Raghurajpur is a small village about 10 km from Puri in Orissa. I went there on our recent visit to Orissa. As I wrote in my earlier post on Kumortuli, it is a very humbling experience to visit the artists of our country in their native place.
From the main road en route Pipli, you can see a lane going in to the right marked "Heritage Village". That is the traditional artist's village in Raghurajpur. We had gone there as we wanted to buy a painting made in the traditional Orissi style. We went to the village and stopped at the first hut-like small house. The person who greeted us was definitely younger than me. My father had heard about one particular artist and he inquired about him. This young artist informed us that the artist we were looking for was out of station, but he could show us paintings that he and his father had made.
We entered his house. There were some paintings in unfinished state, some small wooden and earthen sculptures and toys were lying all around... these are also for sale. He gave us chairs to sit and sat on a mat on the floor himself. First he showed us a certificate that stated that his father had received an award from the President of India. Then he started unrolling his paintings, and all of us became speechless.
The paintings were done on pieces of silk cloth, a foot to two feet wide and three to five feet long. All of them depicted Hindu mythological characters and events. The figures were all perfect and the level of detail was amazing. Some were black and white, some with a few light colours, and some were in full colour. “My father draws the figures in all the paintings, and paints in some. I paint the rest,” the artist explained. It was difficult to take our eyes off any of them, but obviously we couldn’t buy them all. Still, we ended up buying two paintings in place of one. They cost us about Rs. 1500 for the two, which is very cheap if we consider the price they would have fetched had they been sold by an art dealer in a big city.
He also showed us larger paintings depicting the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Those were simply breathtaking. He said it costs Rs. 4500. My father later told us one of his friends was so mesmerized with a similar painting on an earlier trip that he paid Rs. 12000 for it, although the artist asked for Rs. 4500.
I am posting a couple of photos showing the two paintings in our house after mounting (the mounting cost was almost as much as the paintings’ price), although no photos can bring out the beauty of the real things. I am writing this article because I really wonder how many people know about this place and buy paintings from these people. If this was in US or Europe, they would have publicized it in such a way that these people would be rich by now. Here, however, they continue to live in huts and create paintings fit to decorate mansions.