The iconic village of Raghurajpur in Puri district (state of Odisha, East India) is home to over 300 artists who are still actively practicing traditional forms of painting and dance while keeping pace with the digital age.
A family of artists lives in each of the 100 or so painted, yet modest households, which face one another. In Raghurajpur, worship and art are one—each breathes life and gives meaning to the other.
These painters are the most popular among artists from other parts of Odisha. They paint brightly-colored mythological stories about Jagannath (a form of Lord Krishna) and other gods, especially Krishna.
Derived from the Sanskrit word patta (canvas) and chitra (painting), pattachitra has its roots in the 12th century.
Traditionaly, male artists painted dramatic mythic themes and flamboyant processions whilst women painstakingly prepared the canvases.
Both men and women now learn the art of designing and executing pattachitra paintings from their parents and grandparents. They proudly display numerous national awards for their excellent workmanship.
This artist’s village is also known for intricate palm leaf folded pictures etched in black with cutouts, delicate brushwork on tussar silk, stone and wood carvings. Colorful painted coconuts reveal stories, as do painted birds, toys, masks and painted boxes that are displayed on meticulously clean stone front porches. Fashioned from local materials, coconut, palm leaf, local dyes, stone and wood, the range of art works have a unique beauty and guileless charm.
The front room of each home serves as both studio and exhibition space. Surprisingly un-commercial, the artisans, men and women speak in Odiya (local language), keenly showing their work and explaining the tradition, narrative and techniques they apply.
Raghurajpur is also home to performing artists, most notable being the late Guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra. His father was a painter and mrudangam (a percussion drum like instrument)player. Kelu Charan trained in the Gotipua dance tradition (an acrobatic dance form that is a precursor to Odissi classical dance) in Raghurajpur, and became renowned as the leading proponent of Odissi dance. He is credited for reviving this ancient dance form. There is a dance studio in Raghurajpur where young students still receive training in Gotipua. Students from Raghurajpur participate in national dance festivals and in public events.
This dense concentration of skilled artists, keeping alive several Odissi art forms, is truly unique. Not surprisingly, Raghurajpur was recognized as a Heritage Village in 2000. Since 2000, INTACH ICCI, NORAD, India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore and Government of India, Odisha, worked in tandem to develop Raghurajpur as a craft’s village.
They trained artists to relearn traditional techniques and apply them in their art works. For example, they were retaught how to apply plaster made of lime, jute, molasses, lentils, curd, casein and local herbs such as trifala and bel. To boost rural tourism they were encouraged to paint their homes to showcase and display their art.
Ever since Raghurajpur was chosen as a heritage village, many more tourists, from India and abroad, have come to admire their art and purchase it directly from the artists. A few visitors come to learn traditional art techniques.
Raghurajpur was adopted by the Bank of India as a digital village and 20 points of sale machines have been installed by the bank in addition to opening two hundred savings bank accounts. There is also an ATM machine and a few artisans accept PayTM (a digital based payment platform).
Raghurajpur has been included in the ideal crafts village scheme and online sources state that the Center has sanctioned Rs. 100 million for overall development of the village. As a part of this initiative the state government is planning to design the doors of every house and strengthen water and sanitation facilities. Plans for a guesthouse is also in the pipeline.
Raghurajpur has been called a Crafts Village, Heritage Village and now Digital Village. The changes in nomenclature have not effected the artistic effervescence nor the pace and style of life which still seem idyllic.
HOW TO REACH
To reach Raghurajpur one has to get down at Chandanpur bus stop, which is about 10 km from Puri and 50 km from Bhubaneswar on National Highway No. 203 connecting Puri and Bhubaneswar, two important tourist destinations of the country. From the Chandanpur one has to take a cycle-rickshaw or walk on a 1.3 km scenic road to reach this village. One may also hire a taxi either from Puri or from Bhubaneswar to reach the village.