Futurism in Odisha’s Pattachitra Art

We take a look into the futuristic perspective of a Pattachitra artist from Nayagarh District, Odisha, in 1947. Look out for technology before its time!

One of the best-told Indian conspiracy theories is that of an alien visitation in 1947. Days apart from the Roswell crash in New Mexico, and a few days from India’s independence from British rule, a mysterious aircraft hovered over Nayagarh District in Odisha. Some ‘local newspapers’ wrote about it but their stories were later retracted. 

Why is the alien story so important? Well, an artist from the village that reported the sighting used the folk art form of Pattachitra, prominent in parts of Bengal and Odisha, to depict what he saw. He drew an elaborate, and detailed series of sketches on patta or leaves, full of superior technology that was unheard of at the time. We didn’t even have television back then in India, so there was no external influence to fuel this idea, unless there was an exchange of art during the British Raj.  

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Nayagarh may have been an important part of the British Raj in the east, but we’re unsure of the artistic diversity that was added to the landscape at the time.There was an outburst of global art forms like surrealism, futurism in the early 1900s, and dadaism, which let us put on a spectacle and view the world exploding with creativity and imagination. No laws of physics or technological limitation could confine this, because at the end of the day, it was art from the mind of someone with a taste for futuristic design, imagining what the world would look like many years from where we are. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the Pattachitra drawings. Mr. Panchanan Maharana, an award-winning Pattachitra artist is said to have made copies of this original art and made it available at his workshop in Puri, Odisha some years ago. I remember trying to find a number to get in touch in 2013-14, but never managed to. The drawings were also published by Blaft Publications, featuring in the Obliterary Journal Vol. 1, which was a collection of comics, street art and pattachitra. If you zoom into these sketches, you can see some very detailed drawings.

This one is called the Yantra Purusha (English: Machine man). This is what would appear to be a robot, with a more humanoid appearance. The suit looks like it’s made of metal, with different switches and sections of armor attached together. I’d pinch myself but this really does look like a modern-day robot, or the ones created for TV shows and movies, before any kind of television transmission could show us what it would look like. 

This is an image of the whole sheet being unfolded to show you how this format followed the traditional folk pattachitra art form, but with a futuristic aesthetic. If you look at the detail in the picture, there are various smaller robots with immense mechanical detail, drawn one after the other. 

Even this one looks like a big machine, capable of motor functions like moving around, and using its arms for tasks. 

The number of anthropomorphic sketches shows the artist’s vivid imagination of a world that is heavily reliant on technology, and they weren’t wrong! We’re not exactly sure how these drawings came about anywhere, or what influenced them, but this is a much lesser spoken of piece of art that we couldn’t trace. This is not the only popular art in the state of Odisha that has raised eyeballs. The massive temples of Odisha have much more carved into them, stories of foreign trade, and much more. But that’s a story for another article! 


FI and in-article image credits to Bhubaneswar Buzz and Secrets and Mysteries of India.


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