Tradition writ large on every wall

Bhubaneswar's walls showcase murals of Odissi culture giving a new look to drab public places
Monday, March 12, 2012

Land in Bhubaneswar and a deluge of images will come to you, filling you up with all that is there to see and admire in Odisha. While the famous rath yatra of Jagannath Puri walks past you, a couple of Bonda tribe girls break into their infectious smiles and a troupe of Odissi dancers seem all decked up to entertain. Welcome to the new, enchanting city where walls act as bridges connecting new with old, amenities with art and tourists with traditions.

The initiative started by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) around four years ago has not only revitalised the drab and dirty walls of the city but also given a lifeline to the traditional art of wall painting which was restricted to rural dwellings or painting exhibitions. The corporation chose traditional artists from villages instead of fine arts degree holders to paint the walls afresh. “Artists with rural background justify the themes selected for these paintings since they have understanding of the values and traditions of Odisha,” says Himanshu Sekhar Mohanty, a BMC official.

The initiative started by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) has not only revitalised the city but also given a lifeline to the traditional art of wall painting which was restricted to rural dwellings or painting exhibitions.

The initiative has also empowered the skills of these artists. Take Muna Kumar for instance. A struggling artist striving to make ends meet, he was on the verge of quitting the profession. Thanks to the wall painting project, he is earning Rs 300-400 per day. Around 70 artists like Munna are now getting their due credit through the project which is also supported by a few corporates. However, all paintings have been done without any commercial interest. On the other hand, artists are now getting offers from other states as well as private organisations to paint their walls.

Currently, 22 locations frequented by the residents as well as tourists in Bhubaneswar are being painted but there are plans to take the project further to cover the whole city. In fact, the BMC is also encouraging the residents to paint their own walls in traditional hues. Since weather coat and plastic paints are being used, these paintings are supposed to last 5-7 years. The walls are not only turning the city’s public places from dusty ugly spots to wonderlands of learning but also act as instant guides for tourists. For instance, Dhanu Yatra, the world’s biggest open air theatre depicting the killing of king Kansa by Lord Krishna is held only in the first half of January at a small town of Bargarh. Its artistic depiction, however, is open for all to admire on the walls of Bhubaneswar for all seasons to come.

Similarly, Paika Akhada, a martial art traced back to ancient Kalinga and instrumental in a rebellion against British rulers in 1817, also takes a proud place on the city’s walls. Ghoda nacha (horse dance) and naga nacha (snake dance) performed by traditional communities of Odisha complete with trumpets and drums are other features which have turned the hitherto ugly surroundings into exemplary art works worthy of emulation in other parts of the country.

Edited by Aswati Anand

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