Art is often regarded as a universal expression of thought. Unlike literature, art does not rely upon the knowledge of common language to be understood. While that may be true for a large variety of art forms, local traditions often dictate the context and subtext of artworks and the piece itself may be indistinguishable without the local culture as its foundation.

One striking example of this idea is the elusive, yet fascinating art style called ‘Patachitra’ native to Odisha, a state on the Eastern side of India. I remember being enamoured with these pieces as they stood on the wall of my grandparents’ house. The story of Patachitra is the story of the transformation of a folk art form into a popular genre that’s become the face of the state.

What is Patachitra?

Patachitra comes from two words, ‘pata’ meaning canvas and ‘chitra’ meaning drawing. It has two significant subtypes- one done on cloth and the other done on ‘tala patra’ or pressed palm leaves. The scenes typically depict Hindu Vaishnavaite mythological stories particularly that of Lord Jagannath ( Coincidentally, the same source we get the English word ‘Juggernaut’ from). The colours and canvas for the artwork are all handmade from materials sourced directly from nature.

About the Art Style

As Patachitra is an ancient, century-old craft, it has many elements mandated by tradition. Only certain colours are used for deities, the style is specific and the layout is primarily based on simplistic shapes occurring inside each other multiple times. The art also places emphasis on symmetry.

One of the characteristic features of Patachitra, or rather a recurring theme through most Indian artwork is how the artist handles 3-dimensional forms. Volume, shade, and light are not created the same way it is done in western art- placing emphasis on realism and using subtle transitions to depict the three. Indian art forms tend to simplify the contour by using different shades of bold colour. The light and shadow are performed using techniques similar to Chiaroscuro and are accomplished in a single, flamboyant flow of the brush. Patterns throughout the piece are also typically done in sweeps of paint-uninterrupted yet stylistic and therefore adding an element of vigor to the piece.

Why is it made?

Patachitra as an art form arose in connection to Jagannath Puri Temple. Following an interesting religious story, Lord Jagannath and his siblings take a bath in the heat of summer, and like ordinary humans, they catch a cold. In consequence, the temple is shut down for 3 days and worship is discontinued for devotees.

Here is where Patachitra comes into play. On these days, the devotees would desire to see the form of the Gods and the Patachitra would serve as their glimpse into the Lord’s image.

As previously stated, Patachitra typically denotes an entire religious tale and the artist would unfurl the scroll slowly as they sang about the tale itself. In this manner, Patachitra was originally an audio-visual work. However, due to its present scale of sales, and removal from its active role as an aid to worship, it has largely adopted a more passive role as a souvenir or decorative item used to adorn the house, and thus it has largely become restricted as only a visual treat. It is common for many locals to keep at least one Patachitra artwork in their homes.

With vibrant colours, fascinating stories, intricate work and a rich legacy Patachitra is an exquisite art form not to be missed out on!

– Adyesha Singhdeo

Image source

By anonymous – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,