Pattachitra – The Artistic Treasure of Odisha

Origin and Background

Pattachitra, literally meaning “cloth painting”, is one of the oldest traditional art forms of India, originating in Odisha. Its inception can be traced back to the 12th century, related to the annual Snana Jatra event held in Jagannath Temple, Puri. The event involves the deities, Shri Jagannath, Shri Balabhadhra, and Devi Subhadra being bathed in 108 pots of infused water, which leads to them falling ill for a period of 15 days, known as Anabasara. During Anabasara, they are not accessible to the public. Hence, intricate cloth paintings of the deities are made, which are visible to the temple visitors in their stead. These paintings, known as Patti diyan, are the origin of the Pattachitra form of art. The art form then extended to painted souvenirs of the deities for tourists visiting Puri.

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Over the years, Pattachitra has evolved into a very detailed and vivid form of art. Pattachitra paintings depict religious and mythological stories, folklore, and scenes from major life events of deities. The major themes include stories of Lord Jagannath, scenes from the life of Lord Krishna, the different avatars of Lord Vishnu, depictions of Navagraha, various forms of Lord Ganesha, and tales from Gita Govinda, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Pattachitra is predominantly representative of Jagannath culture and Vaishnav philosophy.  It combines both classical and folk components.

Style, Technique and Procedure

The style and patterns used in these paintings are traditional, with bold and sharp lines, prominent figures with a fixed range of poses, intricate designs, and a well-defined floral border. There are minimal backgrounds, and the primary focus is on the figures, which are generally closely placed and dominate the major area of the work. The disciplined nature of motifs and usage of stark colours and single tones highlights the range of emotions displayed by the figures, which is the primary focus of a Pattachitra painting.

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The techniques involved are also conventional. The base is a cotton cloth made into a canvas by treating it with a compound of chalk and tamarind gum. Palm leaves are another commonly used base option for Pattachitra art. Bright colours are used, which are hand-made from naturally occurring organic products, such as coconut, sea shells, soot, chalk, stones, leaves, and various other fruits and vegetables.

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Traditional Pattachitra paintings use only 5 colours – red, green, yellow, black and white. The brushes are customarily made of roots or mouse hair with wooden handles. All kinds of synthetic materials are avoided.

After completion, the paintings are covered in lacquer over fire. These techniques make the paintings long-lasting and prevent fading. A Pattachitra painting can typically sustain for 100 years or more. The paintings vary from miniature to life-size, and some of them take months to complete, due to the detailing and layering involved.

About The Artists

The village of Raghurajpur in Puri district is the hub of Pattachitra, where almost every house and family is engaged in this or related artwork. The artists are mostly men, though women are also involved in recent times. The master artists do not sketch the concept, but directly outline using brush and colours. The lesser skilled artists work on the filling and detailing. The skills and techniques have been passed on from father to son for centuries, and each family prides in its creations. It is also seen as an art form in West Bengal, where the base material is generally silk instead of cotton.

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Pattachitra by eminent artist Shri Pranab Narayan Das. Image credit:

Raghunath Mohapatra, Pranab Narayan Das, Dilip Kumar Maharana, Bijay Parida are some of the well-known names of Pattachitra artists who have helped popularize the art in the country and across the world.

Pattachitra in Contemporary Times

Eventually, Pattachitra art has moved beyond cloth to other mediums like coconut shells, stone, wood, walls and papier-mâché toys. Keeping up with the times, it has even penetrated modern markets in form of painted jewelry, clothing, handbags, bookmarks, stationery, home décor, etc. Tassar silk sarees with hand painted Pattachitra art are extremely elegant and popular. However, the specific rules, designs, techniques and materials remain the same, irrespective of mediums, and hence the characteristic appearance and feel of the art form stands out. Pattachitra has received a lot of national and international acclaim, with centres set up for its research, teaching and propagation.


Article Written by: Santwana Sagnika

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