The state of Orissa boasts of a strong ethnic handicrafts industry. It has, infect, carved out a niche for itself in the spheres of appliqué work, metallurgy, silver filigree, stone and wood carving, etc. An interesting aspect about the handicrafts of Orissa is that they are directly or indirectly linked to the elaborate rituals observed in context of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of the world famous temple at Puri.
‘Applique’, which is a French term, is a technique by which the decorative effect is obtained by superposing patches of coloured fabrics on a basic fabric, the edges of the patches being sewn in some form of stitchery. It is distinct from what is known as patch work in which small pieces of cut fabrics are usually joined side by side to make a large piece of fabric or for repairing a damaged fabric. Though the form is not unknown in other parts of India, it is Orissa and specially in Pipli that the craft has a living and active tradition continuing over centuries.
Giant-sized umbrellas of applique work are produced for use on festive occasions. Also used as garden umbrellas in sprawling lawns, they lend grace and colour to any gathering. Heart-shaped fans, big and small canopies and wall-hangings are also prepared out of applique work.
The art form typically depended on four basic colours – red, white, black and yellow to produce a striking effect. In recent years, green too has been applied vigorously enlivening the craft even more. Temples and other religious institutions extensively patronized this art. In fact the basic inspiration for the art form was mainly religious in nature.
Stone carving is a very major handicraft of Orissa. As is evident from the innumerable archaeological monuments, rock-cut sculptures, caves and temples built for centuries and embellished with most beautiful and intricately carved statue and other adornments, the art of carving in stone had reached in Orissa dizzy heights of excellence perfected through centuries of disciplined efforts of generations of artisans.
The progeny of these artisans who built the magnificent temples of Parsurameswar, Mukteswar, Lingaraj, Puri and that wonder in stone, the temple chariot of the Sun God at Konark, besides the beautiful Stupas and monasteries of Lalitgiri Ratnagiri and Udayagiri have kept alive the sculptural traditions of their forefathers and their deft hands can and do chisel and carve exact replicas of the original temple sculptures besides producing a variety of other items. These stone images give a touch of distinction to modern décor that little present embellishment can hope to surpass. They are timeless reflection of glorious tradition, an unfinished story in stone.
The Orissa Pattachitra Paintings have been a part of the heritage of Orissa since time immemorial. They are intricately linked to the cult of Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of one of the Holy Trinity of the Hindus, Lord Vishnu. Every year, in the Jagannath temple of Puri, the three idols of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra are given a ritual bath. This bath leads to a slight discoloration of the vibrant paint on the idols. Then they are removed from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple for painting. During this time, when the idols are not in place, they are substituted by three paintings. They are prepared by the temple painters on specially designed clothes. They are called ‘Patas’ in the local language. Hence the term ‘Pattachitra’ came into being which literally means ‘Cloth Paintings’. The art of ‘Pattachitra’ commenced as a ritual. But now it has burgeoned into a bona fide school of painting. The exponents of this kind of art are called the ‘Chitrakars’. They are local to Puri and two adjacent villages, namely Dandshahi and Raghuraipur. Each of them possess a family sketchbook which is a traditional legacy handed down from generations. They prepare the canvas with a lot of care and call it ‘Nirvas Kalpa’. In fact, this quintessential art form depicts the cultural legacy of the bucolic locales and finds expression through the paintings of Orissa which has been passed down the generations.
Brass & Bell Metal
The fine engravings on brass and bellmetal utensils, bronze bangles and pots are important aspects of Orissan art. Artifacts made of metal, particularly brass, find pride of place in the homes of Orissa. Beautiful lamps and lamp-stands are used during the worship of deities. Rice-measuring bowls made of brass are used in many homes. The artisans also make elephants and horses from brass and decorate them with intricate designs. Containers of brass for betel-chewers are designed both to be useful and ornamental. There are household articles and utensils made out of brass and bell metal and they are of different shapes and sizes. The brassware of Orissa reveals the high workmanship of the artisans and their flair for innovation. These products are cast in brass by lost – wax – process and display an intriguing wirework finish. The wax- work is done with great skill and meticulousness from wires of bees – wax. These pieces with their antique look go well with interior decor. The brass fish of Ganjam, with its elegantly decorative form and intricate pattern, represents a marvel of craftsmanship in sheet metal.
Silverware of Orissa is very widely known. Her Filigree works particularly are unique examples of artistic excellence rarely to be seen in any other part of India. Silver wires, extremely delicate, are shaped into intricate designs. Forms of animals and birds, articles of daily use like vermilion receptacles are also made out of silver wires- Filigree ornaments, especially brooches and earrings are very popular among Indian women. Cuttack is world famous for Filigree work. Scenes from the Mahabharat are sometimes depicted in silver in particular interest is the chariot of Arjuna driven by Lord Krishna done in silver. One feels amazed is see the skill with which minute details of the chariot wheels have been worked. The beauty of the chariot, the proud stance of the horses and the true-to-hi figures, all contribute to the over-all majesty of the silver art effect. Locally known as “Tarakashi”, the silver filigree of Cuttack is noted for its delicateness and intricate workmanship. The art is ancient, dating back to the dawns of early history. Made of silver drawn into threads as fine as spider’s web, the filigree jewellery and decorative art work of Orissa is internationally known for their superb finish, fine foils and texture – snow glaze, delicate artistry and elegant craftsmanship.
Horn articles of Orissa are mystical and are blended with a superb fashion design. Their lively appearance, dynamism and animation vie with the real objects of nature – that spells the names of Parlakhemundi and Cuttack. There are artisans in Orissa who are dexterous in providing articles of daily use like combs, flower vases and pen-stands out of the horn of cattle. The horn is polished smooth, and then shaped into various Corms. Cranes, lobsters, scorpions and birds made of horn are finished to a nicety. Their surface throws off a dark somber sheen and the catch the attention of all art-lovers. The horns, that are mostly from buffaloes and cows require a high degree of skill and imagination in application. The artisans who excel in this art have used the specific texture of this material t mould all sorts of objects with a marvelous degree of fluidity in movement.
The work is executed in delightful folk designs, and form an important part of a girls’ trousseau in Orissa. Among other beauties of this crafts are the bangles, necklaces and toys, all of them distinctive and hence in great demand by the cognoscenti. Bamboo boxes are lacquered in various colours and shades. These bamboo boxes in graduated sizes are widely exported. The accompanying illustrations reveal the sparkle of these boxes. Naturally these boxes make for attractive presentation items on all occasions.
Papier Mache skill has been creatively practiced by crafts persons from all over Orissa. Paper, waste cloth and different kinds of natural fibers are soaked and beaten into pulp, then mixed with a variety of seeds and gums for strength and as protection from termites. Special clays and bio-wastes are added for body and reinforcement. The entire process results in a medium so malleable that it requires little skill to be molded into countless forms. However, despite its versatility this craft has remained neglected.