Palm Leaf Painting or Patta Chitra is an ancient art form, which was practiced in quite a few regions of India. If it was known as patta chitra in Orissa, the Tamilians called it Olaichuvadi. This art form was an offshoot of written communication on palm leaves. In the pre paper days messages and letters were etched out on palm leaves and dispatched. Slowly the text began to be embellished with illustrations. Theses illustrations became an art Form itself.
Today this Art form is much respected and is still practiced in the by lanes of Cuttak, Puri, Raghurajpur and Chitrakarashi.
Palm Leaf Painting-the technique
Palm leaf painting or etching involves a few intricate steps:
Rows of same sized palm leaves are first arranged together and sewn.
These neatly sewn palm leaves are then folded in such a way so as to make a pile.
These paintings are first etched out, which means that the designs and images are neatly etched on the surface of the palm leaf using a sharp pen like object.
Ink (or a concoction of charcoal of burnt coconut shells, turmeric and oil) is then poured along the lines; the lines are now defined.
Vegetable dyes are also added to give these paintings some color, but these paintings are mostly, dichromatic (black and white).
The panels of the paintings are unfolded like a fan to reveal a beautiful patta chitra.
Palm Leaf Paintings- the themes
Mythological themes dominate most pattachitras; scenes from the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata are lovingly depicted. Local legends and folklore too find their way into the paintings. Radha and Krishna, Durga, Ganesha and Saraswati are the most commonly used Gods and Goddesses.
In Orissa the legend of Lord Jagannath is used very frequently. In Tamil Nadu, Lord Vishnu is the most popular icon; therefore he is most commonly depicted in the palm leaf paintings.
The deliberate use of color schemes, costumes and postures in these paintings tells us about the region they belong to.
Olaichuvadi of Tamil Nadu
This art form was experimented upon in Tamil Nadu where they were converted into manuscripts. Sometimes they were shaped like temples, with doors. Two wooden boards, either carved with floral motifs or painted, were fixed on both ends of the palm leaf manuscripts to protect them. Some palm leaf paintings had covers with ivory inlay work.
The Jain Palm Leaf Manuscripts of Gujarat
In Gujarat the Jains practiced the art of Palm leaf paintings under the patronage of rich sea merchants. These Sea merchants established libraries of paintings and documents to keep a record of the spread of Jainism in Gujarat. The Jain God, Mahavira illuminated most of the Jain Palm leaf manuscripts.
Palm Leaf Painting in the modern world
This ancient art form has found admirers far and wide. Not only does the intricate designs and aesthetic depiction of Gods and Goddesses attract ones attention, the use of the leaf adds to the quaint charm of the Art form. This form painting is hailed as very eco friendly too. Today there are small towns exclusively dedicated to this art form in Orissa. One can visit the towns of Raghurajpur and Chitrakarashi to see the artists at work. A first hand sampling of this art form is a must for all art lovers.