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Pata-Chitras of Orissa:
An Illustration of Some Common Themes
by Bernard Cesarone
click on small images for large images with captions
IV. Themes Related to Gods and Goddesses
Although Jagannath and Krishna are perhaps the most common subjects of the pata-chitras, other gods and goddesses appear frequently in these pictures. We have already seen that there are many pictures of the dasavatara type that represent one of the ten incarnations of the god Vishnu. Pictures of goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati are popular. One may also readily find images of other goddesses such as Kali, Chamunda, Chandi, Chinnamasta, and Durga; of the hero-god Rama; and of the gods Siva and Ganesh.
Sarasvati, the goddess of wisdom, learning, and music, is shown in the exceptionally finely executed pata-chitra in Figure 26. In the iconography of Sarasvati, she is typically four-armed, and in her four hands she holds a book, a vina (a type of stringed instrument), a rosary, and a water pot. These items associate her with learning, music, spiritual practice, and religious rites. Sarasvati's vahana (the animal vehicle upon which Hindu deities are thought to ride) is the swan. Her color is gleaming white for purity; her demeanor is serene; and she sits upon a lotus flower, symbolizing transcendence.31
In this pata-chitra, the goddess holds a vina in two of her hands, a book and an unidentified object in her other two hands. The book, however, is in the form of a manuscript written on palm leaves, a traditional format for a book in Orissa. She sits on an open lotus flower above the water. Two swans, representing her vahana, or vehicle, swim in the water. A deity's crown rests on Sarasvati's head. Contrary to the standard iconography, however, the goddess is yellow instead of white.
This painting has features that are both similar to and different from that of a typical pata-chitra. Its double border is a common feature. The outer border includes a branch, leaf, and flower motif. The inner border is a finely detailed drawing on an ochre ground of flowers on either side of a wavy line. A unique feature of the picture is the goddess's theatrical setting. We see the capitals of two columns - themselves not visible, being just outside the picture border - on top of which rest arches, from the middle of which hang draperies. Also of note in this pata-chitra is the black-on-white design in the arches. Although, as discussed elsewhere in this article, there are pata-chitras painted in black and grey on white, it's a little unusual to see a black-and-white area in an otherwise brightly colored painting. The background contains typical stylized forms but the color scheme is enlivened with the addition of grey, ochre, and brown to the common mix of red, blue, yellow, green, black, and pink. In contrast to the fine detail and precision in the inner border, the arches, the column capitals, the goddess's crown, and parts of her clothing, the dabs of paint that represent ripples in the water are sketchy and impressionistic. Finally, although occasionally touches of red are used around the eyes of figures in pata-chitras, it is interesting that the artist, in this painting, has made the red accent so strong.
Another deity who is occasionally a subject of pata-chitras is the elephant-headed Ganesh, as in Figure 27. His attributes may include a noose, a goad, a bowl of sweets (of which he is quite fond), or other items. His vahana, or vehicle, is the rat.
Ganesh is commonly four-armed, but in this pata-chitra, he is six-armed. In his upper hands he holds a drum and a trident; in his middle hands, a goad and a serpent; and in his lower two hands he holds a piece of his tusk and a sweet. The broken tusk is alluded to in several mythological stories. Although it's a little unclear in this picture, the god appears to have a sweet in his lower left hand and another in his trunk. He sits on a throne with his two wives kneeling in front of him. His rat vehicle also sits before him. The designs framing the main picture are standard for pata-chitra inner and outer borders.
The monochrome style of this picture is, of course, specially interesting, being quite in contrast to the pata-chitra tradition of brightly painted images. Though not familiar with any reports of monochrome pata-chitras, the present author found quite a number of these (though still a vast minority) during a trip to Orissa in 1999. Though the draftsmanship may be similar in the multi-colored and the monochrome pata-chitras, in the latter it stands out more noticeably, not having to compete with the color for attention. In the monochrome paintings, the background is usually solid black and more detail is lavished on the clothing and other areas than in the typical colored pata-chitra.
The picture in Figure 28 illustrates a theme from the shakta tradition (i.e., the tradition of the worship of the goddess), that of the fierce goddess Kali standing on top of the prostrate Siva. This pose is a typical one in the iconography of Kali. The goddess has a necklace of skulls around her neck. She carries a sword in her upper right hand and, in her upper left, a bowl which would, according to her traditional iconography, be made from a human skull. Her lower hands appear to be in the gestures (mudras) of granting boons (varada mudra) (lower left) and granting freedom from fear (abhaya mudra) (lower right). Siva wears a snake around his neck and a tiger skin garment around his waist.
Figure 29 is a pata-chitra of Siva dancing. This god's traditional iconography includes the trident, drum, snake, tiger-skin garment, and matted locks. All of these are present in this painting, in which the pose of Siva is also reminiscent of the south Indian images of Siva as nataraja, or Lord of the dance. (See Figure 30.) This Orissan example lacks the nataraja's typical encircling flames and the dwarf of ignorance under Siva's feet and replaces the single flame in the palm of Siva's upper left hand with the trident. Siva's lower left hand, both here and in the traditional nataraja image, is in the pose known as gaja hasta, or elephant hand. He points to his outstretched left foot, thereby promising to liberate the devotee from the suffering of the world. Often in nataraja images, the lower right hand is in the mudra (gesture) of abhaya, or freedom from fear. Here the hand seems to be poised to hold a rosary, another common attribute of Siva, although the rosary is not visible or is perhaps hidden behind the elbow of the forward arm.32 Again, though most pata-chitras show scenes from the Vaishnava religion, this one - as the others in this section - pays homage to another tradition, the Saivite.
Continue to Part V: Themes from Folklore and Erotic Themes
Text and pictures ©
2001 by and Kalarte Gallery.
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Introduction | Jagannath | the Epics | Gods and Goddesses | Folklore and Erotic Themes | References
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