Raghurajpur -The village of art galleries

Down a quiet dirt road lined with palm trees and lily ponds, the village of Raghurajpur in India’s eastern state of Orissa seems to be fast asleep on a hot afternoon. But it’s here, hidden inside the town’s muraled shops and homes, that many traditional art forms are being kept alive, both by master craftsmen and the next generation of students.


To explore the area, I’ve based myself for the week in Puri, a laid-back seaside village about three hours from the state capital of Bhubaneswar. I could’ve easy spent every day at the beach, but once I found out about the handicrafts village a mere fifteen kilometers away, I knew I couldn’t stay put. It doesn’t seem like a day made for exploration, with a sweltering sun high in the sky, but I’m determined to make it to Raghurajpur.

An easy bus ride from Puri brings me to a curving dirt road leading into the village. Even from the very first house, it’s easy to see why art is so important here: hardly a wall or doorframe has been left unadorned with murals, some showing a dancing Krishna, others a long line of elephants. From inside the first house to my left, a man calls out to me. His name is Susanta Senapati, and it just so happens he is one of Raghurajpur’s master painters.

As we sit on the floor of his shop, I listen to Susanta explain the two main art forms that are found in the village. The first is pattachitra, which literally means “canvas” (patta) and “picture” (chitra). This ancient art form originated in the region as early as the 5th century BC and draws inspiration from Hindu mythology, particularly from the Jagannath and Vaishnava cults. The canvas used is handmade, produced by coating cotton cloth with tamarind gum. Demonstrating, Susanta uses natural paints to do a coloring sketch, which he will then give detail to with a fine black outline.

The second type of art that Raghurajpur is known for is palm leaf engraving. Strips of dried palm leafs are joined together, and then a stylus is used to carve and cut designs and figures into the rough surface. I’m mesmerized as Susanta chips away, listening to the sound of the scraping stylus. To bring the picture to life, he then rubs a bit of pure black ink onto the leaf. When he wipes a cloth across it, most of the ink is cleaned away, but what remains now fills the etchings and creates a vivid drawing.

I thank Susanta for his time and move further down the village. At the end of the street I stumble upon a non-governmental organization (NGO), based right here in Raghurajpur under the name, “Dedicated to People.” When I walk in, two teenage girls are hard at work finishing a large pattachitra drawing. Nineteen-year old Sabita has been involved with the NGO for five years and works on the painting’s finishing touches, such as the pupils in Krishna’s eyes and little flourishes in the background. Her friend Rinki, also 19, has been painting for four years and is helping to complete the solid black border.

Soon their director, Mr. Ajit, arrives at the building and tells me that the NGO was officially registered in India in 2004. Their purpose is to train local girls in the arts of both pattachitra and palm leaf engraving, and use the sales to bring them income. Twenty-five percent of the sales go back into the organization, while 75% go to the girls.

Describing their mission, he says, “We focus on girls. Boys can work anywhere –factories, hard labor…” There are currently 35 girls involved from remote villages around Raghurajpur, whose other employment options are limited to things like collecting betel nuts and supplying them to markets. But with Dedicated to People, they have a chance to try their hand at a more creative profession.

To remember this visit, I choose a smaller picture to take with me. With my painting in hand, I say goodbye to Ajit and the girls and head back into the village, walking out past the palms and ponds towards the bus stop.

Maybe it had been a day for exploring after all.

Info Box

How to get there: The best place to base yourself to visit Raghurajpur is the beach town of Puri, Orissa. You can then catch a bus to the village, which takes roughly half an hour costs Rs 6 each way.

For more information on Rahurajpur: visit website or read an e-magazine put together by the Orissan government.

Contact details for “Dedicated to People”:
Mr. Ajit Ku Swain
Founder and general secretary
Mobile: 99378 10487
Web site
Email

Author: Candace Rardo

Freelance writer + photographer MA Travel Writing

Comments

  1. Lang Schwegel says:

    Thank you for some other great post. The place else may just anybody get that type of information in such a perfect way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the search for such information.

  2. Good article, I have read about the palm leaf writing some time back, didn’t know it is still practiced in India. Some things never die.

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