Home to over 52 craft skills, the state of Odisha is a powerhouse of talent and takes great pride in its vibrant arts and crafts. From the stone carvings that make up its famous temples to the patachitra artworks of Lord Jagannath, to the colourful pipli applique work, this eastern Indian state has been home to a wide range of art and crafts for centuries. The state’s heritage crafts include paintings, textiles, embroidery and tribal jewellery, with artefacts made from diverse materials such as stone, wood, metal, coir, clay, animal horns, feathers, sisal fibre, sabai grass, lacquer and more. Although many of them have their origins rooted in religious rites and household requirements, today they have evolved in form and presentation to attract modern buyers. Each region in Odisha has something unique to offer to the intrepid traveller.
Here are five things you must bring back when you are in Odisha next.
What It Is: The colourful applique art of Odisha can be spotted across homes in India, often used as canopies during functions, as lampshades, decorative door hangings, and other interior decorations. The ancient craft with a GI (Geographical Indicator) tag dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries when applique work clothes and decorative pieces were used in the Jagannath Temple in Puri during religious processions. According to local people, the art originated as part of
religious rites. The appliqued cloth would be used to make ‘chandua’ or canopy and ‘chhati’ or umbrella. If you visit Puri’s Jagannath Temple during the annual Rathyatra (Chariot Festival) you can see the huge chariots bedecked with Odisha’s applique work. Apart from other offerings, visitors to the temple offer applique banners, chanduas, umbrellas, and pouches to Lord Jagannath.
Where To Buy: The town of Pipili is the original home of this traditional art, and it derives its name from the place located about 20km from Bhubaneshwar. As you drive into city, you will find rows of shops on both sides of the road with artists busy cutting coloured fabrics in various designs and stitching them on yards of cloth, embellished with decorative stitches and glasswork. Today the colour palette of fabrics range beyond the traditional red, yellow, black and white. Traditionally, the motifs varied from flora and fauna to mythical figures; the patterns are more contemporary now with the common ones being figures of elephants, parrots, peacocks, and dancing girls. A master craftsman usually applies six types of stitching patterns — bakhia, ganthi, taropa, chikana, button-hole and run-stitch.
What It Is: Patachitra, the indigenous traditional painting style of Odisha practiced by an artist community called chitrakars, has also received a Geographical Indicator (GI) tag. The word comes from the Sanskrit ‘pata’ (cloth) and ‘chitra’ (painting or picture), translating as a whole to a painted piece of cloth. In the old days, patachitra artists would paint pictures of Lord Jagannath to be sold to pilgrims who would come to Puri during the ‘anasara’ period (when the deities would remain in seclusion for a fortnight prior to the Rathayatra). A canvas is prepared using a paste of ground tamarind seed and chalk on a patta – which is a strip of cotton cloth or made of regional tussar silk. This lends a pale yellow background to perfectly contrast the vibrant images that retell legendary tales from the Puranas and epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The borders of the painting are completed first. The materials used in the paint are from vegetable, earth, and mineral sources. Miniature versions of patachitra also feature in bookmarks, greeting and playing cards.
Where To Buy: The town of Raghurajpur, about 5km from Puri, is home to many families of chitrakars.
Palm Leaf Painting
What It Is: One of the oldest forms of painting and writing in the world, this craft is also known as talapatrachitra – tala- palm, patra – leaf, chitra- illustration. Before the advent of paper, the palm leaf was the canvas for writing and painting in most South and South East Asian countries. Stories were written, poems were weaved and futures predicted, all on palm leaves. It is believed that the Mahabharata was scripted by Lord Ganesha while Sage Vyasa dictated it. From ancient epics to Vedas, manuscripts to horoscopes, it is a marvel that this age-old method still survives today. The talapatachitra manuscripts were stored in temples; they were also the centres for learning the skills, and it is at temples that old texts were copied into fresh ones by highly revered lipikaras. The process for treating and preparing the palm leaves is quite elaborate.
Where To Buy: Places like Puri, Raghurajpur, Dandasahi and Bhubaneswar are the centers for
What It Is: The land of lofty temples built of stone and embellished with rich carvings, Odisha is home to master stone carvers since time immemorial. The art form is believed to date back to the 13th century when the region was ruled by different dynasties, and that diversity of culture is reflected in the craft. The craft finds its genesis in ancient temples and palaces, and monuments in the state. With its intricate sculptures and delicate carvings on red sandstone, the Sun Temple of Konark is probably the most well known showcase of the art form. Incidentally, stone carving of Konark has also received a GI (Geographical Indicator) tag. Probably no traveller to Odisha will leave the state without picking up at least one miniature stone replica of the famous wheels of the Konark Sun Temple.
Craftspersons use both weather-resistant hard and soft stones like khadipathara, kochilapathara, pinkish khandolite, sahanapathara or baulapathara and black granite and muguni pathara for carving the mostly decorative works that they do today.
Where To Buy: Driving past Bhubaneswar, Puri, Konark, and Lalitagiri, it is not uncommon to find clusters of stone carvers chipping away and carefully chiselling out thin layers from stone boulders, shaping them into exquisitely carved home items, idols of the Buddha, Ganesha and Krishna, and miniatures of important shrines like Lingaraj, Mukteswar, Jagannath Puri and the Sun Temple.
What It Is: The 4,000-year-old craft whose earliest and most well-known example is the Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro takes its name from the Dhokra Damar tribe. Distant relatives of the Gadabas and Gonds of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau (present-day Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh), they once roamed Central and Eastern India exchanging their wares for food and grains. With royal patronage, the artists managed to achieve exquisite and intriguing lace-like detail in their designs.Dokra, or dhokra, is an alloy of brass, nickel and zinc. The metal is used to give shape to a stylised range of decorative artefacts. Divine figures, animal statuettes, lamps, etc. reflect age-old designs. Candle stands, pen holders, ashtrays, small plates, etc. are also being made.
Where To Buy: According to Odisha Tourism, Kuliana in Mayurbhanj district, Kaimati in Keonjhar district, Sadeiberni in Dhenkanal district and Adakata in Nayagarh district are some of the best places to see the artisans at work.