Odisha’s residing deity Lord Jagannath, diurnal activities of the tribal folk and the large deposits of metal are leitmotifs of the multitude of art forms thriving in the state. Here’s a look at these subjects of inspiration and the art that they inspire.

Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.” And the people of Odisha did observe and investigate.

Cast in Metal

Sculptor putting final touches on Goddess Laxmi, Dhenkanal, Picture Courtesy ar.shakti

The metalsmiths of Dhenkanal, Mayurbhanj, Phulbani and Nayagarh amongst a few others have long been creating magic with brass using the lost-wax casting technique. Recognized as Dhokra metal casting, this art boasts of a glorious past of more than 5,000 years with the earliest known artefact – the Dancing Girl – found at the Mohenjo-Daro site. The decorative and personal-use Dhokra items – from show pieces to jewelry boxes – sit cheek by jowl with utensils, tableware and religious paraphernalia made of bronze and bell metal in the towns of Kansa and Balakati at handicraft exhibitions across the country and local stores alike. The availability of these large metal reserves in the state has provided its tribal communities and village folks various employment opportunities and earned it international repute.

Prayers on a Scroll

An artist at work at Raghurajpur village, Puri, Picture Courtesy Amlan Sahu

Complete with large round eyes, a symmetric face and a conspicuous absence of hands or legs, Lord Jagannath, often accompanied by his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, is one of the most common icons on the pattachitras (scroll paintings) created in the heritage crafts village of Raghurajpur. Mythological figures such as Chamunda, Indrani along with the local presiding deities also form the subject of the narratives on the scrolls. The legend of the revered Sun god, tales from the town – mystical and devotional – are all illustrated on the cloth-based substrate and hand painted with natural colors. These captivating imageries also adorn the walls of the houses and contemporary memorabilia such as coasters, wall hangings and more. For the artists, depicting these godly images is akin to offering prayers, thus exemplifying the adage: Work is Worship.

Stone Saga

Intricate stone work at Konark, Picture Courtesy Himadri

A dancing nymph here, a couple canoodling there. Beautiful floral designs here, a marriage procession there. These are only some examples of intricate patterns carved on majestic stone structures that are peppered across the state. Using engraving and chiseling methods craftsmen have endowed on the state architectural marvels in sandstone, granite and soapstone amongst other types of stones. Traditionally the art of stone carving was used to construct temples and stupas, mainly depicting stories from sacred scriptures and religious texts. An epitome of this laborious art is the 13th-centruy Sun Temple in Konark designed as a gigantic chariot. Some of the other notable structures include stupas of Ratnagiri and Udaygiri. Over time, the daily activities of the locals, especially the tribal groups formed the subjects. The carvings beautified daily use objects, home décor items such as candle stands, book ends lamp bases, utensils and more. Newer substrates such as wood were experimented with and popularized.

About the writer: Tanvi Parekh is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Mumbai. Over the past decade, she has dabbled with travel and trade genres. She is most intrigued by the people she meets, places she visits, and tales she hears. She wants to explore and document the lives of locals around the world, their culture, art, food and heritage.