|Art is everywhere. Even wedding invitations are painted on the walls of homes.|
|Native art on the walls of an underpass.|
What's striking about Orissa, the land on the Eastern coast of India, is its natural beauty and ART. Native art follows you everywhere — starting from the airport arrivals. You cannot miss it. It is there on the walls of the underpass, on the sidewalks, on lanes and bylanes. People here seemed to have descended upon this earth with an extra artistic- gene.
|The wall outside Shilpa Guru Ananta Maharana's house|
So, when I was told about Dandasahi, I wasn't surprised. An artist’s village conjures up images of pretty houses with painted flower boxes on the window sill, set in a beautifully laid-out environment — effects of Hollywood films! Unlike such stereotypical artist villages, which exist within a controlled-environment created by urban minds, Dandasahi is au naturel. It is a rudimentary village which is home to Pattachitra artists from eons — 12th century or before to be precise. And it is a mere half-a-kilometer drive from Chandanpur near Puri; tucked in the midst of coconut grooves on the banks of the Bhargabi River.
Narrow tarred roads flanked by trees, shrubs and small houses on either side lead to what is essentially a one-road Dandasahi village. There’s more vegetation here than houses and more goats than people — or at least that’s what it seemed like. Total population: 150
|Colours used are made out of natural materials|
|The homes are decorated with native art.|
|A two-storeyed house.|
A rare sight in the village
My first stop was at the thatched-roofed house of Ananta Maharana, the famous pattachitra artist and recipient of the Shilpa Guru award. The dimly lit room, an artist's workshop of sorts, is occupied by a battered wooden table covered with precious paintings in various stages of completion. It’s the artist’s table — there were a couple of artists sitting 'on' the table and around it — bent over treated paper and drawing painstaking lines and circles with brushes dipped in paints made out of natural materials — just like how their ancestors had done before. Nothing has changed much in Dandasahi since the 12th century, except for the dim electric bulb hanging overhead and the paved road outside the door; the technique used to create pattachitra today is the same as it had been hundreds of years ago.
First, for the base of the painting, two cotton fabric pieces (“Used cotton
saris are the best,” says Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharana) are prepared by coating it with glue made out
of tamarind seeds and white chalk powder. This is allowed to dry for a few
hours. Then it is coated again with soft white stone powder and tamarind gum.
This gives the cloth tensile strength; it is then smoothened with round
pebbles making the surface smooth and a semi-absorbent surface, allowing it to
accept the paint. The paint is made out of natural materials — vegetables,
earth and mineral sources. The colours used predominantly in pattachitra are are black,
red, yellow and green. Black colour is obtained from the black of wick-burning
lamps; yellow from haritali stone and red from the hingal stone. White colour
is obtained by crushing, boiling and filtering shells. Earlier, the artists didn’t
use pencil or charcoal for the preliminary drawings, but now some of them do. Still,
most start by making a rough sketch directly with the brush using light red or yellow
colour. The borders are painted first. The artist finishes the painting with
fine strokes of black brush lines, giving the effect of pen work. Then the
painting is held over a charcoal fire and lacquer is applied to the surface.
This makes the painting water resistant and durable, besides giving it a glossy
finish. The subject matter of the pattachitras are mostly religious,
mythological, and folk themes. Krishna leela and Lord Jagannath are recurring motifs.
|Artist at work in Shilpa Guru Ananta Maharana's house|
The one-room workshop led to the residence of Maharana — a humble tenement with a rich intricately painted doorway. Maharana, now well into his seventies, is a frail but extremely skilled man. Sitting in the corner of the room, framed by an artistically embellished window frame, he seemed to be weighed down by dreams unfulfilled.
|Mythology is a recurring theme in Pattachitras.|
|The women of Dandasahi|
|A regular house in Dandasahi. See the painted walls and door frames|