One of the most ancient crafts of the world, etching and paintings on the palm leaf still thrives in the state of Orissa in India. Called Talapatrachitras there, the art has reached new heights there. The palm leaf etchings are treasured decorations of all Indian home.
The art originated when written communication began. Messages and manuscripts were written on the palm leaf to be disseminated. Gradually the trend to decorate the text with images began and it became an art in itself. The ethnic art were still one of the most respected ones there and is practiced by the artists primarily in Puri and Cuttak.
The ethnic art form essentially consists of inscribing letters and artistic designs on palm-leaf, mostly cut into standard sizes and held together with two wooden plank covers stringed through a hole in the center. To prepare the palm leaf, the unripe leaves of the palm tree are first cut and semidried. They are then buried in swamps for 4-5 days for seasoning and the dried in shade. These are then stitched or stringed together as per the need. At times they are stitched after the etching is complete.
Etching is done within lines using an iron pen on leaf strips. A paste made of bean leaves, charcoal made of burnt coconut shells, til oil and turmeric is rubbed on the etching that highlights the figures. Colors are hardly used in this are, whatever are used as fillers and in very subdued tones. Vegetable and mineral colors are used for painting.
The artists of palm leaf etchings capture the themes of mythological incidents, Gods and Goddesses figures complete with details of hair style and dress, animals, flowers and trees etc. Radha and Krishna, Durga, Ganesha and Saraswati are the most commonly used themes. Stories and incidents of Mahabharat, Ramayana and other epics are also etched. The paintings and drawings also present excellent scenes of nature.