Unseen Odisha – Exploring its cultural heritage

Our tryst with Odisha continued after Bhitarkanika National Park as we embarked on journey to Puri on the next day. But en route Puri, we took detour and visited two villages of Raghurajpur and Nayak Patna. Raghurajpur has been declared as heritage village and is famous for the Pattachitra. It is quintessential Indian village evoking nostalgia of villages from Doordarshan serials like Malgudi Days. There might just a few hundred houses in the village. Almost all houses have vibrantly colored walls and almost all inhabitants are engaged in some craft form such as painting, wooden carving, stone carvings etc. Pattachitra literally translates into Patta (cloth) and Chitra (painting) – so it is paintings on cloth. It is an ancient art believed to be originated in 12th century and since then has evolved by generations of Chitrakar community of Odisha.

Guru Maga Nayak

Guruji Maga Nayak and Pothichitra Art
Guruji Maga Nayak and Pothichitra Art

Nayak Patna is the village of Pothichitras. Pothichitra is a traditional art-form of Odisha in which the artists use palm leaves, which are processed, tied and sewed together, instead of a paper. The artisans make beautiful paintings on this canvas using only vegetable or natural colors.  Our visit turned out to be special as we got to meet master Guruji Maga Nayak – an expert in Pothichitra. Guruji’s family has preserved age old Pothichitra scriptures. He and his sons run a small school where they teach this ancient art to village children. We spent some time chatting with him where we came to know about the history of Pothichitra and also a small demonstration by him. This man is indeed blessed with magical hands. If you ever visit Puri, do spare a day or half to these two villages. You will be amazed with the richness of ancient art of Odisha preserved by the villagers.

Religious Puri

It was almost an evening time as we reached Puri. This town is an important pilgrimage for Hindus and you feel the presence of deity in its soul. The main temple in town is the Jagannath temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The trinity siblings – Lord Krishna, Lord Balrama and Subhadra are main deities of the temple. The temple is an important pilgrimage destination and one of the four great ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage sites. The historical and religiously important Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival) takes place in Puri. The idols of Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra are carved in wood. There are many small temples in the complex. After taking the prasad which was as sweet as the blessings, we headed to Konark about 33 kms from Puri.

We reached quite late night but that did not dampen our enthusiasm to experience sunrise at the beach. Barely sleeping for 3-4 hours, we reached Konark beach to witness first sunrise in India at 4:30 am. We were surprised to see that whole beach was full with tourists busy taking selfies in the dark. Soon, the eastern sky started changing into hues of red and sun started rising turning entire sky orange. It was a beautiful and one of the most memorable event in my life. Funnily, it was also one of the rare occasions for me when I woke up so early.

Sunrise at Konark Beach
Sunrise at Konark Beach

Konark’s Sun Temple – Architectural Marvel

After strolling along the beach, we went back for typical Odia breakfast of Chakuli and Dalma. Stuffing ourselves with tasty food, we went to visit the Sun Temple. It is apt to say that the Sun temple is  the ‘Kohinoor’ India’s rich cultural, historical, architectural and engineering monuments. Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore said, ‘here the language of stone surpasses the language of man’. It is true that the experience of Konark is impossible to translate into words.

Built by King Narasimhadeva in the 13th century, the entire temple was designed in the shape of a chariot, carrying the Sun god, Surya, across the heavens. The idea itself is beyond the creativity of common man and hence it leaves everyone who visits spellbound. The colossal monument took about 12 years and skill of hundreds of artisans.

Sun Temple of Konark
Sun Temple of Konark

Set at the centre of a spacious courtyard enclosed by a compound wall and subsidiary shrines and structures, the temple complex consists of broken Deula (main temple)and Jagamohana (porch) on a raised platform, fashioned as the lower part of the chariot. The Natamandir (Hall of Dance) infront of the Jagamohana and a shrine of Chhaya Devi on the south west corner are two detached structures. Just outside the temple compound, a monolithic stone panel with images of nine planets is housed in the Navagraha Shrine. The chariot itself has 24 wheels. Each wheel signifies 24 hours of the day. One each wheel, there are carvings of symbolic queen performing rituals specific to that hour of the day. The whole chariot is pulled by seven magnificent horses carved in sandstone. Indeed, every inch of the temple is covered with art of an unsurpassed beauty and grace. At the end of our visit, we were not just spellbound but left with deep sense of gratitude towards our ancestors for creating such wonder!

We were fully drenched in amazing heritage of Odisha over two days in villages of Rajgurupur, Nayak Patna, Puri and Konark. With heavy heart, we started our last leg of discovering Odisha on the banks of Lake Chilka.

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