their creativity with their daily chores.Their humility struck a chord in me.While I was walking by the lane saw a little boy learning the art from his grandfather.Creative genius honed by experts I thought.
Pata refers to cloth and chitra means painting.As I visited the houses I felt like I had stepped into an art gallery. Every house was a veritable museum and every household member was an artist.The village was quiet and the silence echoed in the air, the rain soaked temples and courtyards had so many untold tales.Identical row houses stood next to each other and I was fascinated by the walls that come alive with murals and paintings.Most of them were tribal art fused with paintings of deities and demons. The folk motif runs as a constant thread in all the walls.Some houses specialize in patachitra-a style of painting on cloth,some engrave folklore on palm leaves,some has expertise on stone carvings,some make paper mache masks and toys.Some draw on bottles and kitchen utensils.
Raghurajpur Patachitra as the craft is known had its origins in the traditional murals of Orissa that dates back to the 4th century. The craft has been passed from generations and every family has its own signature style of designing a patachitra. From drawing on tusser cloth to palm leaf engravings,to stone murals, every piece was distinct in its style and content. To make a patachitra a strip of cotton cloth becomes a canvas as it is soaked in water filled with tamarind seeds. The artist then adds a coat of chalk and gum and then pastes the same with another layer of cotton cloth. He then rubs the canvas with stones so that it has a glossy finish and has a smooth surface. No pencil or charcoal is however.A lacquer coating is added to the painting at the end to give it a lustre.
The colors come from natural products, like rocks from a neighboring hill and kajal from the burnt thread of the lamp. White is prepared from conch shells,yellow from Haritala stone, blue from indigo, green from leaves.red from geru (red oxide stone) and Hingula or black from burning lamp and coconut shell and other natural products for various colors. The natural gum of a fruit called ‘kaitha’ is mixed with the colors along with water in coconut shells to ensure that the colors remain fast.The chitrakaras uses buffalo hair to make brushes for the thick lines while rat or squirrel hair is used for making brushes meant for finer line work. According to the text, ‘Manasaullasa’, the crayon for initial sketches or ‘vartika’ is to be made by mixing lamp black with boiled rice paste and rolled into sticks. According to another text,‘Shilparatna’ ‘kitta lekhani’ or the writing/drawing instrument was a wick made out of the dust of bricks and dried cowdung made into a paste.In the typical style of Pattachitra, the faces of characters have long beak like noses, prominent chins and elongated eyes. They are distinguished from each other by facial features, hairstyles, clothing etc. Central focus of the painting is the expression of the figures and the emotion they portray, the strong colors only reinforce them.
Another important art practiced in Raghurajpur are palm-leaf paintings. Fine line drawings in black, sometimes with daubs of colours, are made on inter-locked strips of palm leaves. Usually each drawing is like a tapestry narrating a story. Ganjifa playing cards or the Dashavatar playing cards of Odisha are also part of the pattachitra genre. These unique paintings, especially the playing cards, are on display in museums across the world.Apart from traditional paintings, the artists also produce souvenirs, such as painted palm leaf bookmarks.
Raghurajpur presented itself as an idyllic village practising a dying craft with love and discipline. The younger generation refuses to be lured away to the cities, they learn the beautiful craft with commitment and love.Most buyers are foreigners, only a few are Indians who visit this village. The village is also the home of Kelucharan Mahapatra, the noted Odissi dancer and the place from where Gotipua dance originated. As I got a few paintings, bookmarks, paintings on bottles as souvenirs for my friends I promised myself to be back again whenever I visit Puri again. Next time I am there made plans to carry a plain silk saree which I would leave to be drawn upon by some woman artist who promised to courier it to me wthin three months. Raghurajpur, it’s beauty, it’s creative talent and above all its humility endeared me to this sleepy hamlet, quite forgotten by mainstream tourism and their marketing blitzkrieg.
Some useful travel tips for Raghurajpur-
- Take an auto or a car for a half day trip to Raghurajpur. The enire trip would take about four hours .
- Carry cash if you want to buy the art pieces .
- Respect the artist families and don’t bargain much.
Raghurajpur awaits us with all its artistic brilliance and simplicity of life.