After the storm: Odisha village picks up pieces after Cyclone Fani

Raghurajpur, home of Odisha’s famous Pattachitra art, is a village ruined, priceless pieces of art washed away by the cyclone that stormed through the state on May 3

PTI Photo
PTI Photo


Just four coconut trees stand upright after the storm that was, still strong and unbending, quite like the people of this famed crafts village, despairing but resilient as they come to terms with the destruction Cyclone Fani left in its wake.

Raghurajpur, home of Odisha's famous Pattachitra art, is a village ruined, priceless pieces of art washed away by the cyclone that stormed through the state on May 3, bringing down houses, trees -- and livelihoods.

The crafts village, about 15 km from the coastal town of Puri, is also called ‘Mini Odisha' and is a major tourist attraction. It is home to around 700 people of 140 families, each of which has an artist, many of them award winners. But the extremely severe storm has not taken away the essence of generosity of the people, now dependent on the staples of rice, jaggery and 'chura' from the state government.

All they have left is the cluster of coconut trees -- that also provide the raw material they need for their craft -- still standing after the storm. But they readily offer coconut water to visitors in these hot, summer days.

“We have nothing to offer you but you are our guest. How can we take money from the guest,” said an artisan, refusing the monetary help being offered by a visitor.

The hands used to create the magic called Pattachitra -- patta (canvas) and chitra (painting) - are now occupied in clearing the debris. The 'chitrakars' paint bright coloured mythological stories about Lord Jagannath and other deities on canvas, the stories also narrated in painted coconuts, colourful wooden birds, papier mache and cow dung toys, palm leaf folded pictures, stone and wood carvings and tusser paintings.

“This place was like a dream before the storm with one generation handing over the art and heritage to next but now there is deep silence. We use natural colours, palm leaves, coconut and a special kind of gum but there are no trees left,” said National Award winner Gangadhar Maharana.

Maharana ran a guru-shishya tradition based training programme for youngsters here. It is now closed because there are no raw materials to work with. What meets the visitor now are fallen trees, ruined paintings and hungry children.

Raghurajpur is the birthplace of the legendary Odissi exponent Kelucharan Mahapatra. It is also the home of Padma Shri award winner, the late Maguni Das, the master of Gotipua, the traditional dance form of Odisha. His son Meetu Das runs a residential gurukul where around 25 kids learn the dance form. The gurukul is also closed indefinitely.

“We wanted to dedicate our lives to promoting the art and heritage of Odisha but at present our major worry is the future of our kids. To pick the pieces from scratch. Our gurukul is closed. This storm has snatched everything, even the dreams of our kids. I don't know what will happen to our crafts village now," said Meetu Das.

Alok Ranjan Sahu, a young artist, said the villagers had been clearing the debris for the last 10 days since the cyclone struck.

"There is no light, no connectivity and no water. The river water got contaminated and all the families are dependent on just one tubewell which does not have sufficient water,” he said.

Sushant Maharana, a 'Patta Chitrakar', said the monetary loss has been huge.

“Some suffered losses to the extent of Rs 50,000 while some in lakhs. The precious artwork created with the hard work of months has been ruined due to water. They are of no use now but our heart does not permit us to throw them away,” he said.

Unesco award winner Akshay Bariki said he is worried about the future of the dream village, chosen as the state's first heritage village in 2000 after two years of a research and documentation project by INTACH.

“The appreciation in tourist's eyes was our lifeline. Now what will we show them? This destruction? The homes without roofs, the discoloured artwork and chaos for basic needs? Who will come to see this?” he asked.

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