The history of writing in Orissa is very old, may be it is older than the script.1 Process of writing started when people tried to portray figures, motifs and various types of letters on the stone, soil, or any other enduring material, in their leisure time. As time passed, they were written on the materials which were easily available, durable and could be stored in a better way. Sometimes this process even involved the use of leaves. In Orissa palm leaves were used as a writing material.2Due to the easy availability of palm leaf in Orissa, the palm leaf manuscript was continued and became very popular through ages.
The paper incorporates a range of selected research papers which were available on palm leaf manuscripts of Orissa and other parts of the world, which were published in national and international journals, reports on different projects, including case studies of different manuscripts.
Nature and type of Manuscripts:
There are two varieties of palm leaves used for writing, which are Tala and Sritala. The palm leaf is four times stronger than handmade paper3. It is a good material for writing manuscripts but difficult to preserve. In Orissa only Tala leaves are used for writing because it is found there in abundance.
Process of Preparing the Pata:
There are various methods which differ from place to place. In Orissa, people choose the green tender palm leaves to prepare the manuscript. Tender green leaves of different varieties of palm trees are selected and cut. These cut leaves are dried under the sun.
– In one of the methods the leaves are cut and dried under sun and turmeric powder is applied on the leaves.
– Another method is to keep the leaves in a closed space for some days. Later on, they are cleaned and turmeric paste is applied.
– To boil the leaves in water because of which they will become thin. The leaves are then cleaned and kept under the sun and finally turmeric paste is applied.
Process of writing:
A needle like pen is used for etching, which is made out of a piece of iron. It is about 6 to 9 inches length, its one end is pointed so that it can be used for piercing the palm leaf. The artisan sits on the ground and places the palm leaves on his right knee which help him to hold it in the right direction. The leaves have horizontal fibers. After etching is done, black soot is rubbed on it which is obtained from the flame of burning lamp. Excess soot is then rubbed off to give the motif an outline in order to make it more visible.
Motifs and images:
Many floral designs, animal and bird motifs. Nature is also portrayed in various ways. Symbols like Shankha (conch) and Chakra (wheel) are drawn which are associated with Lord Vishnu. Lord Ram from the Ramayana. Sanskrit texts are also etched with sketches of the sacred bull called Nandi. Besides these Radha Krishna (Raas Leela) and Kama sutra motifs are also very much popular. We even see that most of the motifs took inspiration from temples of Orissa.
Colour Pigments used and Their Composition
Black: Lamp (carbon soot).
Red pigment: It is locally known as Hingula.
White: conch shell powder.
Yellow: Prepared with Turmeric powder or (Hartal) stone.
Green: (khandnila) stone or plant leaves
A paste of water and tamarind seed powder is mixed
Other colours are achieved by mixing the above colours.
Factors leading to detoriation:
The causes of deterioration can be many. It might be physical and chemical, or even biological. It can also happen because of continuous handling and improper storage. Physical damage is caused due to certain atmospheric conditions. Biological damage is caused if attacked by worms or insects. Improper handling of the manuscripts or keeping one over the other also damages the pata.
Preservation and Conservation:
In ancient times the manuscripts were usually stored in temples or in the place of worship of the house. A wooden box was used for storing Neem leaves, Cinnamon, and Turmeric (Haldi) etc. were kept beside the manuscripts for keeping it away from insects. The manuscripts are also sometimes wrapped in cloth.
Till this date people follow the above methods to protect manuscripts from the damaging factors.