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  Home > Art and Crafts of Orissa

Art and Crafts of Orissa
   
Rooted in custom, tradition and utility, the Oriyan craftsman is the vibrant link in an unbroken chain, which embraces both producers and consumers within a socio-religious framework. Throughout its history, Orissa nurtured a rich and variegated religious heritage. The interaction, which followed the rise and fall of different movements-Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivism, Vaishnavism-provided a remarkable cradle for cultural development. A strong tribal element ran side by side with religion and is still reflected in many of the crafts of Orissa.

Glimpses of the craft technologies that date back over several thousand years can be had from the shop windows of Bhubaneswar. The tie and dye or ikat technique of Orissa is, for instance, an ancient intricate process of dyeing yarn in segments to produce bold, beautiful patterns on the loom while weaving.

Wherever one goes in Orissa, one can find almost the entire range of arts and crafts in the market places of the main towns and cities. Co-operative societies have played an important role in preserving the rich craft heritage of the State by ensuring easy access to customers and thus sustaining a continuous demand for products. But perhaps the secret of Orissa's crafts lies in their fascinating combination of beauty and utility-a tribute to the vision of the craftsmen. Instead of being merely decorative reminders of another age, the crafts of Orissa are gloriously alive-suited to modern tastes and yet retaining all the essential traditional links with a checkered past.

   
Weaving

The royal Mauryan textile workshops that were established more than 2000 years ago employed spinners, weavers and embroiderers. In the course of time, temple towns such as Bhubaneswar became home for many weaving communities. Orissa is a part of the great weaving belt that stretches through Assam and other North-Eastern states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Today, there are more than 3 lakh handloom weavers in Orissa producing a rich range of textures.
Weaving
Eloquent and realistic, the fabrics (a variety of silks, tussar, and cotton) and designs (tribal, traditional, and modern) on display at Bhubaneswar have found a good export market. The hosting of textile exhibitions and handloom expositions is an annual feature at Bhubaneswar.
   
Palm Leaf Writing

Away from the shops and bazaars, in some friendly Oriyan household or in a temple or at an astrologer's place, the ancient art of palm leaf writing still survives. Religious texts continue to be read out from palm leaf manuscripts rather than from printed books. Horoscopes, too, are traditionally written on palm leaves by professional horoscope makers known as nahakas. Palm leaf was considered so sacred that even after printing presses began operating in Orissa, important texts continued to be printed on the leaves instead of paper. The printing of New Year cards and wedding invitations on palm leaf is still popular in Orissa.
Palm Leaf Writing
   
Patachitra

Just 70 km away, on the sea coast lies Puri, a temple and beach town that shares and mirrors some of Bhubaneswar's arts and crafts, even as it nurtures arts and crafts that are uniquely its own. In the famous exquisitely carved Jagannath temple, an annual ritual has given birth to a treasured art form. Three paintings on specially treated cloth or patas are prepared by the temple painter and hung inside the sacred precincts of the temple. Originating as a ritual, patas developed over the years, as a distinct school of painting executed by the chitrakar (artist) community. Blood red, red ochre, lamp black, yellow, white and indigo blue sometimes offset each other, sometimes blend to form patachitras in the skilled hands of talented chitrakars who follow in the footsteps of their forefathers.
Patachitra

The word patachitra is derived from the Sanskrit word pata, which means a painted piece of cloth, a picture, a tablet or a plate. Chitra means painting or picture. Elements of folk and sophisticated art and craft characterise each finely executed patachitra.

Since olden times, pilgrims to Puri have been carrying home the colorful patas or patachitras as precious mementos- just as they carry back Ganga jal (water from the holy Ganges) form Haridwar. The patas from Puri are sought after by tourists and art lovers both in India and abroad.

The chitrakars live and practice their hereditary art in Puri and in two villages on its outskirts-Raghurajpur and Dandshahi. In Raghurajpur, there are close to fifty families of pata painters. Each of them has a family sketchbook handed down from generation to generation. Gods and Goddesses, the lilas (fanciful but allegorical activities) of Lord Krishna, legends and animals, are all depicted in the sketchbooks. These books are the chitrakars most valuable possessions and are worshipped along with the family gods. Besides pata paintings, the chitrakars also make unique, circular playing cards known as ganjifa which are popular in villages all over Orissa.

   
Appliqué Art

The appliqué art perfected by the artisans of Pipli, a village 40 km from Puri on the Bhubaneswar-Puri route, now decorates homes in various parts of the world. Like patachitras, appliqué work in Orissa also originated as a temple art. Coloured cloth, after being cut and shaped into the forms of birds, animals, flowers, leaves, and other decorative motifs is stitched onto a cloth piece designed as a wall hanging, garden or beach umbrella, a lamp shade and other utility items.

 

Applique Art
Since the past decade or so, saris and household linen in appliqué work are also being produced in increasing numbers. Tiny mirrors in a whole range of geometrical shapes and designs are then encapsulated by thread embroidery to create a striking work of art. Four basic traditional colours- red, yellow, white and black are used, while green has been added in comparatively recent times. Besides Puri, appliqué work is also practised to some extent in Chitki, Barpali, and a couple of other places.
   
Carving

Over the centuries, Puri has preserved a superb tradition of carving, dating back to the Kalinga School. Craftsmen in Pathuriasahi at Puri use soft soapstone and hard kochila to carve replicas of temple sculptures. At Mangalpur near Balasore, skilled craftsmen carve utensils of rare beauty from the semi-grey stone of Khiching.

In addition to stoneware, stylised animal and bird toys meticulously carved out of wood, and painted wooden masks, once used in plays based on the Mahabharata and Ramayana are a feast for the eyes.

Carving
The craftsmen of Khandapara in Puri are masters at carving plates, bowls, jugs, flower vases and other decorative and functional articles from a creamy white wood.

Carving in Puri is not confined to stone and wood alone. The porous roots and stem of a water plant are being used since ancient times to carve miniature statues of gods and goddesses, temple replicas, animals, decorative hangings, garlands. Known as Sholapith work, the carved articles, if left in natural off-white, look like ivory. When painted, they acquire a distinctive sheen. The papier-mâché art of Puri, Chikti Barpali, Parlakhamedi (Ganjam district), and a few villages around Cuttack has unusual features. The papier-mâché toys produced by the craftsmen have detachable limbs and nodding heads.
   
Metal Work

A small, select group of gifted Puri craftsmen also persevere with the traditional craft of making brass icons. Elsewhere in the state, in small places such as Behrampur and Belguntha (in Ganjam district), Tarva (Bolangir district), Chandanpur, Phulbani, and Kantilo are scattered some 15,000 families who specialise in producing a variety of brass and bell metal craft objects, which exhibit extraordinary craftsmanship. In Tarva, the craftsmen fashion beautiful utilitarian and decorative objects such as plates, ashtrays and bells out of white metal. About 230 tribal families produce prized dhokra metalware items-boxes, lamps, figures of deities-by the cire perdue or lost wax method.

The highly refined, delicate craft of tarkashi or silver filigree work is practised in Cuttack. Silver is beaten and drawn into fine wires and foils, which are then joined together to form articles-generally ornaments-of stirring beauty.

Metal Work

The snow glazed filigree work or tarkashi of Cuttack was once sought after by royal households and merchants from far and wide. Today, the tarkashi workers continue to uphold the traditions of outstanding workmanship, but the clientele has changed, resulting in a comparatively reduced, standardised variety of articles.

Besides its famed tarkashi, Cuttack is also well known for its horn work. Buffalo and cow horns are used by skilled artisans to produce tastefully designed ashtrays, jewellery, figures of birds and animals.

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