Bipin Das, 43, has spent the last 26 years burning the midnight oil to keep a dying art alive.
A skilled senior Pattachitra artist based out of a small village near Raghurajpur, Odisha, he dedicates hours painting intricate mythical stories on various surfaces, from canvas paper to coconut shells, keeping the state’s traditional artform alive. But even the bold and bright strokes of his brush couldn’t colour the grim reality that Bipin and many artists of the region have suffered in the past two years.
First came the cyclone Fani in 2019, tearing down the artisan villages of Puri district. Not just their homes but also art pieces worth lakhs that took years to complete were ravaged, leaving these families utterly helpless. Bipin’s family was among them.
After they barely survived the devastation of the cyclone, a second disaster hit in 2020 — the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had incurred losses amounting to lakhs of rupees, which even the government compensations could not cover. Tourism is a big source of income for us, as it helps us sell our art. But with the lockdown, we even lost this scope of recovering from the devastation of the cyclone. Unlike others, we have dedicated our lives to this art and don’t know any other skill like farming or labour work, which meant that during this time we had no income,” shares Bipin, who along with his two brothers support a family of 10 people based on the sale of Patta paintings.
Like Bipin, hundreds of families of Pattachitra artists gravely suffered the consequences of these disasters. “I don’t think we could’ve sailed through this if not for some selfless people who came forward with a helping hand,” adds Bipin, talking about a social media initiative that helped revive the income of many artisan families in the region.
Social media to the Rescue
With the help of Karnataka-cadre IFS officer, Dipika Bajpai, Bipin was able to leverage the power of social media to solve the problems of his community. A Pattachitra connoisseur herself, Dipika got to know about the plight of the artists back in 2020 after which she started posting photographs of Patta paintings by these artists on her Twitter handle.
“In 2020, I came across a message from a neighbour, seeking help for a pattachitra artist called Bipin Das. Being born and brought up in Odisha, the state and its art is close to my heart and so I wanted to help. I decided to buy a painting of their local deity Lord Jagannath, but soon I realised that I could do more,” says Dipika who supported Bipin and many artists like him by promoting the Patta paintings online.
Soon, the intricate marvels began to receive their deserved attention and orders began to flow. At this point, Bipin connected with 35 artisan families from nearby areas with this initiative, while Dipika launched a dedicated handle on Twitter to directly connect the artists with the buyers.
Once the orders were received online, the artists began to paint and courier the pieces directly to the buyers.
“Through social media we are now connected with the entire world and orders have begun to come in from all over India and abroad as well. This online marketing that I was unaware of before, has helped connect the artist to the buyers, which ensures that we get the right price for our labour of love. Now thanks to social media our sales are much better even than the usual times,” says Bipin.
Starting from Rs1,500 and going up to lakhs, Patta paintings are extremely intricate and require a lot of time and effort to complete. “Some paintings can even take years to complete,” says Bipin whose most expensive sale so far has been worth Rs 2.1 lakh. However, through the online platform they have been able to sell almost 200 pieces, including both large and small paintings.
In a place like Raghurajpur, which is home to almost 150 artisan families, this initiative has proved to be a silver lining with a potential for massive impact in the coming years.
If you would like to check out their pieces, please click here.