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Canvas by the Waves

Canvas by the Waves

In this true story Somashis Gupta describes a journey. A journey experienced by Rai who travels with her friends to Orissa and learns an ancient art form called pattachitra.

Finally it was the 4th of January 2020, the day to start the long awaited trip. It has been almost a year that Rai joined the college for her degree in Applied Art. She recalled the day when the principal spoke about this trip to her parents, and since then she was looking forward to this day.

“Why, what is so special about this trip?” asked her friends.

“You will know when you reach that place.” She replied.

When they arrived after a two night long train journey, Hotel Empire welcomed them with fresh coconut water. While drinking they smelt the aroma of the delectable spread at the dining which raised an instant urge to eat. The food they had the previous day was Vegetable Biryani. As it is vegetarian biryani which itself is an oxymoron tasted unpleasant.

The next day they travelled to Raghurajpur, the heritage village on the south of Bhargavi River. It was here that her friends realized why Rai was so excited to come here. The village was an open air museum. It displayed the lifestyle and the culture of the people who still maintains it in a traditional way.

The architecture of the village raised immediate interest. The very layout of the village is such that there is a continuous veranda along the houses which serves as the social interaction space for the residents.

As they explored the village, they found a deep link of nature with the lifestyle of the people. The houses were built to allow the rain water to flow underneath, which is collected in a hand driven well after natural filtration supplying drinking water to the village. The village has outer houses as residence, and inner portion was used as community area. Two streets which connected the entire village were built in a way to supply natural light to the households.

All this was quite enchanting for the group of students. But Rai had her own secret agenda. Her friends did not realize it but she was constantly exploring to find something else. As they turned from the fifth house towards the central temple, she spotted what she was looking for. She rushed towards a house at the 3rd row and went inside and called out loud “Dadu, Dadu (Grandpa) …where are you?”

Her friends were quite shocked at this sudden move. They too followed her to the house and saw an old man around 80 staring at Rai. By his look it was clear that he was pleasantly surprised to see her. He hugged her and took her inside. She said “Dadu, they are my friend, can they come too?”

It was the year 2007, when Rai was just 6 years old. She visited this village for the first time. It was here that she met Chintamoni Panigrohi whom she started calling Dadu.  He was the man who inspired her in art, and after so many years meeting him was indeed a pleasure. 


“Of course they can. Come, all of you come inside, my house has room for everyone.” Chintamoni said welcoming all of them. As they entered they were served with Chana poda and khaja. Later as Rai was explaining her friends how this man inspired her to choose art as a carrier, all of them were intrigued to know more.

 Dadu, explain us please, will you?” they requested Chintamoni.

“You see what I do is Pattachitra. This is what my father taught me, who learnt it from his father and this way it is passed on from generation to generation.” Chintamoni explained.

“But Dadu, what is pattachitra?” asked the group.

“You see patta means canvas and chitra means picture. We use palm leaves which are processed and used as canvas for painting.”

“How is it different from other art forms, Dadu?” asked one of the students.

“Everything in this art is done with natural ingredients, from the canvas to the paints to the brushes.” Chintamoni proudly said.

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“Wow! everything naturally, how so?” The crowd was surprised.

“Yes, we obtain white from powdered conch shell which is boiled with kaitha gum. Similarly green is from neem leaves, brown from Geru stone, red, blue  and yellow are obtained from Hingulal Khandneela and Hartal stones.”

“How about black Dadu, I see a lot of black being used?” someone pointed out.

“Black is formed from lamp soot. A burning lamp is placed inside an empty tin, till a considerable amount of soot collects on the underside of the tin. The oil used in the lamp is from polang tree seeds which are locally available, that is how we make black color.”

Dadu you told us even the brushes are natural, how is that?”

“We make brushes from mouse hair.”Saying this Chintamoni handed over a patta and colors to each of the students. They were happy and mesmerized to try out the canvas by the waves. But soon it was time for them to leave, only with a promise to come back again.




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