Today is the end of a ten day folk arts festival, Dastkari Bazaar, held at Pingale Farms in Koregaon Park where, in addition to being awed by the quality and quantity of craftsmen from all over India, I stumbled upon a new obsession, pattachitra painting. I also had an incredible kheema kulcha (chicken mince stuffed in bread which is fired in a tandoor an slathered with ghee) with chana dal and spicy onion chutney.
Among the beautiful saris, tussar silks, painted pickle jars, animal hide lampshades, made-to-order cooking utensils and other handicrafts at the bazaar, I found a stall selling these paintings, created by a family who lives in Raghurajpur, a village known for its artists near Puri, Odisha (or "Orissa" depending to whom one is speaking) on the Northeastern coast of India. The man stationed at the table was Bijay Kumar Bariki, and the paintings showcased the work of himself, his father Akshaya, grandfather, and brother, among other artists. Each one was tied to mythology, and his level of knowledge regarding the twisting and gnarled folkloric storylines in them seemed infinite, especially to a layperson like me. Truth be told, I couldn't keep up with all the names and stories, but I did see immediately that these works of art were something really special. I was mesmerized, through and through.
We moved from painting to painting and through little statements here and there I started to get background on how they are made. The canvas is actually cotton cloth which has been coated with gum, dried for several days, then polished by hand with special stones. The paints are also made by hand using natural materials such as soot, shells, and stones, and the paintbrushes are made from buffalo or mouse hair. With a little digging at home, I found a pretty interesting read on the "making-of" pattachitra paintings here.
I looked at all the big ones at least three times, paying attention to the detail, getting a feel for which ones I preferred and trying to see the stylistic differences he was pointing out between him and his relatives. After a while some of them stood out. Multiple layers of borders, a higher level of detail...it became fuzzy after about the 15th look-over though, so I had to come back with a fresh set of eyes (Marc) to make a decision.
We ended up buying this one, which shows the life of Krishna, and I hope that one day I will be able to explain the story to my kids as well as Bijay himself could do, though I'm pretty sure it will take some solid time with my nose in the books to really understand it all. Perhaps an educational trip to Raghurajpur is in order... ;-)