Tuesday, May 13, 2008


In our national anthem, we are all familiar with a word called ‘Utkala’, which is the other name of Orissa. Yet many of us may not know what does ‘Utkala’ means. ‘Utkala’ is a Sanskrit word which in Oriya means ‘Utkrustha Kala’ or the finest art suggesting Orissa as the land of fine art.
From one end to another, be it tribal or folk, Orissa is endowed with artisans and their art work. However, due to increased competition, lack of awareness and entrepreneurial skills many of Orissa’s artisans are in poor apathy. To give them opportunities Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation has come up with a project, which is unique in the country. The project is carried out through partnership with business houses to beautify Bhubaneswar, a major centre of historical temples and rock-cut caves, in the form of murals all along its wide roads, lanes, parks, premises of offices and housing colonies, museums and heritage zones.

As I landed in Bhubaneswar Airport from Mumbai on a Sunday April morning, my first glimpse of the city were the murals neatly painted on the walls of the airport road. The themes of the murals were amazing offering a glimpse to Orissa’s rich cultural heritage. The themes were as diverse as possible representing tribal life and customs, transition in tribal life, monuments, fairs and festivals, textiles, dance and music, handicrafts, historical events, martial tradition, and so on. The background colours of the murals were mostly terracotta and occasionally either white or blue. The murals display free hand paintings with a range of colours in accordance to the themes depicted in the murals.

Beautifying Bhubaneswar through murals was the brainchild of Aparajita Sarangi, the chairman of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation. It is no doubt a bold initiative towards enhancing the urban aesthetic, which is steadily declining due to the lack of basic civic sense among most of the citizens. The other benefit is for the poor artists, who otherwise have been struggling for the right patronage. On my way to Forest Park, a posh locality of the city, I met an artist named Bhagwan Singh busied in painting a mural on the wall of the Biju Patnaik Park. I was told that about 300 artists from the local B.K. College of Art and Craft are involved in the project which helps them to earn a minimum of Rs. 5,000 per month.

The murals on the walls of the Forest Park Road depict a rich array of tribal life and customs – tribal combs, forest life, harvesting, village market, tribal worship, dancing and singing, marriage, transport, mining, hunting and so on. From Forest Park I moved to Unit IV and walked along the newly developed Gangadhar Meher Road which leads to the upcoming IT city of Bhubaneswar. The main concentration of murals on this road was the area surrounding the Kalinga Stadium. The murals here showcase yet another range of Orissan cultural heritage. The walls are filled with murals depicting Sambalpuri, Manaibandhi and Bomkhai textile patterns and the range of Orissan jhotis (the Orissan version of South Indian rongoli, but only white colour is used in case of Orissan jotis). While walking on the road opposite the stadium wall towards Jaydev Vihar Square, it was a delight to see the depiction of Orissan festivals, such as Mana Osa (mostly carried out by the women folk for aspiring prosperity), Rath Yatra, Boita Bandana (a maritime festival), and so on, besides musical instruments, appliqué, wooden toys, patachitras, etc.

The museum of tribal art at CRP square beside the busy National Highway was yet another sight to see murals. Richly endowed with tribal motifs the walls of the museum offered a great sight. Even the trees in the premises of the museum are not left without paintings.

My next stop was at the foothill of Khandagiri and Udayagiri – the sight of the historic caves excavated by the Jain monarch Kharavela in the 1st century BC. What amazed me were the murals depicting Stone Age life painted beautifully on the surface of sandstone boulders. If not told one can easily miss-interpret them as the actual Stone Age paintings dating back to 10,000 BC.

Bhubaneswar has shown the way how urban aesthetic can be restored by showcasing the cultural heritage through murals. I am sure that other cities would also replicate this experiment while beautifying their roads. If it happens our cities would turn into open-air textbooks for learning India’s rich cultural diversity and heritage and at the same time also offering a subtle aesthetic experience.