Custodian of Osakothi heritage

Even in the face of modernity, Digapahandi’s Laxmidhar Mohapatra continues to paint Osakothi murals to keep the unique art form alive in Ganjam, writes Diana Sahu

Published: 21st November 2021 03:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st November 2021 11:46 AM   |  A+A-

Laxmidhar Mohapatra | Express

Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR :  In Ganjam’s diverse cultural map, Digapahandi holds a special place for its unique Osakothi paintings. Known for its grandeur and vibrant colours, the paintings bring folk and mythological tales alive on walls.

But the art tradition that was once spread throughout the district has today shrunk drastically and is limited to a handful of artists who are struggling to keep it alive. One among the custodians of this rare art form is Laxmidhar Mohapatra, the only artist practising it in Digapahandi town and areas nearby.

Every year from Durga Puja to Kumar Purnima, Osakothi rituals are observed by women for the well-being of their families in parts of rural Ganjam. This is when walls in shrines and houses are painted afresh with murals of gods and goddesses. “The paintings depict Goddesses Durga, Kali, Chinamastam, Parvati, Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Lord Shiva, scenes of Ramayana and Mahabharata and sometimes, nature”, he says.

A third generation artist of the Chitrakar clan of Digapahandi, Laxmidhar had learnt the art form from his father Ramahari Mohapatra and has been practising it for the last 40 years. The paintings are made from scratch every year for three days. On the fourth day, the deities are invoked and on the next day, the Osakothi rituals end with immersion rituals wherein, soil is smeared on the paintings as a symbolic ‘bisarjan’, he explains.

Although there is no written history on the origin of Osakothi rituals, art historian and scholar late Dr Dinanath Pathy had mentioned in his book ‘Murals for Goddesses and Gods’ that the tradition dates back to over 200 years. 

Laxmidhar says painting an Osakothi  (Osa meaning penance and Kothi meaning house) with murals afresh costs around Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 today which is the reason why many prefer cheap flex prints of gods and goddesses instead of the original paintings. This year, he painted three houses in the area with Osakothi murals.

“None of the children in my family have learnt the Osakothi painting. They did not find it remunerative. Three generations of my family kept this tradition alive and I am following their footsteps. But I might be the last one to do so”, fears the artist who is in his late 60s. Age and his deteriorating eyesight has had no impact on his determination to keep the art form alive. 

A decade back, he trained a number of youths in the area in Osakothi painting free of cost and continues to do so even today as and when someone approaches. “But none of them make the art form their profession because its demand is declining. There are only a few families who want Osakothi murals painted in their houses every year”, says Laxmidhar, who also makes Ganjapa cards and terracotta sculptures for a living. 

He is also the only Pattachitra artist left in the ‘Chitrakar’ community that is associated with rituals related to Lord Jagannath like painting of Anasara Patti and the Trinity ahead of Rath Yatra in the town. There are hardly eight to 10 Osakothi artists left in Ganjam district today but not many of them are practising it. 

Senior artist Ramhari Jena, who has also been documenting the art form, says the tradition of making Osakothi murals might disappear forever in the next two to four years. Laxmidhar agrees.  “Osakothi painting can be brought under the government’s Gurushishya Parampara scheme and new generation artists trained it in for the art form to survive”, he suggests.


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