Pramod Kumar Maharana (35) wishes that lines between ‘artists’ and ‘sculptors’ were blurred. Working towards it, he pursued palm Pattachitra, an art form that involves both drawing and engraving on palm leaves.
Originated in Puri, Odisha, this art form allows the artisan to capture the multitude of Indian mythological stories on palm leaves. The labourious process involves drawing, engraving and washing the carefully etched surface of dried palm leaves with a coat of ink. This then reveals the intricate designs and figures of the gods and goddesses, especially Lord Jagannath.
“I was introduced to this art form by my father at the age of 12. Ever since, I have channelled my creativity into this craft,” said Maharana, who is from Odisha’s Nayaknagar. In Nayaknagar, he said, many families that inherited the art were keen on passing it on.
Maharana initially drew on paper, cloth and anything he could lay his hands on. After he was introduced to palm Pattachitra, he has been devotedly involved in practising and teaching the craft.
“Tucked into the folds of the intricately woven strips of palm leaves are stories about the lesser known villages of Odisha. These pictorial representations depict the age-old traditions of our state. In my opinion, more people need to know and practise this art,” he added.
The engraving is done using an instrument called likhan (iron pen). Encouraging more people to learn the art form that he and his six siblings strive to preserve, Maharana teaches his students to line, etch and wash the palm leaf bands. Hoping to keep the art alive, he travels across India.
Starting August 18, for three days, he will conduct workshops in venues across Mumbai. The raw material will be provided by the organisers, and the participants are free to take home their creations after the session.
Drawing Rs 10,000 every month from his art work sales in a Chennai museum, Maharana said making ends meet was challenging. He finds occasional tourist visits to his village more lucrative. “There are very few artisans who are professionally involved in this trade. The income is low and most people are unaware of this craft,” he said.
Borrowing from the contemporary style, he has introduced newer designs. While tradition dictates for palm leaves to be attached in the form of scrolls, he has widened the scope of the practice. Now, Pattachitras come in shapes of wall hangers, bookmarks and even game boards.