When you enter any of the hotels in Puri, the first thing your eyes will land on is traditional Pattachitra paintings of Lord Jagannath with his siblings Balaram and Subhadra. Most of these paintings come from a tiny artisan village called Raghurajpur.
Raghurajpur is a heritage crafts village on the banks of the Bhargavi river in Puri district of India, well known for producing some of the finest Pattachitra artworks in the country. Pattachitra is a traditional form of cloth-based scroll painting based in the Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal.
This art form is known for its intricate minutiae and has mostly mythological narratives and folktales inscribed in the paintings. However, with changing times along with the growing demand for this art, artists have also started making tribal paintings that feature their everyday lives.
Apart from that, the village is also home to crafts like tussar silk paintings, palm leaf engraving, stone carving, wooden and paper mâché toys & masks.
Raghurajpur also became the only place where the traditional decoration called Patas used under the throne of Lord Jagannath and on his three chariots during the annual festival of Rath Yatra in Puri.
The Artisan village
Surrounded by groves of coconut, palm, mango and jack fruit, the main village has two streets with over 120 houses decorated with murals of everyday life or Gods, where many generations of Patta painters reside and work on their artworks. It is an all-hands-on-deck situation for these artists. The women in a chitrakar family prepare the glue, the canvas and help out in filling the borders, while the master painter, usually a male, draws the initial sketch and gives the final touches to the painting.
The clothing is coated with a mixture of chalk and glue made from tamarind seeds to prepare the canvas of the painting. Then it is rubbed using two different stones after which the cloth is dried. The mixture of glue and chalk gives the cloth’s surface a leathery texture on which the artists paint with vegetable, earth or stone colors.
The original Pattachitra paintings are made using 100% natural colors but with changing times, more artists are opting to use acrylic colors readily available at the stores.
A single Pattachitra painting can take at least five to fifteen days, while some even take months to complete. It all depends on the level of intricacy and size of the painting. However, it takes years of practice, dedication and skill for an artisan to create a flawless and magnificent piece.
Upon reaching the village, artists will invite you into their houses and diligently show their artworks for sale. Many of the artists also go to different exhibitions to showcase their artworks. The price of the Pattachitra paintings varies according to the size, level of the intricacy of the work and time taken to complete it.
In the year of 2000, after a two-year research and documentation project by INTACH, the village was chosen to be developed as the state’s first heritage crafts village. Soon after that, the village started to attract both domestics and foreign tourists through its artworks. Heritage walks explaining the different types of paintings and crafts done by its residents have also started to provide more exposure to the tourists.
How to reach Raghurajpur?
The nearest airport is in Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha. And the nearest railway station is in Puri, which is connected by a frequent number of trains from Kolkata.
Raghurajpur is located off Puri Bhubaneshwar highway, on NH-316, near Chandanpur, which 14 km from Puri and roughly 60 km from Bhubaneshwar. You could easily hop on an auto-rickshaw or rent a cab to reach Raghurajpur from Puri or Bhubaneshwar. Take a right turn from Chandanpur market and drive straight for 1.5 km.
Currently, the village welcomes travelers but doesn’t have any stay options. So it is better explored as a day trip from Puri.
Raghurajpur is a great place for art enthusiasts and culture lovers. Today, Raghurajpur has also become the venue of the annual Basant Utsav – Parampara Raghurajpur (Spring Festival), which was first organized in 1993 under the guidance of the State Tourism Department and Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Kolkata. It’s held in the month of February or March and is a crowd puller.
Not very long ago, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Raghurajpur and selected an exquisite Pattachitra painting of a ‘Tree of Life’ that he decided to gift to the then French President Francois Hollande during his diplomatic tour of France and Germany in 2015.
The design of the bountiful tree is different than the regular paintings and took inspirations from the Nabakalebara 2015 celebrations in Puri. The ‘Tree of Life’ painting which is currently in a library in Germany represents the series of events that lead to the Nabakalebara, an event that marks the birth and death of Lord Jagannath.
Raghurajpur is not only known for its arts and crafts but is also famous for its traditional dance form, Gotipua, a precursor of the classical dance form called Odissi. In fact, it is where the renowned Gotipua dancer Kelucharan Mohapatra was born and trained.
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