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Performing Arts

Folk Art

Folk art is a higher form of culture in comparison to primitive art. The needs and peculiar problems of the village people's life find an expression in folk art. While satisfying the needs of the people, folk art attains a certain aesthetic level. Folk art is divided into two classes, Viz. hand-made figures and moulded figures. The hand-made type is of a primitive pattern. Heads, eyes, eye-brows, lips etc of the figures are shown, but the legs are left out. In the moulded type a full human or animal figure is fashioned.

Folk art although dwindling, is still a living reality in Orissa. Great skill is displayed in the making of dolls, toys, puppets, carvings on soapstone, wooden vessels, gate door ways, chests, palanquins, musical instruments, bridal costumes etc. Temple walls and walls of certain private houses are still painted. Drawing on canvas is still a practice in Orissa. Orissa's 'Patachitras' are famous in India and outside. Bowers of the pith flowers with figures of charming women are made on the occasion of 'Jhulana' (swinging festival of Radha and Krishna) on the full moon day of Shravana. Brass fishes, horn toys, filigree ornaments, a painted 'Farua' ( a temple-like wooden pot in which Vermilion is kept), textile and soapstone work and 'ganjapa' (traditional play card) of Orissa still draw wide attention. Palm leaf as a writing material is now out of use except on some ceremonial occasion. Some palm leaf manuscripts are carefully preserved in the museum at Bhubaneswar as specimens of traditional drawings and paintings.

Every woman in the village is more or less acquainted with 'Chita' (painting on wall and floor with rice paste). The floor is painted with the feet of the goddess Lakshmi and the mud walls are decorated with paddy plants, finger-tips, birds, lotus creepers etc on Thursdays in the month of Margashira. The south-facing doors are decorated with paddy plants, ornaments, lotuses, Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra and cotton clinging on the turmeric paste and worshipped on the occasion of the Sun moving southwards on the Samkranti day of the month of Shravana.

From specimens of art now available like the baked terracotta horses with a goddess under some big tree, the figure of the Puranic Brundabati bearing the basil (Tulsi) plant on the head, painted wooden cover of a palm leaf manuscript, cash boxes, utensils and pottery, we come to know how vividly art was integrated with ancient Orissan life.

Folk art is produced primarily for the artist's own use. It is not commercialized. Women do thread embroidery, and make fans out of grass roots. They make use of home-made articles. Folk art has its own individuality and character and it exists by its intrinsic merit, i.e. flight of fancy of the artist, its symmetrical form, rhythm of design and efficient workmanship. Materials used in folk art are local and not imported from outside.


'Odissi', the traditional dance of Orissa, has been accepted as an important classical form of Indian dance for its exquisite beauty and charm. Among the folk dances of Orissa, 'chhau' has earned world-wide reputation.

Chhau Dance

The basic postures and stance of this dance resemble the postures of a combatant in a traditional fight. In its rudimentary form it is generally referred to as Phari Khanda Khela ( the game of sword and shield) or Rookmar Nacha ( the dance of offence and defence). Thematically, Chhau draws substantially from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Themes drawn from the Krishna legend are also many. Most of the themes are puranic episodes like the fight of 'Abhimanyu' with the 'Sapta Rathis', the killing of 'Mahishasura', 'Shiva Tandav', 'Kirat Arjuna', 'Jambeb', 'Garuda Bahana', etc. The Krishna themes like 'Bastraharan', 'Kalanka Bhanjan', 'Nisitha Milan', 'Banshi Chori' and 'Tamudia Krishna' are predominantly erotic in mood and draw heavily on the local folk tradition. There are also significant tribal themes like 'Sabara Toka', 'Kala Chakra', 'Sabara Sabaruni'.

The themes of Chhau are thus largely drawn from the puranic and combine elements of tremendous kinetic fury and very fast footwork with mellowed elegance and lyricism which is at times indistinguishable from visual poetry.

Naga Dance

The dancer has a heroic feature and wears a special dress. He dances with a heavy load of weapons to the sound of the battle drums. He has ten main requirements, Viz. 1) A shield of the hide of the rhinoceros, 2) a sword, 3) a Kukri, 4) a gun, 5) a horn used as a whistle, 6) an iron shield, 7) a toilet box, 8) bow and arrows, 9) tiger skin, and 10) a bell. His bow bears the face of a tiger and looks awesome. He possesses a long crown with a big flower at he end decorated with glittering peacock feathers. He has a string of beads on the neck, feathers of 'ara' ( a bird with brown feathers found in lake Chilka) on his arms, a mirror and a string of beads on his wrist, flags on the arrows, handkerchief tied to the hands, a small bell attached to the thigh. He smears his body with 'rama raja' ( a powder of yellow colour) to save himself from the scorching heat of summer. He decorates his forehead with vermilion. He wears an artificial beard and moustache. Dressed up he looks very ferocious. This dance is not accompanied by any song.

Ghumra Dance

The 'Ghumra' - a kind of drum of the size of a pitcher - produces a deep musical sound. The drummer ties the rope of the ghumra round his neck, makes it hang and plays on it, sings and dances to its tune at social functions like marriages or any religious festival. Sometimes a competition is held between two parties. Each party consists of twenty to twenty-five men and the dance goes on the whole night. Ghumra is prevalent among the 'Sahara' and other Aborigines and Harijans and songs have love as their main theme. The other forms of folk dance like 'Humo', 'Bauli', 'Jhulki', 'Jamudali', 'Mayalajar', 'Gunjikata', 'Rasarkeli' and 'Puchi' are prevalent among the Oriyas and Aborigines of Orissa.

Folk Drama

There is more dance and less acting, more song and less dialogue in folk drama. The following kinds of folk play deserve mention: The 'Jatra', the 'Pala', the 'Patua', the 'Daskathia', the 'Mugal Tamasa', the 'Karma', the 'Dandanata and the 'Chaitighoda Nata'.


The 'Jatra' or opera still attracts thousands of people. The Jatra is held in the open field. The rectangular stage is set in the centre of the audience with the orchestra sitting adjacent to the stage. Beginning with items on the 'harmonium', 'clarionet', 'bugle', 'mridanga', 'jhanja', 'dubi tabla', 'dholki' etc. by the experts of the party, the opera starts with a party of dancing and singing boys appearing in female garbs. The King generally appears in a stereotyped dress and the themes are often historical or mythological. The male actors dressed up as females look artificial. The 'Duari' or 'Dagara' ( the messenger of the King) and the joker are the most interesting characters in the Jatra. In general, the Jatra in the villages has very little reference to real life and its problems. The Jatra parties adjoining the cites are trying to reform the Jatra on the model of the theatre and the cinema. They avoid too many songs in the play and select their characters from the social novels and use simple prose in the dialogue.


Pala is a popular cultural institution responsible for the popularisation of ancient Oriya literature. It consists of five or six persons. The drummer plays on the 'mridanga'. Others play on the cymbals, dance and help the chief singer - 'Gayaka', - to sing and explain the meaning to the audience. Depth of knowledge, sharpness of intelligence, oratory and keen memory power are put to a severe test when two well-matched groups challenge each other in a 'pala' competition. The drummer displays the skill of his fingers and relates humorous stories to please the audience. The dialogue between the singer and one of the attendants breaks the monotony of long speeches and jugglery of words in the song. Pala owes its origin to attempts at Hindu-Muslim unity.


Patuas sing songs, composed by the village poets who pick up the subject matter from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the puranas and more recently from novels. Some of the songs are simple in thought and language, while others have a deeper meaning and are shrouded in a jumble of words. 'Patuas' are of four kinds though all of them worship the same deity under different names. The difference lies in religious rituals and not in the aims and objects of worship. The 'Ghata patua' dances, sings and performs physical exercises in different villages. The best of the devotees leads a party of Patuas to walk on a fire of burning charcoal.


'Daskathia', once a popular performance of Ganjam, has spread to all other districts of Orissa. 'Dasa' means a devotee. 'Katha' means two wooden pieces played in tune with the prayer of the devotee. The party consists of two persons. One is the chief singer, the other is the 'Palia' who helps him in all respects in singing and acting. The two persons stage a whole drama, act all the parts, change their tone hour after hour. They introduce humorous stories to break the monotony.

Mughal Tamasa

The 'Tamasa' is a form of opera which reminds us of the 'Mughal' administration prevalent in Orissa and is a symbol of their culture. The songs are composed in both Persian and Oriya. Dialogue is quite amusing. The 'Tamasa' is peculiar to the Bhadrak area in the district of Balasore and is not performed in any other part of Orissa.


The Karma dancers and singers have their professional party. They deal with puranic events or events in folk tales. Love songs are sung in the form of questions and answers between parties of young men and women.

Puppet Play

This is one of the most ancient forms of folk art. The skilful movement of the inanimate puppets in the hands of the artistes holds the audience's attention. Like actors and actresses of flesh and blood, the puppets look lively. In this play in order to hide the secrets and tricks of the play, only one curtain is hung up and another one is propped up from the ground. behind these two curtains the artists perform their manipulations. They send out the actors and actresses of the play through the dividing line. The puppets are made of wood and carved and painted by village carpenters. Only four persons are required to stage a puppet play, namely, Sutradhara, two singers and the drummer. The dialogue of the puppet play is really very interesting. In the beginning the drummer sits in front of the stage and beats the drum. This is an invitation to people to witness the performance. When the people have gathered in large number, the performance begins. The woman recites the dialogue of the queen or the attendant. She sits behind the screen. But this is not the case with the male singer who sits outside the stage. He recites for the King, Minister, Police officer or Messenger. Each of them sings about twenty-five to thirty songs a night. Two people memorise the entire play.


Folk music is known as 'Deshi Sangit' which is not always standardised and may vary in scale, interval, tonality etc. from region to region, even though the same tune is identifiable. The rhythms of the folk music, like the tunes, come almost naturally to the people, and devoid of any sophistication, they appeal to the heart directly. A folk song is inherited and perpetuated by oral tradition from one generation to another. The peculiarity of the folk song lies in the fact that every member of a community takes a more or less active part in its ceremonial function.

In Orissa folk music is both vocal and instrumental. Work songs, game songs, round songs, swing songs, spinning songs, teasing songs, songs of fasts and festivals are vocal. The beggar while begging sings with the help of dhuduki, flute, lyre etc. The snake-charmer plays on 'Nageswara' and sings 'Padmatola'. The man with a herd of buffaloes sing songs to the accompaniment of the one-string instrument, 'dhuduki' are instrumental. The guitar, the mandolin, the tambourine, the harmonium and the 'saptaswara' were recently introduced to raise harmonic and polyphonic effects in folk music. These city musical instruments are used to accompany folk songs in radio programmes or professional performances. Sometimes folk music play an important part in the turning point of life, Viz. birth, marriage when daughter leaves her father's house for the mother-in-law house or death.

Crafts of Orissa

Sand Arts

In Orissa , a unique type of art form is developed at Puri. But it spreads all over the world . To carve a sand sculpture, the raw material is the only clean and fine grained sand mixed with water. With the help of this type of sand and with the blessings of God and by the magic of fingers, an artist can carve a beautiful and attractive sculpture on the beach.

Patta Chitra

Besides mural paintings, we get miniature paintings, which are called patta chitras. Pattas are now used as wall hangings. The subject matter of Patta paintings is limited to religious themes. The stories of Rama and Krishna are usually depicted on the pattas. "Rasa Lila", "Vastra Haran", "Kaliya Dalan" are some of the recurring themes of Patta art.


Orissa has an age old tradition of Painting which stretches from the prehistoric rock shelters to the temples and mathas of this century. Out of these the traditional painters , the tribal painter , the folk and rock painters are of significance.

Palm Leaf Paintings

Palm leaf paintings are very ancient in Orissa. In Orissa the Palm Leaf illustrations are mainly of two types, simple engravings or illustrations in pure line on palm leaf and engraving with colour fillings. In these engravings, colours are muted and play a very minor part. Where colours are at all applied, they are just painted either to emphasize the inscriptions, or to fill up blank space.

Jhoti, Chita, Muruja

The folk art of Orissa is bound up with its social and religious activities. In the month of Margasira, women folk worship the goddess Lakshmi. It is the harvest season when grain is thrashed and stored. During this auspicious occasion, the mud walls and floors are decorated with murals in white rice paste or pithau.

Applique Art

Like patachitras, applique work in Orissa also originated as a temple art. The artisans of Pipli - a village 40 km from Puri have their mastery in applique art. Besides Puri, applique work is also practiced in Chitki, Barpali, and a couple of other places. Colored cloth, are stitched in shape of animals, birds, flowers and beautiful wall, garden or beach umbrella, a lamp shade and much more hangings are made. Saris and other attires are designed with applique work, which is gaining lot of popularity in international market. Tiny mirrors are stick or stitched by thread embroidery to create a remarkable work of art. Colors like red, yellow, white and black are mainly used, in applique work whereas green has also been added in recent times.


Dating back to the Kalinga School, Puri has conserved a marvelous heritage of carving. Craftsmen at Puri use soft soapstone and hard kochila to carve temple sculptures. The craftsmen of Khandapara in Puri are proficient at carving plates, bowls, flowerpots and other decorative articles from a creamy white wood. Known as Sholapith work, the carved articles, if left in natural off-white, look like ivory. Besides this other decorative items and animal and bird toys extensively carved out of wood, and painted wooden masks, are just awe-inspiring.

The Papier-mache Art

The papier-mache art of Puri, Chikti Barpali, Parlakhamedi (Ganjam district), and a few villages around Cuttack has bizarre visages. This art of Orissa is also quite famous worldwide. The special feature of papier-mache toys - they have movable limbs and nodding heads that requires specific skills.

Metal Work

Places like Behrampur, Tarva, Chandanpur, Phulbani, and Kantilo are the main hub of unique metal craftsmanship. Families in these towns are specialized in producing a diverse variety of brass and metal craft objects that showcases immense talent and workmanship. Elegant craft of silver filigree work is also practiced in Cuttack. Silver is extended and drawn into fine wires and foils forming into ornaments.

Horn Work

Horn articles of Orissa are mystical and are blended with a superb fashion design. Their lively appearance, dynamism and animation vie with the real objects of nature - that spells the names of Parlakhemundi and Cuttack. Available in widest spectrum of items like combs, pen stands, cigar pipes, decorative figures - horn articles form a memorable memento for the near and dear ones at home.

Lacquer Work

Lacquer is the refuse of an insect gathered by the tribals in the forests. The Hindu women of Baleshwar and Nowrangpur districts mix it with colours and apply it on small cane boxes made by tribals, and terracotta figures which they make themselves. After several coats of lacquer have sealed the core, the surface is decorated with motifs borrowed from nature, geometric patterns and religious symbols. Although the visual power of colour and design combine to make an ornamental effect, the artisans are only just exploring the area of material, form and technique.

Tribal Combs

Of the sixty-two tribes inhabiting Orissa, 12-15 tribes know the art of comb making. A distinct feature of Orissan Tribal Community is that whose who don't make comb, don't have to buy it. They can get it as a gift or in exchange of agricultural surplus from others.