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Roads dotted with banana, coconut, jackfruit, and palm trees. Betel and paddy fields on either side. The air full of aromas of Odia khaja – the famous deep-fried sweet from Odisha- and occasional shops selling samosa with gughni, rasgullas, and chenna poda. For all art lovers, lovers of history mythology, and enthusiastic travelers in general, a trip to Lord Jagannath

temple, recommended early morning, must be followed by this beautiful drive to the village of Raghurajpur, famous for its heritage crafts-village status popular for its Pattachitra crafts.

Artisans as storytellers

Around 10 km from Puri, with around 180 households, every family continues the legacy of the vintage pattachitra paintings. There are about nine forms of crafts practiced by artisans here, from pattachitra paintings, palm leaf engraving, wood carving, tussar silk paintings, papier-mâché crafts, stone carving and handicrafts, coconut crafts, cow dung paintings to aluminum crafts.

Pattachitra wall murals in Raghurajpur heritage crafts village in Puri district Odisha Pattachitra wall murals in Raghurajpur heritage crafts village in Puri district, Odisha. (Credit: Swasti Pachauri)

Beautiful wall paintings and murals adorn every house with paintings of Lord Jagannath, scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Dashavatara, Krishna Leela, traditional marriage ceremonies, etc. The storytelling through images is magnificent, and purely as a painting, the finishing of the ‘Chitrakaars’ of Raghurajpur is of high quality.

Green Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is also at the polite display- every artisan is interested in taking the visitors/tourists to their homes, greeting them, and showcasing their art, thus engaging in the age-old traditional form of direct marketing to ensure sales. There is a generational and occupational legacy associated with the crafts. All the members of the families are associated with painting, and the younger ones usually undergo training.

Festive offer

Symmetric rangolis, locally called ‘chittas,’ made of ‘chuna,’ ‘geru,’ and other organic colours greet the tourists, and the craftsmen and women begin displaying their work –paintings, big and small, their prices running into lakhs starting from a modest INR 1000. Art connoisseurs from all corners of the world visit this quaint village, thriving and bustling with art activity.

The canvas of a typical painting is made of layered cotton cloths, which are pasted one after the other after treating the cloths with tamarind gum obtained by boiling tamarind seeds. This cotton canvas is treated with chalk and stone powder, giving it a unique texture that makes pattachitra sustainable and durable.

A small wooden temple and Pattachitra paintings are popular crafts among tourists A small wooden temple and Pattachitra paintings are popular crafts among tourists. (Credit: Swasti Pachauri)

Beautifully painted reused bottles, papier mache utensils, handicrafts inspired by nature, and usage of organic colors make these artists green entrepreneurs promoting sustainable entrepreneurship.

The ‘tala patrachitra’ palm leaf paintings are also eco-friendly. These are made from palm leaves, drying and stitching leaves together. Engravings are then done using ink and colour. Detailed scenes from the Mahabharata are commonly engraved. A popular palm leaf painting is ‘The Tree of Life.’

Lessons in Marketing from ‘Chitrakaars’ of Raghurajpur

Many artisans are active on Instagram, realising the importance of reaching urban consumers in far-flung cities.

Alok Ranjan Sahoo, 28, calls their ‘modest’ home ‘Sudarshan Art and Craft,’ which also has an Instagram page. “We supplied unique three-in-one lord Jagannath’s idols to the G-20 presidency meet at the Bharat Mandapam last year,” he says.

Taking online classes for students as a master trainer, the young entrepreneur is convinced about the sustainability of the art, which is beautifully carved on aluminum utensils, especially kettles and bottles, wall hangings, and idols. “I don’t want to work in the city. As an artist, this vocation allows me to ‘work from home’ and stay connected to my roots and culture,” he adds.

Digital marketing has immensely changed the way access and visibility are perceived. Still, many don’t use Instagram as young artisans like Sahoo do. Traditional artisans rely more on their skills, word of mouth, and innate talent, which naturally bring enthusiasts willing to purchase authentic art at any price.

Samll handicrafts and souvenirs are popular choices among touristsSamll handicrafts and souvenirs are popular choices among tourists Small handicrafts and souvenirs are popular choices among tourists (Credit: Swasti Pachauri)

Kirtan Das (45) has been making stone crafts for twenty years using the Kendumundi stones and has been engaged in sculpture works, mainly in addition to being a seasoned painter. He supplies paintings to interior designers and refrains from using online platforms, saying “copying and imitation” and plagiarising art are primary concerns and threats of using digital marketing as a means. He does not let us click any photographs of some of his unique artworks.

Artists like Das are confident of their skill and relentlessly paint with or without pre-orders or online marketing.

The heritage village status helps them acquire the necessary exposure, with tourists willing to purchase artworks in bulk. Speaking on some of the challenges, he says, “Big artworks, paintings, and heavy stone art are difficult to carry. Tourists and visitors generally prefer small souvenirs and handicrafts, giving them more choices and making them convenient to carry as gifts.”

Depending on their size, scale, and detailing, the paintings take between two weeks to six months to finish, requiring immense patience and dedication even in the wake of adversity.

According to the locals, the intense cyclone in 1999 and Cyclone Fani in 2019 damaged some houses, affecting livelihoods. Some houses were then reconstructed during the repair, rehabilitation, and reconstruction work. In 2000, the village became a heritage crafts village recognised by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.

Beautiful wall paintings greet tourists and visitors alike

Beautiful wall paintings greet tourists and visitors alike. (Credit: Swasti Pachauri)

The way forward

Modern-day facilities are unavailable to artisans as most work is done in groups sitting on the floor, which can present challenges, especially to older artisans. And this is where the artisans need state intervention.

The fact that Raghurajpur has the status of a heritage crafts village merits investments in approach roads, modern facilities for artists, training in digital infrastructure, marketing, and modern entrepreneurship. “Many artisans from the village have won awards. The government should invest more in village infrastructure like roads, shops, pavements, water facilities, and electricity for our development,” says Das.

The government, however, helped the village and artisans during COVID-19 when the lockdowns impacted tourism in the village.

The three-in-one unique lord Jagannath idol that was popular at the Bharat Mandapam at G20 The three-in-one unique lord Jagannath idol that was popular at the Bharat Mandapam at G20. (Credit: Swasti Pachauri)

“Every family received INR 10,000 during COVID-19 from the government, encouraging us to sustain and promote this art form through a mural art workshop that gave us more recognition,” says Sona Prabha Das (35). Schemes such as ORMAS (Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society) also help SHGs and artisans. In 2023, the village was recognized as the “best tourism village” under the silver category.

Raghurajpur is a testament to how living art and craft traditions can be preserved with sustained efforts by the government in close community partnerships. Every household here offers an immersive grassroots experience – a living art exhibition -showcasing the unique talents of rural communities, preserving culture, and contributing to the state’s cultural capital. Similar initiatives can be undertaken to promote diminishing art forms like Rogan (cloth art printing) in Gujarat and other forms of intangible heritage.

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