Pattachitra is a combination of two words 'Patta' and 'Chitra'. In local language 'Patta' means canvas or cloth or screen or veil and 'chitra' means picture, So Pattachitra means painting on cloth. The tradition of pattachitra painting in Odisha is very old. It is date back to the time of construction of Lord Jagannath Temple in 12th Century A.D. The link between Lord Jagannath and Pattachitra painting has been proved during the famous bathing festival (Debasnana Purnima) of Jagannath Temple . During this summer festival the Deities of the temple have a bath with 108 pots of cold water to fight the heat of summer. After this royal bath ceremony the Three Deitiesare sick and they stay away from the public view for a period of 15 days. This period is known as 'Anasara'. During this time three patta paintings of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra are worshipped in the temple. These paintings are known as Anasar pati. Chitrakaras are also called to execute colourful paintings on the three chariotsfor the annual Car festival. This proves the importance and acceptence of pattachitra in Jagannath Cult.
In Odisha there are several centres of patta paintings, but it is Raghurajpur, which is famous for this unique art. In local language the patta painters are known as chitrakars and the lane in which these painters or chitrakaras live is called Chitrakar Sahi. The themes of Patta Chitra are mostly mythological, religious stories and folk lore. Some of the famous themes of pattachitra art are Rasa Lila, Vastra Haran, Kaliya Dalan, Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Nava Grahas (Nine Planets), Kanchi Avijana of Lord Jagannath, Panchamukhi Lord Hanuman and Panchamukhi Lord Ganesha. Apart from Raghurajpur, there are several centres of this art at Parlakhemundi, Champamal (Sonepur), Athgarh and Dinabandhupur (Dhenkanal).
The paintings are done on specially prepared cotton cloth, which is coated with a mixture of gum and chalk and polished, before applying natural colours.The process begins with creating a canvas, or the surface on which the painting is to be executed. A gummy paste of boiled tamarind seeds and soft granite powder is plastered on a stretched piece of cloth, twice over, so that it becomes stone hard and does not crack. Once dry, the bare outlines of the painting are sketched with charcoal or limestone (chalk) by a master painter. This is usually done free-hand and from memory, though decorative motifs like borders and certain geometric forms are copied from pre-cut stencils in order to save time. So the soot of oil lamps serves for black and diluted lime for white. The leaves of plants, flower petals, fruits (like mango, for yellow), ground rocks and even the urine of domesticated animals contribute to the production of a variety of shades and hues. But now a days of mass production the artists are using stencils, chemical-based dyes and paints. The paintings are polished and mounted before sale.
The art of pattachitra has made a slow progress from the temple premises to the walls of drawing rooms and lounges of big hotels, restaurants & guest houses. The theme of the paintings has also upgraded. With the passage of time other themes also started to take prominent places in Patta Chitra. In addition to the stories from Ramayan and Mahabharat, new themes on Lord Buddha, Jainism and important historical events are also find place in pattachitras. Now a days Pattachitras become collectors’ items.
Raghurajpur is also famous for Palm Leaf Engraving art. Plamleaf illustrations are executed on oblong palmleaf. When these are intended for a manuscript they are bound together with a thread, passing just through the middle of the leaves. Palm leafs are also used to draw pictures of different Gods and Goddesses. These are joined lengthwise with the help of threads to form a rectangular or square format. These could be folded and opened or could be hung on the wall.