Dastkar Hand made craft items that are on display at the exhibition include Pattachitra paintings and striking terracotta wares. Lalithaa Krishnan

“Patta' means silk and ‘chithra' means painting. Hence ‘Pattachitra' refers to painting done on silk,” explains Narayan Sahoo, expert artist from Odisha participating in the Dastkar Mela at Sankara Hall (March 14 – 28, timings 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.).

“I began learning this craft at age of 20, the first generation artist in my family. I stayed in Raghurajpur, a craft village housing over 3000 artists, who are experts in pattachitra and palm leaf painting and engraving.

It is a demanding art that thrives on detail and sheer intricacy in miniature,” he adds, holding up a 13” x 40” engraved palm leaf painting that took 200 days to complete.

The piece captivates with its central tableau of Krishna with flute and Radha beneath flowering boughs surrounded by Dasavatara panels framed by a leaf and tendril border. The dull beige sheen of palm leaf is dramatically set off by a rich crimson fabric piping at the edges.

The palm leaves are gathered, measured and cut in keeping with the subject to be depicted. Next, they are stitched together in two-leaf thick panels, using a large needle and sturdy cotton thread.

The design is drawn on the front surface with a pencil and then engraved with the point of a needle. Now the surface is brushed and stained with lamp black (soot) gathered from an earthen plate positioned over a cotton wick burning in kerosene.

Earlier, the juice from crushed leaves was used for the staining. The soot enters the fine groves of the engraving and picks out the design clearly in black. The painting is washed in water. Then a blade is used to cut out the empty areas surrounding the edges of lines in the border design.

This work is only done on the front i.e. through the depth of the top leaves so that the surface leaves beneath remain intact. Again, each Dasavatara motif is contained within a circle whose edges are cut and can be folded back in half moons, one above and one below, to make space for additional motifs, usually flora and fauna or Odissi dance poses.

Finally, for contrast, a red cotton cloth border is stitched on. The themes chosen are traditional, such as Radha Krishna, Ganesha and Ramayana. Tussar is used for silk painting, on which motifs are painted with a fine brush dipped in lamp black. These light weight pieces are ideal for gifting and find a steady stream of buyers among foreign tourists and NRIs. Prices range from Rs. 700 – Rs. 25,000.

For Kolu enthusiasts

Kaushik Kundu's terracotta ware from West Bengal is tailor-made for ‘kolu' enthusiasts looking for new add-ons to their Navaratri displays. Crafted from soft smooth glossy ‘chikni mitti' from the riverbed, his clay figurines and dolls incorporate fine details. The oft-related story of the thirsty crow comes to life in a decorative piece. While the pot is made from chikni mitti, the crow perched atop is fashioned from harder clay, fused with the pot and fired at medium to low heat. Finally, the colours are painted on. A cobbler and an umbrella maker and figurines of fruit and vegetable vendors complete with weighing scales are given realistic touches. Also on display are striking terracotta clocks, vases and pen holders.

Other handicrafts at the exhibition include handlooms and Khadi materials and dresses, miniature paintings, gemstones, silver, minakari, five-metal and one gram gold jewellery, sheesham and teak furniture such as corner stands, room dividers, chairs and tables, colourful channapattana and kondapalli toys, bedsheets and floor rugs, Jaipur quilts, lac artefacts from Kashmir, rose wood panels and utility items from different states across India.