The stone icons and Patachitra paintings show the ‘Best of Odisha.’

Among the temple based crafts of Odisha are its stone iconography and carving traditions, as well as the Patachitra paintings that bring the ‘leela’ of gods and goddesses and Epic narratives to life.

While stone iconography is at the heart of Odisha’s temple culture, Patachitra is part of its ritualistic and interior life. In fact, when the ‘moola murtis’ of Lord Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra leave the sanctum of Puri’s Jagannath temple on their annual ‘rath yatra,’ their painted Patachitra images take their place in the sanctum sanctorum, till the murtis are brought back at the end of the yatra.

Masterly touch

On a creative ‘yatra’ to Chennai to exhibit their oeuvre in stone are national awardees Ashok Moharana and Jambeshwar Behera. Their masterly touch is evident in the stone icons.

While Moharana comes from the hereditary Shilpkar community and imbibed his skills from family elders, Behera is part of the State Governments efforts to train non-hereditary artisans in Odisha’s art and craft traditions. Behera trained in Bhubaneshwar under a Government Scheme, where he learnt “every stroke and sweep of stonecraft.”

A superb 3 ft tall Hanuman in classic profile by Behera, along with a standing, frontal one by Moharana greet visitors at the entrance of Lalit Kala Akademi, where the ‘Best of Odisha’ exhibition is on view.

Other sandstone icons individually created by Moharana and Behera include graceful Saraswatis, apsaras, Buddha heads and a range of decorative and utility items in granite, sandstone, serpentine stone etc.

Moharana’s brilliantly sculpted 2 1/2 ft sitting Buddha took 20 days to finish. “We buy the stone,” he says, “which are sourced from the nearby hillsides. Our work begins with cutting the stone to the desired size and sketching the icon’s outline on it. We then etch the outline and begin scooping, incising, carving, etc, with hammer, drilling machine and hand tools such as iron scoops. The facial features are entirely hand carved as are clothing details. Moharana’s repertoire includes fruit bowls, trays and decorative pieces.

Behera has made intricately carved serpentine stone decorative pieces full of apsaras and animals, granite ‘kirti mukhas’ as well as a host of icons in different sizes.

The Patachitra turns magical under the brush strokes of national awardee Vanamati Mahapatra. A domain of the chitrakar community, it features stories from the Epics, Krishna Lila and Lord Jagannath’s life. Mohapatra’s pieces are delicate yet dramatic, the mouse-hair brush picking up the most incredible details of human figures, clothing and jewellery. “I prepare the canvas by sticking together two pieces of cloth with powdered tamarind seed glue. The colours come from stones and seashells. Every vibrant frame has a floral or geometric border.

Does he follow any shastric guidelines in executing his paintings? “No,” says Vanamati Mahapatra. “We are steeped in the Epics and legends, but the depiction is entirely from our imagination.”

The works of Moharana, Behera and Mohapatra can be seen at ‘Best of Odisha’ at Lalit Kala Akademi, No. 4, Greams Road. The exhibition is on till July 6.