Talapatra Chitra

Recording and preserving information is quite easy nowadays because of advancements in technology. Presently, the world is at our fingertips. However, this was not always the case. A long time ago, writing on leaves, barks and parchment were the only means to preserve one’s ideas. One of the oldest forms of such writing in ancient India was palm leaf manuscripts. Over 2000 years ago, Lipikaars or scribes made handwritten copies of sacred verses and ancient literature, under the patronage of kings and temple authorities. These precious palm leaf manuscripts would last a few centuries before new copies had to be made. Palm leaf paintings are said to have begun with the decoration of manuscripts with illustrative depictions of the stories or events and took over to become an art form of its own.

Known as Talapatrachitra, (tala – palm, patra – leaf, chitra – illustration) these palm leaf paintings hold a world of tales and secrets, beautifully depicted by the artists of Orissa. The great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are favourite subjects of illustration in many art forms, as they are with palm leaf paintings. Stories of gods and goddesses are depicted with minute details of ornaments, hairstyles, animals, flowers, trees, and elements of nature.

At present, this art form has grown to gather a multitude of ideas, myths, and stories. Despite the advancement of the printing press, talapatra chitra is still used in wedding cards and kundalis (Indian horoscopes).

For preparing these manuscripts, Palm leaves are chosen as per requirement. There are various sizes of palm leaves. Thick palm leaves are supposed to be good to work on with fewer ruins. To prepare the palm leaf, the unripe leaves of the palm tree are first cut and semi-dried. They are then buried in swamps for 4-5 days for seasoning and again dried in shade. Thereafter, they are treated with turmeric. The leaves are tied together with the help of a needle and thread in Zigzag folds. This follows with colouring. Initially, Five primary colours, black, white, red, blue, and yellow are prepared naturally with no added chemicals. With this set of colours, another set of secondary colours is obtained when required. A sharp-pointed tool helps in carving out the drawing and etching.

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