Unravel the warp and weft of Raghurajpur, a heritage village in Odisha, where each house doubles up as an artist’s studio.
From a distance it would seem just another sleepy little village.The moment you approach it though, and if you look anything like a tourist, you’ll be swarmed by a handful of villagers requesting you to visit their homes. Curious? Take a peep and you’d notice that the front rooms of most houses have been converted into craft shops. Raghurajpur is the only village in India where each family is engaged in one or the other craft.
Nestled close to the religious city of Puri, Raghurajpur is a village that tourists often tend to miss out on. There’s no clear signage on the main highway that invites you in. The tourists therefore are either those who have already heard about Raghurajpur or those prodded by their enterprising tourist guides to take a little detour to discover this treasure trove.
The small village, with hardly 120- odd houses, is a one-of-its-kind in India. Ten artists honoured with national awards, including the Padma Vibhushana, belong to this village. As do six state awardees. Majority of them are craftspersons belonging to the Chitrakara caste, masters of Pattachitra, an art form which dates back to 5 BCE.
Only a few huts located near the entrance of the village have shops in them, the rest double up as studios for the craftspeople. You’ll find craftsmen busy making either palm leaf engravings, doing stone or wood carvings or sculpting cow-dung and papier mache toys, etc.
Interestingly, these artisans aren’t smitten by tourists. You may stand near them to admire their craftsmanship or click photographs, but not even for a moment do they take their eyes off their vocation to acknowledge your presence.
The history of Raghurajpur is equally interesting. Legend has it that a pilgrim’s journey was not considered complete unless a red stick from Puri and a Patachitra from Raghurajpur were purchased. While few know about Patachitra, fewer still know that Raghurajpur was once famous for Gotipua, the precursor to the Indian classical dance form of Odissi. It was here that great Indian classical dancer Kelucharan Mahapatra, credited for the revival of the classical dance form Odissi, was born.
The village’s first brush with fame literally came a decade back though. Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) chose to develop Raghurajpur as Orissa’s first heritage village. Resultantly, an open air theatre, restaurant block, crafts centre and tourist lodge sprouted up amidst groves of coconut and palm trees. However, most of these structures come to life only during the annual Basant Utsav (Spring Festival).
Besides, INTACH also trained a few craftsmen to provide heritage walks to tourists. The government too has come forward to help the artisans create market linkages. Designers too are adapting the art form to create contemporary, utilitarian products that suit the urban market.
Parampara Crafts, an umbrella organisation with 30 self-help groups under it, too operates from the village. The rural museum it maintains in the village is a must visit. It houses paintings, palm leaf manuscripts, dhokra, cow-dung toys, ganjapa (also called ganjifa), terracotta, stone and wood carving artworks, etc. The village also has a series of temples dedicated to Bhuasuni, the local deity and various Hindu gods including, Radha Mohan, Gopinath, Raghunath, Laxminarayan and Gouranga. A treasure trove of arts and crafts.
The Biju Patnaik airport in Bhubaneswar is about 60 km from Raghurajpur. Most leading airlines operate on this route. Puri, approximately 14 km away, is the nearest railhead.
By road: Buses play at regular intervals between Bhubaneswar and Puri. Get off at Chandanpur and either hire a rickshaw or walk down the remaining two kilometres.
By Reema Bhalla