Raghurajpur “The Craftsman village” is situated 14 km away from Hindu pilgrimage town of Puri, on the southern banks of river Bhargabi (Bhargavi). Visitors from Puri take the Bhubaneswar road, near Chandanpur, on NH 203, and upon reaching the Chandanpur Bazaar, they can take a right turn to reach Raghurajpur. The village is then around 1.5 km from Chandanpur.
You may not find it on the map, but every art collector and foreign tourist travelling to Puri, is aware of its location. For unlike other state-run crafts’ villages across the country, Raghurajpur has been a natural haven for artists over centuries. Here, art is not just a profession or passion. It is a way of life.
Around, 2000 it was developed as a heritage village by INTACH, and soon became a major rural tourist destination of the state, drawing tourist, both domestic and foreign to the village. Villagers were also trained to provide heritage walks to the visitors by the organisation, and has since become a template for heritage tourism in the region .
Today it is also the venue of the annual Basant Utsav – Parampara Raghurajpur (Spring Festival), which was first organized in 1993 under the aegis of State Tourism Department and astern Zonal Cultural Centre, Kolkata, held in the month of February/March and an important tourist draw.
Raghurajpur’s biggest contribution to India’s cultural heritage is the patachitra an ancient style of painting that is seen nowhere else. The subject for such figurative works is drawn from folktales and mythological legends, but what distinguishes it from other indigenous traditions is the method of painting.
The process begins with creating a canvas, or the surface on which the painting is to be executed. A gummy paste of boiled tamarind seeds and soft granite powder is plastered on a stretched piece of cloth, twice over, so that it becomes stone hard and does not crack.
Once dry, the bare outlines of the painting are sketched with charcoal or limestone (chalk) by a master painter. This is usually done free-hand and from memory, though decorative motifs like borders and certain geometric forms are copied from pre-cut stencils in order to save time.
“Some artists, who are into mass production for commercial purposes, also employ stencils” , but that does not affect the quality of work as the use of chemical-based dyes and paints, which go against our tradition.Patachitras are supposed to be painted with organic or natural colours.”
So the soot of oil lamps serves for black and diluted lime for white. The leaves of plants, flower petals, fruits (like mango, for yellow), ground rocks and even the urine of domesticated animals contribute to the production of a variety of shades and hues. The paintings are polished and mounted before sale.
“The patachitra style of painting is as old as the temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri,” . “Apart from its decorative appeal, the art was associated with temple rituals. The religious sentiments of pilgrims have kept this tradition alive as everybody tends to take back a painting of the Lord as a sacred memento.”
Today, in addition to patachitra, Raghurajpur can claim to producing some of the finest works in palm-leaf painting and etching, wood carving, papier mache sculptures and stone carving. Significantly, Odissi wizard Kelucharana Mohapatra hails from this village.
Of late, neighbouring villages like Nayakapatna and Khasposak have begun absorbing some of the artistic skills from Raghurajpur and are producing artists, who have been winning national awards. But ultimately, it is the Raghurajpur address that bears the stamp of authenticity, particularly for a patachitra painting.