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An Arts And Crafts Trail: Tracing Odisha's Handmade History

An Arts And Crafts Trail: Tracing Odisha's Handmade History
Pattachitra is a popular art form in Raghurajpur, Photo Credit: Shutterstock
06 Min Read

From the stone carvings that make up its famous temples to the Pattachitra artworks of Lord Jagannath and the sand art found in Puri, discover the distinct culture of this eastern Indian state

Odisha, from time immemorial, has been home to a wide range of art and crafts. Although many of them have their origin rooted in religious rites and household requirements, today they have evolved in form and presentation to attract modern buyers.

Applique, Pipili
The colourful applique art of Odisha is frequently seen across India, often used as canopies during functions and for interior decorations. Pipili, the original home of this traditional art, is about 20km by road from Bhubaneshwar. As you drive into the town, you will find rows of shops on both sides of the road, where the artists are busy cutting coloured fabrics in various designs and stitching them on yards of cloth. Sometimes, the patterns are embellished with decorative stitches and bits of glass. Today the colour palette of fabrics range beyond the traditional red, yellow, black and white. According to local people, the art originated as part of religious rites. The appliqued cloth would be used to make ‘chandua’ or canopy and ‘chhati’ or umbrella; pieces of the embroidered cloth would be used to cover the heart-shaped top of the ‘tarasa’. The drapes used to cover the giant wooden chariots of Puri’s Lord Jagannath and his siblings are also the applique work of Pipili. To ensure the survival of the art form, the tailors have devised ways to attract the modern buyers. Now they are making designer parasols, purses, handbags, bed covers, wall hangings, lampshades, etc.

Tarkashi, Cuttack
Tarkashi or silver filigree of Cuttack is one of the most exquisite handicrafts of Odisha. It is amazing to see the craftspeople using the finely drawn silver wires to give shape to ornaments and artefacts. While the ornaments can be perfect accessories for all occasions, the mind-boggling range of artefacts–floral and animal shapes, boxes and other containers, miniature boats, statuettes to name a few–can be used as interior decorations or gifts.

Pattachitra, Raghurajpur

Pattachitra artists produce some of the finest pieces of art in the state
Raghurajpur, about 5km from Puri, is a crafts village of Odisha. It is here that you will ‘pattachitra’ painters at work. Stiffened cloth is used as the canvas on which paintings are made. In the old days, pattachitra artists would paint pictures of Lord Jagannath to be sold to pilgrims who would come to Puri during the ‘anasara’ period (when the deities would remain in seclusion for a fortnight prior to the Rathayatra). The artists would also make the Ganjifa or Ganjapa playing cards, some of which now find a place of honour in museums around the globe.

Palm Leaf Painting, Raghurajpur
Palm leaf has long been used to make auspicious recordings, including religious texts and horoscopes. In Odisha, artists used to paint directly on the palm leaves cut to the required size. The tradition of painting snippets from religious texts or incidents continues even today. The palm leaf paintings are now being made more user-friendly to attract modern buyers. Greeting cards, bookmarks and other decorative items make lasting souvenirs and gifts.

Stone carving, Puri

The famous chariot wheel in the Konark Sun Temple is a supreme example of stone carvings spread across Orissa
Probably no traveller to Odisha leaves the state without at least one miniature stone replica of the famous wheels of the Konark Sun Temple, in their luggage. The land of lofty temples built of stone and embellished with rich carvings, Odisha is home to master stone carvers since time immemorial. You will find most handicraft shops storing these stone carvings in many sizes. From statues of gods and goddesses to copies of famous sculptures seen in temples, to utility items, there is a lot to choose from.

Wood carving, Puri

The Puri Temple has three popular idols which are prime examples of wood carvings
Two of the best examples of Odisha’s traditional woodcarving are the three idols of the Puri temple – Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, as well as the huge chariots they ride in during the annual Rathayatra (Chariot Festival). The miniature idols and toys on sale may be bought as souvenirs.

Brass and bell metal, multiple places

A select group of craftspeople are trying to keep the tradition of brass and bell metal wares alive
Despite pressure from modern technology and material, a select group of craftspeople are still trying to keep the tradition of brass and bell metal wares alive. It is not difficult to come across traditional factories where the age-old ‘lost wax’ process is still being used. Various kinds of religious artefacts, household utensils and decorative items are made. The flexible brass fish, usually made in the Ganjam region, is an interesting souvenir.

Dokra, mostly tribal areas
Dokra or Dhokra is an alloy of brass, nickel and zinc. The metal is used to give shape to a stylised range of decorative artefacts. Divine figures, animal statuettes, lamps, etc. reflect age-old designs. Candle stands, pen holders, ashtrays, small plates, etc. are also being made. According to Odisha Tourism, Kuliana in Mayurbhanj district, Kaimati in Keonjhar district, Sadeiberni in Dhenkanal district and Adakata in Nayagarh district are some of the best places to see the artisans at work.

Other crafts to shop for
Odisha is a shopper’s delight if you are looking for traditional crafts. Apart from the ones already mentioned, Odisha is also known for its papier-mâché products, woven mats and other products made from golden grass, coconut shell carving and coir craft, betel nut carving, murals, terracotta, and seashell products, etc.

Sand art, Puri
Although now seen across many beaches of Odisha, sand art is a recent addition to the state’s long list of art and crafts. Sand art is best enjoyed on the Puri beach, largely owing to the efforts of master artist Padma Shree Sudarsan Pattnaik. You may find Pattnaik (if he not travelling that is) and his students making huge sand sculptures based on commemorative themes at Puri beach. Usually in December, during the time of the Konark Festival, Odisha Tourism organises the annual International Sand Art Festival at the Chandrabhaga Beach, near Konark Sun Temple.

Information: The traditional art and craft wares of Odisha can be bought at government and privately owned emporiums in Bhubaneswar and other major towns of Odisha. Odisha government emporiums are also found in major cities in India. Small items made of seashells, stones, wood, etc. are also available at stalls crowding popular tourist destinations such as Puri and Konark.

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