Neat rows of houses, their walls adorned with paintings, will greet you as soon as you enter verdant Raghurajpur village, about 10km from Puri, the famous pilgrim and beach town of Odisha. Even without asking, you will realise you have entered an artists’ village where homes double up as workshops.
Once known as the keepers of Odisha’s ancient pattachitra art, largely due to late Jagannath Mohapatra (winner of President of India’s award in 1965) who lived here, today the village houses artists practising various traditional arts.
The presiding deity of Puri, Lord Jagannath and his siblings, go into seclusion for a fortnight, prior to the Rathayatra festival, when the temple remains closed. In the ancient times, the artists or the chitrakar would sell small handmade paintings of the idols to pilgrims who visited during this period.
It is said that pattachitra of Odisha date back to the 12th century and has been passed from one generation to the next. The painting is done on specially stiffened seven layers of cloth which are cut into discs. Although natural dyes from plants and minerals may have been replaced by synthetic colours in many areas, traditional artists of Raghurajpur prefer to use organic colours. Ganjifa playing cards or the Dashavatar playing cards of Odisha are also part of the pattachitra genre. These unique paintings, especially the playing cards, are on display in museums across the world.
Another important art practised in Raghurajpur is palm-leaf painting. Fine line drawings in black, sometimes with daubs of colours, are made on inter-locked strips of palm leaves. Usually each drawing is like a tapestry narrating a story. Apart from traditional paintings, the artists also produce souvenirs, such as, painted palm leaf bookmarks.
In 2000, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) declared Raghurajpur a ‘heritage village’, which has helped the artists explore other traditional art forms as well. Apart from pattachitra and palm leaf paintings, you will find artists making papier-mâché toys, masks, coconut crafts, wooden toys, etc. Both men and women work as artists. The artists are mostly friendly towards visitors and not averse to sharing details regarding the origin of the art or the techniques involved. Many families even invite visitors to their household. You may directly buy from the artists. You may also enjoy a lesson or two from the artists on separate payment.
While exploring the art village, you may also stop to pay respect to the memory of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the much awarded exponent of Odissi dance, who was born in Raghurajpur.
Getting there: Raghurajpur is only 10km by road from Puri yet not on the popular tourist circuit. So you have to book a car or an auto-rickshaw for travelling to and fro. The artists and their families are friendly but sensitive too. So do take permission before entering any household or workshop. It is also advisable to take permission before taking photographs of people and products on display. If you are keen to buy directly from the artists, remember works of art have their own value and the price is set accordingly.