An artistic legacy
Watch Surya Narayan Sathpathi create masterpieces on palm leaf.
Stunning: Surya Narayan Sathpathi’s creations.
It was the proudest day of his life when 25-year-old Surya Narayan Sathpathi received Padma Sri from the Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at Raghurajpur in 2004.
Creator of exquisite palm leaf paintings, a specialist in palm leaf scripting and a restorer of palm leaf art, the national recognition was a tribute to the young craftsperson’s dedication and commitment to an art form he has inherited. Surya Narayan belongs to a group of five Sathpathi Brahmin families of Puri, who create and restore the palm leaf art that decorates the walls of the sanctum sanctorum of the Puri Jagannath temple. His ancestors have done this work for the past 1,200 years or so.
Stories from the epics
Surya Narayan’s lyrical paintings and manuscripts tell stories from the epics, puranas, Krishna Leela, Gita Govinda and so on.
His palm leaf masterpieces done with consummate artistry include ‘Bilwa Mangal,’ a celebration of the marriage of Siva devotee Rusyasringa with Jalata (a women of easy virtue but whose devotion to Siva bring the two together).
Other stunning masterpieces include ‘Krishna Ras Leela,’ for which he won an award instituted by Kelucharan Mohapatra, one of the greatest palm leaf artists of our time and Sathpathi’s guru. His initiation came from watching his father at work. Watching Surya Prakash Satpathi is education by itself. He dips his coconut fibre pen into pots of vegetable colours to paint a baby Krishna stealing butter and explains the process with an intensity that underlines his passion for the art. “We cut the palm leaves to the required size and boil them in turmeric water. Then we stitch them together. Then comes the needle engraving and spraying of neem leaf juice. Rice is raosted black, powdered and spread evenly. The processed leaf on which figures are painted will be in tact even for 500 years,” says Sathpathy.
Surya Prakash uses traditional colours such as orange, black, yellow, green, which are derived from leaf sap, turmeric, fruit rind and stone powder. He uses these colours and his technique to decorate the walls of the Puri Jagannath temple. He is also called in to restore the fading inscriptions on the temple’s palm leaf manuscripts.
Does Surya Narayan use his craft only for the Jagannath temple?
“I do execute other orders too,” says the master craftsman. Surya Narayan Sathpathi is in Chennai at the request of the Jagannath temple authorities to propagate this precious temple art form.
One can see him creating exquisite palm leaf paintings at the Utkalika Exhibition on up to July 15 at the Basement, Prince Plaza, 46, Pantheon Road, Egmore.
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