Pattachitra Painting – The great storytelling art from ancient Odisha

Our art and craft have always been the greatest medium of storytelling in our culture. Traditional paintings, temple sculptures, classical music and classical dance forms have always conveyed beautiful stories to us.

Pattachitra painting, the 800-year-old traditional art, has proudly been preserved by the chitrakars of Puri and Bhubaneswar in Odisha. These amazingly beautiful paintings, drawn using organic colors and brush, tell us many stories of ancient India. Some stories are taken from Bhagabata and Purana. Some are based on regional history and folklores. We present a few beautiful and interesting stories here.

Mathura Vijay

Young boys Krishna and Balaram went to Mathura on the invitation of their maternal uncle Kansa, the king of Mathura. Kansa conspired to kill them both, first by an elephant and later by wrestlers. However, Krishna and Balaram easily defeated them and then Krishna went on to kill King Kansa.

With the death of the tyrant king Kansa, the people of Mathura became free from his terror. They rejoiced, celebrated, and expressed their gratitude to Krishna and Balaram. This incident is depicted in the painting ‘Mathura Vijay’. Krishna and Balarama are seen riding the chariot. The residents of Mathura are seen surrounding the chariot and welcoming them by showering flowers on them.

Kanchi Jatra

Kanchi Jatra or (Kanchi Yatra) is based on the love story between the princess of Kanchi and the king of Puri. As a tradition, the king of Puri sweeps the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra on the day of Rath Yatra. On learning this, the king of Kanchi rejected the marriage proposal of his daughter with King of Puri. Humiliated, the king of Puri attacked Kanchi but was defeated in the battle. Later, he again organized his troops and went for a second battle. It is said that Lord Jagannath had assured the king that he would be with the king on the battle field.

While the troop was passing a village, two soldiers saw an old milkmaid on the side of the road. They were thirsty and so asked for some buttermilk. After having the buttermilk, they told the old lady that they do not have any money to pay. They gave a ring to the milkmaid and asked her to take the money from the king by showing the ring as a token.

Later, the king arrived with his royal troop. The old lady did as she was told. To his astonishment, the king realized that the ring was none other than the one worn by lord Jagannath in the Puri temple. Seeing this he realized that the lord is there with him in the battle. Eventually he won the battle and the story had a happy ending with king and the princess of Kanchi getting married.

Kanchi Jatra (Journey to Kanchi) shows Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra in the form of two soldiers and the milk maid.

Kalia Damana or Kalia Mardana

This is one of the many childhood day stories of Krishna in Vrindavan. The village was on the banks of Yamuna. A seven headed serpent called Kalia came to live in Yamuna at the banks of Vrindavan and spread terror in the area. His venom was so poisonous that it turned the water of Yamuna black. Young Krishna fought with the serpent and defeated it. Kalia surrendered to Krishna and agreed to leave that place.

The pattachitra depicts the battle of krishna, the young boy, and Kalia, where after conquering Kalia in the battle, Krishna is seen dancing on the head of the seven-headed serpent. The snake wives of Kalia are seen to be praying to Krishna and asking for forgiveness on behalf of Kalia.

Dashavatara

The 12th century poet Jaydev is known to be the composer of the famous epic poetry Gita Govinda (the songs of Krishna). The composition starts with invoking Dashavatara, the ten incarnation of lord Vishnu. It starts with Meena or Matsya Avatara, Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (the boar), Narasimha, Vamana (the dwarf), Parashuram, Balaram, Ram, Buddha and lastly Kalki.

Panchamukhi  Hanuman

Lord Hanuman, the greatest sage of all time, is the ocean of knowledge and wisdom. Lord Hanuman, also the greatest devotee of Lord Ram, is one of the most revered deities in this ancient land of India.

The story of Panchamukhi Hanuman is found in the great epic of Ramayana. During the battle between Ram and Ravana, King Ravana took help of his brother Ahiravana, the king of Patal Lok. Ahiravana abducted unconscious Ram and Lakshman and took them to the Patal Lok. The greatest warrior Hanuman reached Patal Lok to save Lord Ram and Lakshman. There he learnt about the presence of five lamps that protect the life of Ahiravana. In order to kill Ahiravana, Hanuman must extinguish the five lamps simultaneously. To do so, Hanuman took the form of Panchamukhi Hanuman.

The Pancha Mukh or five forms denote Hanuman, Hayagriva, Narasimha, Garuda and Varaha.

Kandarpa Hasti

The literal meaning of Kandarpa is Cupid or Kamdev. The term ‘Kandarpa Hasti’ is used in the context of Raas Leela where the Gopis are completely engrossed in their devotion towards Krishna.

Kandarpa Hasti, the divine elephant , is a popular and unique theme in the context of art of Odisha. The other name of Kandarpa Hasti is Navanarikunjara, where nine Gopi’s or maiden women are entangled with each other to form the shape of an Elephant. Sometimes it can be a stand-alone elephant. But very often Lord Krishna is seen with his flute on top of the elephant.

Ram Rajyabhishek (Coronation of Lord Ram)

Pattachitra Painting depicting the popular theme of the coronation of Lord Ram in Ayodhya.

After defeating the king of Lanka, the Ravana, Lord Ram returns to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. Sita ji and brother Lakshman accompany him. The residents of Ayodhya celebrate the occasion by decorating the city and lighting lamps. The coronation of King Ram takes place in presence of Rishi Vashisth, Hanuman, Jambavan, and the other brothers. Queen Sita can be seen seated on the throne next to Lord Ram.

The uniqueness of these paintings is the accuracy and detailing of each character and each event by the Chitrakars. The level of intricacy not only shows the skill of the artist but also their knowledge about our ancient scriptures and epics. The dedication to preserve and present the stories to the next generation is astounding. 

They are indeed some of the most eminent historians and custodians of our culture and heritage and we owe a lot to them.

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