Coronavirus | Heritage crafts village in Odisha wears a deserted look

Uncertain about their future, Pattachitra artists want virtual platform to sell paintings

Updated - April 13, 2020 01:56 am IST

Published - April 13, 2020 01:40 am IST - RAGHURAJPUR (ODISHA)

Dinabandhu Mohapatra at work.

Dinabandhu Mohapatra at work.

On any given day, residents of this tiny Odisha village would greet tourists with open arms and invite each one of them to pay a quick visit to their house for appreciating intricate paintings done on strips of cotton cloth. But, now arrival of even a casual visitor raises eyebrows here.

Tourists, the foundation of livelihood for 140-odd families of Raghurajpur, are no longer welcomed. The heritage crafts village that was often teeming with visitors has fallen silent. COVID-19 pandemic has robbed the livelihood of the artists here.

“Perhaps for the first time in the history of our village, we have put a blockade prohibiting entry of tourists. It was a collective decision of villagers to stay safe,” said Prakash Mohapatra, a 33-year-old artist.

Making of Pattachitras, traditional paintings in which mythological, religious stories and folk lore are told through intricate canvasing, has been principal vocation of most villagers here. On an average, an artist sells paintings worth ₹15,000 to ₹20,000 per month – enough to lead a simple life in the village.

The paintings’ trade had recently picked up after it was badly impacted by last year’s cyclone Fani that had spoiled many artworks. Following the cyclone, visitors had also stopped visiting the village till normalcy returned.

Many argue that the health crisis has provided the much needed break for producing more Pattachitras. But, 64-year-old award winning artist Dinabandhu Mohapatra does not agree. “The silence is killing our creativity as well as the skill. What if the Pattachitras remain unsold, will the government come to our rescue? These questions make us perturbed,” the veteran artist said.

Artists claim many villagers are landless. Though the government has provided rice, old age and widow pensions and ₹1,000 each, the artists are uncertain about their future.

“We can ill-afford to earn less. Villagers want an online platform through which their paintings could be sold and tourists may not come physically to buy products. In this way we can compensate the loss of productive days,” said Seema Behera, who is pursuing her bachelor’s degree and also helping her family in painting.

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