From geometric patterns to intricate paintings, tracking the rich mural art in the country.
TWO years ago, when I took a rickety bus ride from Bhubaneswar to Chandanpur in Orissa, little did I expect it to be a visual treat. Creativity flows on all surfaces here—from walls and dried palm leaves to cloth and paper. The district is known for its master pattachitra artists and every house is a masterpiece, with walls rich with the art form. The name comes from patta or dried palm leaf on which these paintings are made, with stories dating back to when the Lord Jagannath Temple was built in the 12th century. I was lucky to meet Bhagwan Moharana and his son, Prasanta, who showed me an antique scroll, over 100 years old.
Prasanta (28) has been a pattachitra artist for over 13 years. He recalls how, when he’d started painting, over 40 others had also made it a full-time career. But today just a handful practise it. “They started with a lot of passion, but when they didn’t see the money coming in, they became construction workers,” he says. Walking past the beautifully painted houses, with stories of gods and goddesses depicted on them in minute detail (ornaments, hairstyles, animals, trees), I wonder if the next generation will be lucky to experience this? It is why I use the technique in my jewellery—from my leather range to the bamboo collection.
Another style of wall art that never fails to fascinate me is Kerala murals. With bold strokes—depicting wild combats, gods and goddesses making love without reservation, and animals and birds—they’ve stood out boldly in the temples of Kerala since ancient times, and remain one of my pet projects.
At a workshop, an artisan explains the process to me. They use five colours—red, yellow, ochre, blue and green—and paint on a special type of bamboo, called aanamula, which is whitewashed over 18 times to prepare it. Poets of the Bhakti movement, like Kulashekhara Alvar and Tunchat Ezhuthachan, inspired the art form and subjects are mostly derived from Hindu religious texts. Some of the finest illustrations are the Mattanchery Palace panels, depicting the Ramayana, and the temple paintings at Thrissur, Chemmanthitta and Thodeekkalam.
1. Madhubani (Bihar): Traditionally done by women, they were initially created on mud walls. It is characterised by bold colours, geometric and floral patterns and double-line outlines. Even today, the artistes apply a mixture
of cow dung and mud to their canvases, to help the fabric better absorb the colour.
2. Kalamkari (Andhra Pradesh): Patronised by the Golconda Sultanate, this intricate art has Persian influence and mostly features flowers, trees and creepers. It was born when travelling minstrels began to illustrating their stories on large bolts of canvas. The fabric gets its glossiness by being immersed in a mixture of resin and cow’s milk.
3. Warli (Maharashtra, Gujarat): Dating back 3,000 years, it uses a limited vocabulary—circles (sun and moon), triangles (mountains) and squares (chauk, for the Mother Goddess). With themes revolving around hunting, farming and festivals, it only uses white.
4. Gond (predominantly in Madhya Pradesh): It is created with dots and lines. The paintings are an offering in worship of nature, and are also made to seek protection and ward off evil. Themes include myths to images from daily life, and uses
primary colours like black, red, blue and yellow.