Pattachitra Paintings- An Ancient Living Tradition of Orissa

Pattachitra or Painting done on processed cloth base is a fascinating art form of Orissa. Patta Chitra is believed to be one of the ancient living tradition of Orissa practised from centuries. The tradition of these iconic paintings, soaked in puranic culture and classical romances, depicting religious themes – stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna Leela and incarnations of Lord Vishnu, with vibrant colours, superb craftsmanship, simplicity in design makes it a distinct art form. The traditional work of patta chitra  painting has deep rooted connection with the cult of Sri Jagannath and the temple practices of Orissa.

The origin of the patta chitra paintings can be traced back to the 8th century AD and it is considered as one of the earliest forms of indigenous paintings. Some limited primary colors are used in pata painting and the linear conception and its workmanship is with fine brushes which are made of smooth hair of rats and squirrels. These are painted on a material made from old sari cloth impregnated with a paste extracted from tamarind seed and nibbed with chalk. 1

Patta Chitra

These paintings are prepared by the traditional painters called chitrakaras. These chitrakaras observe some rituals while working on these paintings. They too observed some austerities i.e. the women are not allowed to touch the painting. The chitrakar to be strictly vegetarian during the period of painting and he ought to sleep on the ground without using any bed. He has to put on a new dhoti while working on the paintings. After the painting is completed, a Mahasnan is arranged through chanting, of mantras and then as per the tradition placed for worship and darshan. After the completion of anasar, the paintings are preserved at the store of the temple.2

The village Raghurajpur in Orissa is widely recognised as the hub of patta chitra paintings where every individuals of each household is devoted towards the making of patta chitra and are masters of their own skill in executing the finest form of the painting. The chitrakars of Raghurajpur uses strong line and bright colours considered to be the two principle aspects of Orissa pata painting.

It is assumed that patta chitra painting of Orissa originated in 8th century onwards. It is considered not only as one of the indigenous art form of India, this the only form of painting that replaced the idol of god and are regarded with same veneration.3

Patta Chitra 1

The process of preparing the canvas for painting is very old and traditionally going on from generation to generation. The base for the painting is called pati, a special type of hand made canvas prepared by passing together layers of cloth. Pata has been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Patta’ ‘Gulasti’. In the Amarakosa composed in the fourth century A.D., depict patta as fabric and cloth. Use of patta or cloth as a ground and carrier for painting is mentioned in old texts such as – Acharyachintamani, Mahavamsa . The process begins with a sheet of cotton cloth being laid out on the floor. A coat of gum made from imii (tamarind) seeds is given over this cloth. After that another piece of cloth should be laid on the top of the coated cloth and then another coat of the tamarind glue is applied. The layered cotton is then sun dried. Finally chitrakaras burnish the cloth with a piece.

The tools used in the process of painting are brush, locally known as tuli, container, matka, gaja etc. All the materials are hand made. Brushes used to apply paint on the patti are of various sizes and are made by tufts of hair tied together to the ends of bamboo twins with the help of thread or Kanadhadi. Over the knot liquid lac is applied to bind it firmly. Rat and squirrel hair is used to make fine quality brushes and buffalo-hair is used to make brushes of coarse quality. Bamboo tube container called Baunsanali is used to keep the brushes while painting. Coconut shell called Sadhei are generally used as container for mixing colours.

The various motifs used in the patta chitra paintings are trees, animals, birds, flora and fauna. Figurative drawing dominates the central theme of each painting and is very prominent among all other motifs. The style is characterized by formal and linear economy, expressive gestures of figures, stylized forms and quality brushwork of decorative motifs.

So far as colour scheme is concerned the chitrakars mostly use earth, tone and mineral colours by tradition although at the present time poster colour are also used. In patta chitra mainly five colours are used. These are Vermilion (Hingula), yellow (Marital), White (Shankha), Black (Kala) and Indian red (Gem). In the past artisans applied red colour in the background but at present, besides red, they use pink, white, blue, and black colour.

In pata painting lines are drawn at two steps, first when the painters starts sketching and second at the end, when he paints the final lines which are the real hallmark of artistic creativity of chitrakara 4

To make a patta chitra, first a border is drawn with pencil around the pata. Then it is designed with bright colours. Next the background and the parts of the figures are painted in solid colours. Then the outline of the figure is drawn in white pigment. Then increasingly fine decorations are added to the picture. Applications of lines in the paintings are very smooth and finest in character creating many beautiful decorative designs. Eyebrows, nose, lips, eyes, jewellary, dresses all are prominently painted by very strong lines. Outline of the figure indicates its rhythmic gesture. Trees are very stylized in character; at first artisans draw it by charcoal or chalk, then they apply colours and finally they ornate it by decorative design. The border of paintings is very important like central theme. Double lines are commonly used in the borders of paintings. It is clear that lines and designs are not only equal in size but also smooth and minutely detailed The Orissa patta chitras consist of two types of border designs. The inner border of the painting often uses a sort of leaf and scroll motif and is narrower in width than the outer border, which often uses a floral motif. The postures of figures are largely well defined and repetition as a style creates an interesting aesthetic appeal. One of the important aspects of patta chitra is that it doesn’t incorporate any “Depth” or “Perspective Visualization”. Patta chitra is a two dimensional art form but application of strong and rhythmic lines and use of bright colour in the painting give an extraordinary dimensional appeal.



  1. Mahapatra, T. Patachitra an Indigenous Technique, Orissa Review, 2005
  2. Samantaray, 2005, p.2.
  3. Folk Painting and linearity of Orissa: A profile of patachitras, p 13
  4. Pathy, D. Essence of Orissa Painting, Harman Publishing House, New Delhi: 2001, p.81-84

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