Orissa has a long tradition of painting from prehistoric times. Traditions of wall paintings are also very much in existence in rural and tribal areas. These are called folk-paintings. Painting in Orissa is still a living tradition.
The rock painting of prehistoric times have been found in Orissa, primarily in the far western parts of the state namely Vikramkhol in Jharsuguda district, Gudahandi in Kalahandi district, Jogimath in Nuapada district, Manikgada and Usakothi in Sundargarh District.
The drawings are fast fading away. Paintings in red and black colours appear at the entrances of some of the caves in Gudahandi hills. The facades of the natural caves were decorated with drawings mostly of geometrical designs-squares, rectangles, circles etc. The most interesting drawing is a hunting scene which depicts a primitive man throwing a stone at a running bison. These indicate that the caves were once the habitats of prehistoric hunters.
The drawings in the Yogimath hill probably have prehistoric writings. The pictographs consist of hills, wavy lines, implements, musical instruments as well as animals and human figures. Man probably in this part started giving expression to his ideas through picture-writings. The pictographic writing in Vikramkhol cave is a very important photo-historic relic.
The characters in Vikramkhol inscription appears to be intermediary between Mahenzdaro and Brahmi scripts. It appears that the letters were first painted before they were incised. In the rock-shelter at Manikmunda, there are paintings in red active colours illustrating hunting and other scenes. The pictographic writing found in Ushakothi hill-caves, throws light on the protohistoric culture of the region. All these indicate existence of prehistoric art in Orissa.
Rural Folk-Paintings of Orissa
Folk paintings have been a part of the ritual of living in rural areas, where one finds a manifestation of artistic impulses in villages. Laxmi is the Goddess of wealth. During harvest times, Laxmi is worshipped in rural areas with rice-paste and water. On this occasion, the mudwalls of the houses are painted with various floral designs (especially of paddy stalks) and pictures of birds (normally peacock) and creepers of various descriptions.
The art is traditionally passed on from one generation to another. Besides the Chita or Jhoti which is painted on the floors and walls for Laxmi Puja, there are various other occasions when similar paintings are made, namely seasonal festivals such as Khudurukuni, Dussera, and Kartika etc. During marriage celebrations, Chittas are also painted on the walls of houses. These are pictures of palanquins and their bearers carrying the bride, the water-filled pitchers (Kalasha), floral designs and decorative and banana trees which symbolize auspiciousness.
The Jhoti or Chita and the Muruja are different forms of folk paintings. In Jhoti-Chita, the ingredient is mostly rice-paste in water of requisite dilution. Here the finger is the brush. The walls are washed with earth and cow dung and are allowed to dry. Then paintings are done on it. These absorb the moisture from the diluted rice paste, leaving the designs intact. But muruja includes a variety of materials in powder form. Normally five colours are in use. White is made out of powdered rice or white chalkstone. Black colour is obtained from the burnt and powdered coconut shells. Yellow colour is obtained from turmeric powder. Green is made from dried and powdered leaves of trees. Red colour is obtained from powdered brick. Muruja is generally painted on the ground as per designs, using various colours.
During the sacred month of Kartika, in each home the picture is drawn. Muruja is sprinkled on the ground with the help of only two fingers of the right- hand.