Orissa- The Crafts Wonderland



Orissa a divine landmass on the coastal plains of Eastern India, is a place where the magic of artisans and craftsmen through their deft hands attains the desired shape. The enthralling craftwork on different surfaces carried out by them, is a perfect medium to get a glimpse of beautiful world of craftsmen's imagination. Every house is an art factory here in this state. Oriya people are art-freaks by nature and they revere all forms of art be it visual or otherwise. Veneration of art and craft is profoundly entrenched in Socio-religious structure of Lord Jagannath land.

Glimpses of the craft technologies dating back over several thousand years can be seen from the shop windows of Bhubaneswar. The tie and dye or ikat technique of Orissa is, for instance, an ancient intricate process of dyeing yarn in segments to produce bold, beautiful patterns on the loom while weaving.

Visiting Orissa's town and cities fetces you an entire range of arts and crafts in the market places and side corners.The helping hand lent by Co-operative societies have played an important role in preserving the rich craft heritage of the State. They ensure easy access to customers and thus entertain a continuous demand for products. But perhaps the secret of Orissa's crafts lies in their fascinating combination of beauty and utility-a tribute to the vision of the craftsmen. Instead of being merely decorative reminders of another age, the crafts of Orissa are gloriously alive matching with modern tastes and yet retaining all the essential traditional links with a checkered past.

Weaving Craft

The royal Mauryan textile workshops that were established more than 2000 years ago employed spinners, weavers and embroiderers. In the course of time, temple towns such as Bhubaneswar became home for many weaving communities. Orissa is an important part of the great weaving belt that stretches through Assam and other North-Eastern states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Today, there are more than 3 lakh handloom weavers in Orissa producing a rich range of textures. Eloquent and realistic, the fabrics (a variety of silks, tussar, and cotton) and designs (tribal, traditional, and modern) on display at Bhubaneswar have found a good export market. The hosting of textile exhibitions and handloom expositions is an annual feature at Bhubaneswar.

Tradition of Palm Leaf Writing

The ancient art of palm leaf writing still survives away from the shops and bazaars, in some friendly Oriyan household or in a temple or at an astrologer's place. Religious texts continue to be read out from palm leaf manuscripts rather than from printed books. Horoscopes, too, are traditionally written on palm leaves by professional horoscope makers known as 'nahakas'. Palm leaf was considered so sacred that even the invention of printing press could not reduce the writing of, important texts on the leaves instead of paper. The printing of New Year cards and wedding invitations on palm leaf is still popular in Orissa.

Patachitra- The Chitrakar's Foray

Puri, a temple town on the sea shores not only mirrors some of Bhubaneswar's arts and crafts but has nurtured artistic ipressions that are uniquely its own. In the famous exquisitely carved Jagannath temple, an annual ritual has given birth to a treasured art form. Three paintings on specially treated cloth or patas are prepared by the temple painter and hung inside the sacred precincts of the temple. Originating as a ritual, patas developed over the years, as a distinct school of painting executed by the chitrakar (artist) community. Blood red, red ochre, lamp black, yellow, white and indigo blue sometimes offset each other. And sometimes blend to form patachitras in the skilled hands of talented chitrakars who follow in the footsteps of their forefathers.

The word patachitra is derived from the Sanskrit word pata, which means a painted piece of cloth, a picture, a tablet or a plate. Chitra means painting or picture.Traces of folk and sophisticated art and craft characterise each finely executed patachitra.

Since old times, pilgrims to Puri have been carrying home the colorful patas or patachitras as precious mementos- just as they carry back Ganga jal (water from the holy Ganges) form Haridwar. The patas from Puri are sought after by tourists and art lovers from both India and abroad.

The chitrakars live and practice their hereditary art in Puri and in two villages on its outskirts-Raghurajpur and Dandshahi. In Raghurajpur, there are close to fifty families of pata painters. Each of them has a family sketchbook handed down from generation to generation. Gods and Goddesses, the lilas (fanciful but allegorical activities) of Lord Krishna, legends and animals, are all depicted in the sketchbooks. These books are the chitrakars most valuable possessions and are worshipped along with the family gods. Besides pata paintings, the chitrakars also make unique, circular playing cards known as 'ganjifa' which are popular in villages all over Orissa.

World of Appliqué

The artisans of Pipli, a village 40 km from Puri on the Bhubaneswar-Puri route, have perfected the art of applique. The specimens crafted by them now decorate homes in various parts of the world. Like patachitras, appliqué work in Orissa also originated as a temple art. Coloured cloth, after being cut and shaped into the forms of birds, animals, flowers, leaves, and other decorative motifs is stitched onto a cloth piece designed as a wall hanging, garden or beach umbrella, a lamp shade and other utility items.

Saris and household linen in appliqué work are also being produced in increasing number since the past decade or so. Tiny mirrors in a whole range of geometrical shapes and designs are then encapsulated by thread embroidery to create a striking work of art. Four basic traditional colours- red, yellow, white and black are used, while green has been added in comparatively recent times. Besides Puri, appliqué work is also practised to some extent in Chitki, Barpali, and a couple of other places.

Carving An An Artform

Carving also is not an unfamilliar art to the artisan community of Orisssa. Over the centuries, Puri has preserved a superb tradition of carving, dating back to the Kalinga School. Craftsmen in Pathuriasahi at Puri use soft soapstone and hard kochila to carve replicas of temple sculptures.Skilled craftsmen carve utensils of rare beauty from the semi-grey stone of Khichinga at Mangalpur near Balasore .

In addition to stoneware, stylised animal and bird toys meticulously carved out of wood, and painted wooden masks, once used in plays based on the Mahabharata and Ramayana are a feast for the eyes. The craftsmen of Khandapara in Puri are masters at carving plates, bowls, jugs, flower vases and other decorative and functional articles from a creamy white wood.

You can also witness some exquisite carving in wood and stone . The porous roots and stem of a water plant are being used since ancient times to carve miniature statues of gods and goddesses, temple replicas, animals, decorative hangings, garlands. Known as Sholapith work, the carved articles, if left in natural off-white, look like ivory. When painted, they acquire a distinctive sheen. The papier-mâché art of Puri, Chikti Barpali, Parlakhamedi (Ganjam district), and a few villages around Cuttack has unusual features.

Metal Craft

Puri is also home to a group of skilled craftsmen who specilalise in minute metal work.. Elsewhere in the state, in small places such as Behrampur and Belguntha (in Ganjam district), Tarva (Bolangir district), Chandanpur, Phulbani, and Kantilo are scattered some 15,000 families who specialise in producing a variety of brass and bell metal craft objects, which exhibit extraordinary craftsmanship. In Tarva, the craftsmen fashion beautiful utilitarian and decorative objects such as plates, ashtrays and bells out of white metal. About 230 tribal families produce prized dhokra metalware items-boxes, lamps, figures of deities-by the cire perdue or lost wax method.

Cuttack is famous worldwide for the unimitable delicate craft of tarkashi or silver filigree work. Silver is beaten and drawn into fine wires and foils, which are then joined together to form articles-generally ornaments-of stirring beauty. The snow glazed filigree work or tarkashi of Cuttack was once sought after by royal households and merchants from far and wide. Today, the tarkashi workers continue to uphold the traditions of outstanding workmanship, but the clientele has changed, resulting in a comparatively reduced, standardised variety of articles.

Horn work of Cuttack is also popular beside its famed tarkashi. Buffalo and cow horns are used by skilled artisans to produce artistically designed ashtrays, jewellery, figures of birds and animals.

Handicrafts Trade
Suggested Reading