On way from the Bhubaneswar airport to the hotel room, Jitender, the cab driver points towards the street walls: “The unique thing about this city are these mural paintings on the walls. Every wall in the entire city has been painted by artists – the highway pillars, the houses, everything,” he said. As he drives below the flyovers from towards Jaydev Vihar, the pillars below the flyover come into focus – all featuring artworks- some showing hockey players, while some showcasing local culture.
“This all started a couple of years ago by the government, and it is still in the process. The activities increased prior to the start of the World Cup. Tourists from Delhi come and often tell me that they have never seen something like this,” Jitender adds.
Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) initiated the drive to create wall paintings in February 2016 with the city being chosen to host the Hockey World Cup. The idea was to revive the beauty of the decorative walls, an initiative which originally started in 2009, but could not be maintained later.
Bhubaneswar, which has been the hub of hockey since 2012, with over 60 national players coming from the city, sped up the activity in the past few months. Around the Kalinga Stadium, where the Hockey World Cup matches are being held, the walls have been painted on with murals of hockey players of all the participating nations.
Another cab driver, two days later says: “There is massive crazy of hockey here. Not only for the India matches, but even for foreign countries. Hence, these pillars around the stadium have been painted with murals of hockey stars.”
The fact that all the matches are jam-packed in the stadium, irrespective of whether India is playing or not, attests to the popularity of the sport here. Every so and often, the tourists, both Indian and foreigner, are seen admiring the murals outside the walls of the stadium and clicking pictures on smartphones of the same.
Gopal Krushna Rath, 34, one of the artists, who worked on the walls outside the stadium talks about city’s love for artwork: “Bhubaneswar is a sculptor city. In old town, there are over 600-700 temples. There are artists all around the city,” he says. “The paintings that have been done with a mind to inspire the public to keep the city clean and to beautify the city. The government took a huge effort in doing so.”
Gopal, who worked along with 30 men from his organisation, adds that a total of 10 organisations were involved in the collaborative effort to complete the project. “The project started on October 20, 2018. It was finished on December 1, 2018. The BMC and BMA ordered us to do – it was called the Street Art and Murals Project (STAMP),” he said.
“My team used to start working from 8 am onwards. I formulated two shifts – from 8 am to 5 pm and from 6 pm to 11 am. It was difficult to work in the afternoon, with the weather being too hot, and the area being extremely crowded. At night, the availability of light became an issue,” he recalls.
He further adds that he had to change his initial concept on the artwork. “I was tasked to make it around the World Cup- so I decided I will use the colour stream of the national flags of the participating countries as the background, and will draw portraits of the team’s players and captains over it. But the concept was changed later due to official concerns. This is a public area, and people spit on the walls. It would be disrespectful if someone spits or dirties the national flag.”
The maintenance of the wall paintings have been issue for the government ever since the drive was first visualised. Gopal says the issue will be fixed if the public becomes more aware. “The government is thinking about on how to maintain this. Because it will be ruined. People are not conscious- it will take time to make them aware.” Gopal says.