Patachitra - Art of the Jagannath Cult, Part 3


Marriage of Sita and Rama
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Apr 20, CANADA (SUN) — The Artists, History and Association of Patachitras with the Jagannath Cult in Puri.

Today we conclude our look at the art of Patachitras, a painting form which emerged from the devotional spirit of Orissans whose lives revolved around the manifest presence of Lord Jagannath in His Puri abode.

In the same way that Chitrakara artisans blend very specific organic pigment materials in order to derive the colors traditionally used on Patachitra canvasas, these colors are traditionally used to represent various transcendental personalities. Similarly, there is a traditional convention followed with respect to body forms and postures, ornamentation, and paraphernalia.

Human figures are generally shown in frontal body position, either straight on or turned to a fifteen degree angle. Legs and faces are often done in profile. Personalities like sages and rishis are depicted as being lustrous, but somewhat emaciated, with matted hair and deerskin coverings. Brahmanas are shown in full splendour, wearing fresh white garments. Ministers, astrologers and royal priests are also fully adorned, often in gaudy fashion, wearing turbans but not crowns. Daitas and danavas (asuras) are shown with their terrible aspects, sporting scary faces, bugging eyes, frowning brows and gaudy apparel.

With respect to body postures, figures in Patachitra art follow the conventions of sculpture, with the three-bend tribhanga posture used pervasively for the Lord, His consorts and avatars. With one leg bent and a curvature at the waist, the head is inclined to one side in tribhanga pose.

Another familiar pose in Patachitras is the virabhanga, or heroic standing posture. Here, the chest is thrown forward and the chin boldly inclined upwards, as often seem with figures of Hanuman, demons, kings and kshatriyas.

Female figures use typically depicted in lalitabhanga, or delicate posture. This pose is also used to depict Vamana avatara, most likely to emphasize his diminuative size.

Next we find a host of different sitting postures, including the natajuna, or kneeling pose. This is used to depict devotees offering worshipping or accepting benedictions. Vibhishana and milkmaid Manika are often represented in this posture. Hanuman is often shown kneeling, with one leg put forward.

The padmasana or lotus posture is perhaps most prevalent. Here, the figure sits upright with legs crossed in yoga pose. Lord Buddha, Shiva and the rishies in meditation are generally painted in this posture, as are Narayana, Seshadeva and Bhubaneswari in their Anasara Pati.

Other postures include the parsabhanga posture, both legs are folded at the knee with one knee touching the ground and the other upright; sitting flat on the feet with legs drawn together, like mother Yasoda consoling Krishna; sitting on the asana or throne, a frontal view with one leg lose and the other placed on the thigh; and kneeling on all fours, known as anthua posture, such as we see when Gopala is stealing butter.

Scene from Ramayana
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Perhaps the most obvious feature of Patachitras, and one recognized immediately by all who view even a few examples of the art, are the faces, which are most always portrayed as having long, beak-like noses, pointed chins and elongated almond eyes. Noses are drawn as a flowing line from the forehead. On the male face there is a dip between the lower forehead and nose, whereas the female face has larger eyes, often reaching back to the ears. Women's chins are more rounded and their hair is solid black. Facial hair such as beards and moustaches are found to the faces of rishis, asuras, sarathies, Jaya-Vijaya and kings. Beards are typically pointed and form three crescent shaped steps at the edge of the cheek. The moustache of kings is shown long and curling up, while those of the asuras are shown in loops, and commoners shown pointing straight.

With respect to ornamentation and paraphernalia, we find four types of crowns, named after the shape of the crest: banka-chulia (tilted plume) for Krishna, topi-kirti, a royal crown, for kings and gods like Indra and Vishnu, ambakashia (tender mango) with the crest shaped like a mango, for queens, and pana patri (betel leaf), a heart shaped crest for Kali, Bhairavi, Tara and other goddesses.

Female figures are drapped with sari whereas in the male figures, the torso is left bare except for an uttariya, a long scarf that goes behind the neck and across the shoulders, down to the thighs. Sari feature floral bhutti or geometric designs and kanchula (blouse) in a various colours.

Popular Themes in Patachitras

Given the divine predominance of Lord Jagannath in Puri, of course the most popular Patachitras of all are those depicting Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra. The sibling Deities are often presented side-by-side, as they appear on the altar with Sudarshan chakra. Lord Jagannatha is often depicted alone, while solo figures of Baladeva and Subhadra are less common. The Anasara Patis of the Deities in a temple scene with worshippers are highly popular.

Also very popular are paintings of Lord Jagannath's many veshas (costumes), of which there are many. While some are specific according to a precise offering or puja, many veshas are designed to convey the Lord's pastimes from Krsna Vrindavan lila, Rasalila, Dwaraka lila, along with Mahabharata and Ramayana pastimes. Rasalila scenes are very popular, often depicted as the circular universal dance of Krsna and the gopis.

Another category of Patachitras that are very popular are the long format canvasses depicting the Dasavatara, the ten primary incarnations of Visnu. There is little variation here, expect that the Buddha may be replaced with an image of Lord Jagannath Himself, usually in padmasana or tribhanga pose.

Just as there is no end to the Lord's all attractive features and pastimes, there is no end of beautiful Patachitra paintings to be found coming from the holy dhama of Jagannath Puri. Each one invites the devotee to meditate on the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His inconceivable beauty.

Scene from Ramayana
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For more information, please read Puri Paintings - The Chitrakara and His Work by J.P. Das. Images from the Government of Orissa. Adapted from History Speaks.


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