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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Odisha's Raghurajpur: A must-visit for craft lovers

Ragurajpur paintings and sculpture
source: The Economic Times

Think Odisha (formerly Orissa) and the first things that come to mind are temples, Rath Yatra juggernaut, Odissi dance and cyclone. In the case of art lovers, we can perhaps add visions of exquisite patta chitra paintings. But how many of us think Raghurajpur?

This tiny village of 120-odd houses, located a mere 14 km away from Puri, is unique because every other inhabitant is a skilled artist. Patta paintings, palm leaf paintings, stone carvings, papier mache and wooden toys, masks and wood's all done here. No wonder Raghurajpur is called the Crafts Village and has become a must-visit tourist destination.

The Claim to Fame... the patta chitra. Raghurajpur is home to artists who have mastered this art form and many are national award winners. For the uninitiated, patta chitra is a traditional form of miniature paintings with a religious and mythological theme done on cloth. The cloth, or the 'patta', is first coated with a unique mixture of chalk and gum. Once dried, the 'surface' is polished before the actual painting work can begin using natural dyes made from locally available ingredients.

Visitors have an interesting experience awaiting them - they will be invited to enter each house to view the work within. The objective, of course, is commerce, but it also offers a rare opportunity to view first-hand how such masterpieces are created. Like something? Don't shy away from haggling, though prices here will be a fraction of what you'll shell out if you were to buy it elsewhere.

The Walls that Talk

While there are several accounts of the quality of work done by the inhabitants of the village, the tremendous visual impact of the village itself is often missed. The differences between Raghurajpur and any other rural settlement become apparent at first sight itself. For one, all the houses in the village are laid out in a compact form around a central boulevard of sorts. This is clearly not a farming settlement where houses are interspersed between wide swathes of green fields. It is a settlement of craftsmen and has been laid out in a manner that facilitates exchange of thoughts and ideas.

At first glance the houses look ordinary but then, invariably, comes the double take. You look and then you look again, in disbelief, in delight and, finally, in awe. Because the inhabitants of Raghurajpur haven't limited their creativity to paper and cloth; even the walls of their homes are their canvas. We are talking murals. What's more, these are no ordinary, random paintings. Each painting or set of paintings follows a theme. Some depict stories from the Panchatantra, others take on a religious tone and focus on the Puranas, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat.

A Twist in the Tale

A popular theme here is the Dashavatara, or the 10 incarnations of the Hindu deity Vishnu. While one visual depicts the sage Manu in his ship being towed by the giant fish (Matsya), the next showcases Vishnu in his tortoise (Kurma) incarnation holding up the earth during the churning of the ocean. The paintings continue through the wild boar (Varaha), half man-half lion (Narasimha), dwarf (Vaman) and Rama incarnations, which is all by the book.

Then comes the twist in the tale. Popular versions of the Dashavatara stories name Vishnu's eighth and ninth incarnations as Krishna and the Buddha, followed by Kalki, the horseman as the last one. However, in the murals of Raghurajpur the eighth incarnation is Balram, depicted with his plough.

The ninth incarnation seems to be far from settled, with some artists depicting the Buddha and others going with Lord Jagannath. Given that Jagannath is believed to be a form of Krishna, perhaps only the eight incarnation is different from the rest of India.
Making it to the Culture Map

Raghurajpur has been an artist's village, where the talent was handed down from one generation to another. But about a decade ago, it formally earned that tag when the state sanctioned a grant of Rs 26 lakh to the villagers for painting the front of their houses. The villagers, however, say only Rs 12 lakh was disbursed. This explains why only around 80 houses in the village boast murals.

The walls of the remaining houses are bare in varying degrees. The high quality of the murals is probably thanks to the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), which selected this village to try and revive the ancient wall paintings of Odisha.

Here's the icing on the cake: Raghurajpur also has an impressive dance tradition. Kelucharan Mohapatra, the renowned Odissi exponent, was born here and took his first steps in a traditional dance form called Gotipua, an earlier version of Odissi. Isn't it amazing how one little village surrounded by coconut and palm trees can pack so much creativity into a little over a 100 houses? n


Closest City/Airport/Railhead

Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, is 50 km from Raghurajpur. It has excellent air connectivity to other parts of the country.

Getting There

To reach Raghurajpur from Bhubaneswar, drive southwards on the road to Puri. After 48 km, take a turn left at Chandanpur. Raghurajpur is 2 km away.

Staying There

There are no hotels or even B&Bs here. So Raghurajpur is best explored as a day trip from Bhubaneswar, which has plenty of stay options for every budget. Some suggestions:

High-end: Hotel Mayfair Lagoon, The Trident and The Crown

Mid-tier and Budget : Kalinga Ashok, Ginger, Pathanivas, Swosti, Suryansh

Getting Around

Taxis out of Bhubaneswar usually charge Rs 8 per km for an Indica and Rs 12/km for an Innova.


For handicraft, Raghurajpur is the best place in the entire state. But if you like things better packaged, on the highway to Bhubaneswar is a town called Pipli, which should work. It houses several shops stocking not just the Raghurajpur-style paintings but also their own speciality - applique work embroidery.

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