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Regaining lost touch

Jul 31, 2008

Residents of Orissa’s Raghurajpur village in eastern India had forgotten their centuries-old art of painting murals. To revive the dying skill, various organisations working on heritage conservation, along with the state government, have helped the villagers re-learn the traditional techniques and forms.

“At Raghurajpur, every villager is now an artist. Every house is an artist’s studio.”

When Mallika Mitra, centre coordinator and senior conservator, INTACH ICCI, Orissa, made this claim in her presentation (at a seminar held near Chennai in January on
“Painting Narratives: Mural Painting Traditions in the 13th-19th centuries”) while referring to the revolutionary revival of Orissa’s traditional skill of drawing murals, everybody in the audience knew she was speaking the truth.

Today, Raghurajpur, situated 55 km from Bhubaneswar, represents the revival of traditional painting skills after the villagers had forgotten how to paint murals.


Orissa has a mural painting tradition going back to several centuries. A two-year research and documentation project by INTACH, from 1998 to 2000, supported by the India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore, brought to light about 70 sites in Orissa where murals existed.

Forgotten art

“Most of these paintings were in a degraded state and in danger of being lost forever. At the same time, the traditional artists of Orissa had forgotten the art of making murals using the traditional techniques. Lack of patronage and loss of faith in their skills contributed to the art being forgotten,” said Mallika.

In order to revive the dying skills, INTACH ICCI, Mural Revival Project, Orissa Art Conservation Centre; the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD); India Foundation for the Arts; and the Government of Orissa devised a strategy.

Raghurajpur was chosen as the project site as the village appeared to have a huge potential for craft and is accessible from Bhubaneswar and Puri. Its residents practised a variety of craft, including making dolls out of papier-mache, creating pattachitra paintings, and making stone and wood sculptures.

They were unable to earn a decent livelihood by drawing mural paintings and practising other craft and so they turned to agriculture.

Mural village

The INTACH project aimed at resurrecting the tradition of painting murals on the walls of houses at Raghurajpur, teaching the villagers how to prepare the pigments, gum, lime plaster needed for painting murals and so on, Mallika said,

“The artists were encouraged to re-learn the traditional techniques and forms.” A cluster of 21 villages around Raghurajpur was involved in the project.

A traditional mill for preparing lime plaster was built at Raghurajpur. Artists were trained to prepare plaster made of lime, sand, jute, molasses, lentils, curd, casein and local herbs such as trifala and bel.

A workshop was held to find out the best composition of plaster. Red ochre and cinnabar for red, conch shells for white, orpiment for yellow and lamp black were the pigments used.

Plant gums were used as binders. Mallika said: “Artists were invited from various districts of Orissa to stay at Raghurajpur and paint murals on the walls [of houses] allotted to them.

"The themes and designs of the murals were decided by the artists and the centre and were based on a study of the types of mural paintings dispersed in Orissa. The aim was to convert the village into a living reference book of Orissa’s tradition of mural paintings.”

The Orissa government has declared Raghurajpur a heritage village.

Source : Frontline
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