Painting murals to welcome tourists back to their village
After a gap of nearly six months, Abakash Nayak, 54, a seasoned Pattachitra artist of Raghurajpur, the nationally acclaimed heritage village in Odisha’s Puri district has picked up his brush, but this time to paint on the walls of his house. He is painting Lord Ganesh on one wall and Ardhanariswara (a traditional form of Lord Shiva and Parbati) on another. “I am happy like the rest of the artists of Raghurajpur village that we are being asked to paint murals to decorate the walls of our houses. Once the lockdown will ease and tourists will start returning to our village, they will witness the fresh look of the village,” he said. The artists of this village have been sitting idle with no work at hand since March last year after the nationwide lockdown was announced.Recently, the State government declared financial assistance of Rs 10,000 to each of the 150-odd families to decorate the walls of their houses with Patta paintings, bringing smilesto their faces. In Raghurajpur crafts village, almost all family members are involved in Patta painting, sculpture work, and paper masks. Patta paintings are made on a piece of cloth known as Patta, or on a dried palm leaf which is first covered with a mixture of gum and chalk. Over the prepared surface, colourful and intricate pictures of gods and goddesses, and scenes from mythological scriptures are painted. The village saw no tourists after March 2020. In November, some tourists started visiting, but the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in February spread among the artists. Banamali Maharana, a Shilpiguru awardee, recalls the times when visitors could see all the family members doing artwork, sitting on the porch of their houses. “We are artists…How are we supposed to pick up spade leaving paint and brush?”
The male members mainly do the painting work, while women prepare traditional colours, the base of the paper mask, and other additional work. Some women have also started Patta paintings. Earlier, they would earn between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 per month. With overseas buyers, they would earn a little more. Now incomes have drastically dropped. Initially, they managed to make ends meet through loans but money lenders have now stopped giving them money. A few “kind-hearted” art lovers help them out financially. In 2019, Cyclone Fani devastated this artisans’ village. All the artwork were damaged. When they began to restart their art, the coronavirus struck. Some started selling vegetables, some opened “paan” shops, or started working as daily wage labourers.But the second wave put paid to these efforts too. Villagers are at present getting vaccinated to fight the virus. “Once unlock happens, the tourists will start coming to our village again. Our vaccination will send a message of reassurance to these tourists,” said villager Jitendra who believes that the government should also arrange a vaccination drive for the artists. Raghurajpur is now preparing to welcome tourists with murals on walls. The Department of Language, Literature and Culture in association with Odisha Lalit Kala Akademi has come up with an innovative idea to encourage and support the artists. Each family will receive Rs 10,000 as financial assistance while the best five will be awarded after being selected by a special committee. Meanwhile, the younger generation is exploring selling the artwork online. Many have also shifted to the virtual mode to teach Pattachitra-making online. They want the government to train them and arrange for a platform to sell their products to e-commerce companies.
(The writer is an independent journalist from Odisha. The views expressed are personal.)