Bishnu Prasad Mishra’s patachitra paintings are a serene mix of mythology and temple architecture.

These paintings tell stories from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and Krishnaleela, against a floral background highlighted in natural colours mounted on specially prepared canvas or ‘pata.’ A black bejewelled Krishna surrounded by gopis with strikingly elongated eyes; Radha and Krishna in an eternal embrace, Lord Jagannath with Subhadra and Balabhadra in colours extracted from sindoor, piyuli rock, kajal and indigo… every image throws light on Odisha’s iconic painting tradition – patachitra.

The art form that dates back to the 14th century, when some of the great temples of the region were built, has a special connection with the Jagannath Temple as the themes are invariably about Krishna, Vishnu and Jagannath. In fact, the walls of the temple’s sanctum sanctorum are covered with patachitras and every year a new one is added.

Traditional painting

Bishnu Prasad Mishra is a traditional artist who has been associated with the annual ritual of painting Patachitra on the walls of the Jagannath temple. “The paintings are done by paramparik chitrakars who live in Raghurapur near Puri. My ancestors too have lived there for centuries to serve the temple. For painting the walls, first, we make the colours using stone, sindoor, indigo, etc. The ingredients are mixed with gum, and stored in coconut shells. Then they are taken into the sanctum and used along with special bamboo brushes.”

The painting is done free hand according to tradition, with elongated eyes and typical facial features inspired by the Achala murthis of the Lord, while the colours too follow those in which the icons of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra are painted.

How did other media such as cloth, canvas and silm come into the picture? Mishra says, “To popularise the art, artists had a baithak some 50 years ago and a decision was taken to evolve other forms of Pata. We experimented with a dhoti which we soaked in a solution of water, chalk powder, tamarind and natural gum. We spread the paste on the cloth and after drying it, polished it with stone and pebbles. We painted on this canvas. That’s how today’s Patachitra evolved which is now done on tussar.”

Mishra’s Patachitras, which are on display at the Rajasthan Crafts Fair, include Krishna and Rasleela themes as well as innovative Buddha and Ganesha images. Delicately conceived in soft colours, they have traditional borders such as ‘dahania maachi’ and ‘goolai.’ They captivate with their melange of mythology and limpid colours.

The Rajasthan Crafts Fair, which has products from other regions as well as such as terracotta and ceramic items, dhokraware, Mysore’s inlay worked wall hangings and Saranpur’s shisham wood furniture, is on at Sri Sankara Hall, TTK Road, till June 30.