Krishna engraved on Palm Leaf

by | Jul 30, 2017 | Art & The Artist

With Krishna Janmashtami round the corner, I thought it apt that I do a blog post on Krishna. Krishna fascinates each one of us. You can love Him, you can hate Him, but you cannot remain indifferent to Him. He is the mythological legend, who is flamboyant, romantic, shrewd, just, wise, noble, divine and at the same time quite human. His childhood stories enthrall every child and adult. His rich and festive life continues to inspire artists, be it in dance, art or poetry. Krishna is as you wish to see him. If you wish to see him human, then his lover boy image makes him so. And if you wish to see divinity, then the same love can be seen as divine. Confused?? I hope not….it’s a wee bit philosophical. But I can’t help it. Seeing just one palm leaf engraving of Krishna, a ‘two feet by five feet’ masterpiece got me thinking about him. Mr.Debasish Sahoo, an artist from Orissa enlightens me on the subject.

Let us explore together.

Palm leaf being used as writing material is as old as writing itself. With engraving inscriptions, small illustrations were also drawn and this was when, Palm leaf engraving became an art in itself. Originating in Orissa, mainly being practiced in Cuttack and Puri, the figures in Orissa art are inspired by the main deity, Lord Jagannath who is our very own Krishna. The palm leaves are cut when unripe and are prepared for the engraving. This involves a process of sun drying, wetting for 4 to 5 days and again drying in the shade. These are then stringed together through holes, to form paintings of any length. But as the breadth is constrained it goes no more than 24 inches. A sharp metal instrument is used to etch the design and engrave it. Ink is rubbed in and wiped off repeatedly to bring the etchings in relief. The ink again is a concoction of bean leaves, charcoal, oil and turmeric powder. The life of these paintings can be predicted by the Geeth Govind manuscripts by the poet JayaDeva still preserved in various museums and this was written in the 12th century. The artist Mr. Sahoo, shares an old manuscript from his collection here. Palm leaf engravings are best hung without glass and in 3 to 4 years of making, it changes colour to a golden yellow which is a natural process. And the best part – it is maintenance free.  The cost of the painting depends on the experience of the artist and the amount of work on it. This art is called Talapatrachitra or Chitrapothi.

palm leaf engraving

Sharp instrument used for Palm leaf engraving

Old manusript
150 years old manuscript, artist’s collection
The engraving I will show you today, is all about Krishna. The outer most borders are floral designs in margins, after which the next broad border covers the story of Krishna, in small circular panels. It begins from the right hand upper corner, continues in a clockwise direction and ends with the destruction of Kansa, the villain and peace in the kingdom. These circles again are flanked with floral designs, different kinds of birds and animals. In this small frame, you can easily see two types of birds, elephants, deer, cow and tiger.
Krishnas story
Krishna’s story begins
Some such circular frames in close-up. I have captured the killing of Putana by the infant Krishna and another scene of baby Krishna stealing butter along with his friends.
Krishna stealing Butter with friends- The Makhanchor
Krishna stealing Butter with friends- The Makhanchor
Krishna puts an end to Putana's life
Krishna puts an end to Putana’s life
The main painting at the centre is again divided into 3 main frames with a circular frame at the centre of each of these. Mr. Sahoo explains the various frames as the AshtaRasleelas of Krishna. The first part has a horizontal depiction of the Kalinga Mardan, where Krishna subdues the multi headed poisonous snake in the Yamuna River. Mermaids or rather fish bow to Krishna on either side. The piece at the centre is ‘Jugal Bandi’ (one of the 8 rasleelas) where Krishna and Radha are seen as one. On either sides Krishna is seen with Gopikas or the milkmaids who were in love with Krishna. The next horizontal part here is the Govardhan mountain being held up by Krishna to save the villagers from the storm.
Kalinga Mardan, Jugal Bandi and Govardhan Giridhar all in one frame
Kalinga Mardan, Jugal Bandi and Govardhan Giridhar all in one frame
The central portion is devoted to a big circular frame of Krishna with Gopikas depicting the Sangeeth Rasa(music) and Dandi Rasa( dance), Gopikas are shown on all sides which is the Gopi Rasa.
Krishna with Radha and Gopikas, Love in the purest of forms
Krishna with Radha and Gopikas, Love in the purest of forms
The last portion depicts the Paduka Rasa where Krishna helps Radha wear the toe ring.  Next is the Navkeli (Nav means the boat). This Rasleela is on the boat. This portion also has the DoloRasa which is on the swing. The Bijay Rasa which is finalizing marriage is not shown here. All in all this painting alone introduces us to the expertise of the artist. The fine features, the expressive faces and stances, the variety in life is all captured in one frame. Unfortunately, I did not capture it in one frame.
PadukaRaso, Krishna helping Radha with the toe ring
PadukaRasa, Krishna helping Radha with the toe ring
palm leaf engraving,orissa,rasleela
Navkeli and Dolo Rasa,two of the 8 Rasleelas of Krishna
All the same, Mr. Sahoo shows us some more paintings, one of which is the Dashavatara(the ten forms of Vishnu) and the Geetha Saar in Mahabharatha, where the centre portion depicts Arjuna and Krishna in the Vishwaroop Darshan.
Palm leaf engraving by the artist Mr. Debasish Sahoo
Palm leaf engraving by the artist Mr. Debasish Sahoo
Mr.Debasish Sahoo, artist from Orissa
Mr.Debasish Sahoo, artist from Orissa
Krishna in all these forms and facets is the reason He is our favourite. So a very happy birthday to Krishna…

And Twinkles to all of you. Have a great week.


Note- Mr Debasish Sahoo

Prashanthi Handicrafts, Opp Kedar Gouri Temple,

Old Town, Bhubaneswar,Odisha

About Me



Hi, I am Anupama, artist, teacher and host at Strings of heritage holiday home in Mangalore.

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