Jhoti: Traditional folk art of Orissa

The folk art of Orissa is bound up with its social and religious activities. In the month of Margasira (November-December), women folk worship the goddess Lakshmi. It is the harvest season when grain is thrashed and  stored. During this auspicious occasion, the mud walls and floors of each house in the village are decorated with murals in white rice past. This art work is locally called Jhoti. This traditional Oriya folk art is done on the mud walls of the thatched houses in the rural areas by the women folk. To create the art work an earthy red colour called dhau is smeared on the walls on which rice paste called pithau is used for drawing the lines and filling in the designs. The motifs include geometrical and floral designs along with animals and birds. The feet of Goddess lakshmi is rendered in every jhoti work which remains an integral part of every festivals, belief and celebrations.

For executing the painting, the women and girls prepare a semi liquid rice paste in which they dip their fingers and directly use it on the walls to create intricate patterns. Also, brush made from a twig with a small piece of cloth attached at one end, then dipped into the bowl of semi liquid rice paste is used to create certain motifs. At times, the paste is sprinkled on the walls with delicate swirls of the wrist and a pattern resembling bunches of paddy emerges on the wall.

On every festival, a particular design is drawn and painted to mark its celebration knotted between symbolism and meaning. Painting the houses with designs popularly known as rangoli, aripaan or alpana is a widely practised tradition all over India during festivals and other religious or domestic ceremonies. A common believe behind the making of the paintings is that the house and the family will be blessed with prosperity and happiness. According to the hindu calendar, on festivals such as Basanti, Manabashaa Gurubaara, Kaartika, Dola, Jhulana, DhanaLakshmi puja, Gaja Lakshmi puja, etc. jhoti work is done in the rural houses of Orissa.

The month of November-December is considered to be the most important and auspicious month as the harvest season starts in this period in Orissa. During this period the grain is thrashed and stored in the houses. With the beginning of the harvest season the local folks also worship goddess Lakshmi. To welcome goddess lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and to celebrate the harvest season the rural women decorates their houses with beautiful jhoti work done in white rice paste.  According to Oriya scripture, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on every Thursday during the Oriya month of Margasira. Hence, mostly the decorations are done on Wednesdays and the Lakshmi puja is performed on Thursdays.

The common motifs used in the artwork are lotus flowers, conch shell, the kumbh, peacocks, elephant, fish, and other floral and geometrical designs. The feet of Lakshmi are painted all around the surface.