Debashish Sahu is keeping alive a more than 3,000-year old craft tradition which is the country’s earliest chronicle and record of human writing. Over centuries, palm leaf craft has morphed into a decorative and ritual art in Orissa, inscribing exquisitely etched scenes from the epics and local lore with brush strokes of lovely vegetable dyes and colours.

“It all begins,” says Debashish Sahu “with boiling Palmyra leaf in turmeric, which makes it insect proof. We then cut the palm leaf in strips and stitch them together to the desired size of wall hanging, card etc. The border is then conceived and drawn, followed by the engraving of the figures, flora, etc., which form the story we wish to tell.” The delicate etching of scenes from the epics, Gita-Govinda, etc., is done with a sharply edged instrument called “likheni” or iron stylus.

Debashish demonstrates how the rest of the process is done. Soot mixed with water is spread over the etched palm leaf canvas. This will be allowed to dry for two days after which it will be washed with soap and dried again. Once the final drying is done, the black outlined etchings come into dramatic focus.

Sahu picks up a delicate squirrel brush and begins painting sections of the palm leaf with deep concentration. Only natural colours are used: ‘harital’ stone for red and yellow, shank or shell for white, ‘ghili’ leaves for green and blue and so on. “I make my own colours at home. I use two coats of vegetable colours on the leaf since it soaks up the first.” Debashish Sahu learnt the art from State awardee Gautam Sahu.

At the Traditional Art and Crafts Exhibition, Sahu’s collection on view includes beautiful palm leaf frames of ‘Krishna Leela’ scenes from Ramayana, the moods of Ganesha as well as book marks and cards celebrating the birds and flowers of the State, tribal silhouettes, etc. It is an engaging collection spanning classic, folk and tribal tales. Other interesting gift items at the exhibition include Ishtaq Ahmad’s kundan

jewellery on brass base which include pretty pendants and bangles. Ishtaq’s oeuvre is innovative in that it substitutes a gold base with brass and fuses kundan craft on it. His enamelled pieces include painted motifs on brass bangles, pendants and animal forms exquisitely shaped and painted and lacquered elephants, peacocks, etc. Ganpat’s lac bangles with lovely zardosi , mirror and nail art are other festive attractions at the exhibition.

Silver jewellery pieces from Orissa and exquisitely fashioned Krishna Nagar clay toys are eye catching attractions fit for Kolu. The Traditional Arts and Crafts Exhibition is on at Sri Sankara Hall, TTK Road, Alwarpet, till August 24.

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Arts, Entertainment & EventsMay 14, 2012

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