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Raghurajpur : The Heritage art village of Odisha

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By Mouli Bose

Raghurajpur in Puri district of Odisha is home to over 300 “pattachitra” artists. “Patta” means
canvas, “Chitra” means painting. It is an art form that developed over five centuries ago, when
the stone carvers of the region discovered coloured stones, and learnt to make colours from
them. The artists of this village, till date, are not only using these organic colours till but are also
making them on their own. They use “sankha” dust for white colour, kajal for black – they also
ground up harital, pihuli, hengule rocks for green, pink and red colours. Each and every walls of
the village homes are beautifully painted with mythical stories, tribal motifs or even green
parrots perched on branches. This artists’ village is also known for intricate palm leaf folded
pictures etched in black with cutouts, delicate paintings on tussar silk, stone and wood carvings.
Raghurajpur is a tiny, quiet village with two parallel rows of home and a series of temples
between them. The front room of each house functions as both studio and shop for the artists,
who are more interested in showing their artworks than selling them – which is something rare
these days.

In one of these shops Pramod Kumar Das was sitting inside alone, while painting
cards of “Gonjepa”. Gonjepa is an ancient card game of Odisha which includes circular hand
painted cards. This game has become increasingly popular amongst foreigners, and a few
artists from Raghurajpur export these cards to them. The shop was beautifully decorated with
colourfully painted coconuts and nutmegs, intricate pattachitras, papier-mâché toys, pen stands
and boxes, painted Tusshar, and bottles and what not. On being asked, Pramod said, he is the
sixth generation pattachitra painter from his family and is also a teacher who has taught over 15
students; his son is also an aspiring painter.

Handicraft shops from various metro cities from all over the country and abroad, order to them in
bulk, every few months. Various saree boutiques orders to get Tusshar silks painted – but as
one artist cannot make more than 5-6 such sarees each year, the price reaches as high as
₹15,000 each. Each and every family member of each and every household is an artist in this
village. But sometimes when the “baraat” is not that great, they move out to cities like Calcutta
and paint doors and “mandaap” various high budget weddings.

Right opposite to Pramod’s is Trilochan Das’s home – and unlike most other artists of the village,
he is one of the very few stone carvers left in the village. His mother Jyotsnamoyi Das is an
award winning carver, who has been doing this for last 50 years. Serpentine stone, rong dalibo,
konda pattaro and granite are some of their favourite stones to carve idols in. They import the
stones from Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts. Some of the carvings take 15-20 days to
complete and are usually ordered by various hotels and companies. Trilochan often visits
various museums to curate and look after the conservation of the artifacts. But with much
pained voice he also admitted that, the carvings are not much in demand these days, so to
sustain livelihood they have also started painting. He also pointed out how the shop owners who
buy art from them, sell it at a much higher profit margin, while they get a nominal share.

The village is also home to Gotipua, an acrobatic dance form of Odisha and Odissi dance guru
like Kelucharan Mahapatra.

Raghurajpur was recognised as a Heritage Village in 2000 by the Government of India, and
many other national and international organisations have worked tirelessly for the betterment of
the village.

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