Palm leaf etching retains its glory in Odisha

Bhubaneswar: The mythological tales flow through the zigzag folds of crisp yellow-green leaves, delicately strung together with threads. The skilled craftsmen of Raghurajpur and nearby villages in Odisha’s Puri have kept the palm leaf etching craft of Odisha alive.

Minute details of ornaments, hairstyles, animals, flowers, trees and elements of nature are etched onto the brittle surface of the dried palm leaves, using needles or iron stylus. Once completed, lamp black is smeared all over the leaf and then cleaned. The inscriptions stand out with the black outlines.

The artists also insert coloured paper between the layers or use natural colours to beautify them.

“Products like the hand fan, puppet, lamp shed and gift boxes are also being made with palm leaves,” said Bhagawan Swain of Parampara, an NGO, which coordinates grassroots level entrepreneurs at the village.

Picture Courtesy: TripAdvisor

Religious organisations also get books inscribed on palm leaves, he added.

Palm-leaf manuscripts continue to be a treasure house of knowledge and many of these are preserved at the Odisha State Museum in capital city.

A vast collection of rare palm-leaf manuscripts, including Abhinaba Geeta Gobinda of Purushottam Deb, are stacked in the museum often visited by scholars for research works.

The rich collection of 3,600 manuscripts has been categorized into 27 sections including Vedas, Tantra, Purana, Ayurveda, Lexion, astrology, grammar, music, prose, history, Dharma Shastra, mathematics, music and art. These are in Odia, Sanskrit, Persian, Telugu and Bengali scripts.

“Most of the manuscripts are in Odia, since the round letters make it suitable for inscription on palm leaf. The script used on palm leaf is different from the usual,” said Pachanana Mishra, a staff of the museum.

These manuscripts have been collected mostly from Puri and Ganjam districts, while a few individuals have also donated to the museum.

Under the National Manuscript Mission, some of the manuscripts were digitized and the soft copies are available with the museum authorities. Some manuscripts have also been published in the form of books.

Besides palm leaf, manuscripts in bamboo leaves, bhoj patra, ivory and handmade paper are also on display. Among them is a Rudraksh necklace with Geeta Gobinda inscribed on it, illustrations in calligraphy and Ganjapa (traditional cards).

Last year, there were talks about seeking Geographical Indication (GI) registration for palm-leaf etching craft for its revival and improving the economic standard of the artists.

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