Pattachitra, since the beginning of time, before the paper was invented, people used to write and draw on palm leaves with a stylus made of twigs sharpened with rocks to give the effect of a fine-tip pen. Interestingly, all the Hindu holy books, like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Vedas and the Upanishads, and also other mythology stories were all written on palm leaves.
Another form of Pattachitra, apart from painting on the cloth, is the most amazing engravings over a palm leaf. This very complicated art form is done on dried palm leaves and stitched together to look for a canvas. These amazingly beautiful intricacies are delicately done as one small move can destroy their entire creativity.
Pattachitra is a term for traditional, cloth-based scroll painting, originated in the state of Odisha and spread across the eastern part of India and Bangladesh. The pattachitra art form is known for its intricate details as well as the narration of the Jagannath / Krishna culture of Puri (Odisha) one of the Char-Dham of Hindu Dharma established by Adi Shankaracharya.
Pattachitra was never limited to paintings on cloth only, it was painted on the famous Raths (Chariots) of Shri Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra during the great Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival) which is going on for over 1000 years, the painting is done of Temple walls, toys, palm leaf, fruits, sarees, wall hangings, and many decor products.
Since the art form is done on palm leaves, they are first collected in the same texture, color, and appearance. They are then coated with a mix of turmeric and neem for their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties to save the leaf from getting destroyed by fungus or insects eating them up. For every 50 leaves, 100 grams of turmeric coupled with neem leaves are soaked in water. The turmeric gives it a yellow/greenish base tone. The coated palm leaves are then left to dry in the sun.
The dried palm leaves are then cut to the desired size. Using needle and thread, the fragments of the dried palm leaf are stitched together to form a flat square or rectangular shape. Sometimes cotton piping or borders are stitched to give it a finished look, otherwise left natural, depending on the artist’s choice.
An iron nib stylus, called Lakhani or the tool for writing, is used to engrave and etch on the dried palm leaves. The etched portions are cut out and filled with colors. Mostly black is the color used, but we can see greens and yellows, reds and whites as well which are applied by a brush.
Black gives the palm etching a natural look The black color used comes from soot that is collected from burning at night and mixed with tree sap and water to give the right thick consistency. The excess black is removed quickly by washing so that the leaf does not absorb all the unwanted color.
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