Raghurajpur Artists Village Reverberates With Life Despite Onslaught Of Nature

A quotable quote says that “it is not adversity but your response to it that determines how your life will develop.”

The story of the artisans of the crafts village or artists village of Raghurajpur, 10 km from Puri and 55km from the state capital Bhubaneswar post Fani, is very close to this truth.

The 100 families of this village, all of them Pattachitra artists, may have lost everything they were known for, to Cyclone Fani but not their die-hard spirit and the indomitable spirit to revive their art all over again.

There was 30 per cent damage to houses in the severe cyclonic storm that hit Odisha coast on May 3. The asbestos roofs were blown away and water tanks tumbled down the rooftops in the strong winds and heavy that lashed the region. Artists also lost their work and raw material. “My paintings were washed away in the rain,” said Kirtan Das.

Picture Credit: Arabinda Mahapatra

Rabindar Sahu pointed at his three-generation-old house that caved in in the storm after coconut trees fell on it. Kanhu Charana is trying hard to sell off his finished work. “People are not ready to buy the works as they got wet. I had taken Rs 70 lakh loan. I am at my wit’s end on how to repay it,” he said.

Every household has lost 20 to 30 per cent of their works. Braja Kishore Barik assessed his damage at 70 per cent. “The adjacent tin roof collapsed and rainwater lashed the room filled with finished works, which now lay spoiled,” he said. The village also lost coconut trees in the storm. “The river has turned black after the storm. We now depend on two tube wells,” said Akash.

While normalcy seems to be an uphill battle with no electricity and water supply till date, residents in the village have come together to help each other in the daily activities. The thread of their art binds them together and it would not be a misnomer to say that the village is an epitome of community living.

The people in the heritage village are striving to make their community inclusive, diverse and a better place to live. They eat their meals together, share the living and sleeping areas and the essential duties that help the village run smoothly and simply.

The village, which usually witnesses an overflow of tourists who queue up to buy artwork, has not seen a single tourist since the day Fani struck. But the villagers are afoot and have already started to strategise to ensure that the hustle and bustle of tourists make a comeback to the village.

Akash Swain, secretary of Raghurajpur Village Committee, said they have started to experience the magic of interconnectedness.

“Around 20 social organisations have visited the village since the natural calamity and all of them have been providing us with relief material. We have enough food material to last a week but it is not possible for us to divide it equally. Moreover, there is no electricity in the homes, so it is very difficult to cook. So, we have begun to cook at one place,” he said.

“While the womenfolk engage in chopping and making the food, the men arrange water and fire,” added Akash.

During the night, the open-air auditorium in the village turns into a sleeping area for the villagers. “Since there is no electricity, it is very difficult to sleep inside the house. The men in the house all sleep together in the auditorium area. Initially, it was very difficult for everyone to adjust but later it became a fun-filled affair for all of us,” said Sushant Maharana, a youngster in the village.

For the children, it is a chance to engage both in academic and creative activities. The students gather in the common portico in the village early in the morning to study while in the evening, they assemble near the temple area to practice the art forms prevailing in the village, including Gotipua and Pattachitra.

Storytelling sessions by the elderly have also become a regular affair in the village.

Kshitish Das, an artist that runs Riace, a youth organisation that has been working with the local artists of Raghurajpur since the last few years, says that the administration and youngsters have come together to improve the lives of all.

“From relief work to cleaning the village after Fani struck, the village youngsters have worked together to overcome every hurdle that came their way to normalise the situation. The village will definitely be an example for everyone,” said Kshitish.

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