It is believed the palm leaf painting tradition of Odisha is more than 800-year-old. In ancient India, historians, chroniclers, scholars and poets used dry palm leaves for writing and illustrating episodes from the Ramayana and the Puranas. There are instances in that palm leaf manuscripts lasted for thousands of years. Odisha State Museum in Bhubaneswar has kept samples of exotic palm leaf paintings; many of those paintings have been destroyed due to ignorance, lack of preservation and official apathy. Also, found Palm leaf paintings in the ancient temples and Mathas of Odisha. Many of those priceless art forms were destroyed, stolen and smuggled out. Today a few samples of the fine palm leaf painting are kept with some senior artists and craft traders and in the houses of wealthy craft lovers. Many young artisans of Odisha make palm leaf paintings, but the grace and artistry of the yesteryears are missing on the palm leaves. As the artistry disappears fast, the high-value addition on palm leaves is no longer seen.
There is an urgent need to protect and preserve this priceless painting tradition, as palm leaf painting is a high-end artistic product with exclusive buyers worldwide. No industry can add high value to a product as a simple artisan does to a dry palm leaf base. A fine piece of palm leaf painting is worth gold; an eight-square-foot painting can fetch Rs 30,000.00 to Rs 100000.00 in the global craft bazaar. There is no fixed price tag for the palm leaf painting; the price increases depending on the fineness of the work. Today smart traders make screen paintings on palm leaf bases and tell customers as handmade paintings. The Odisha government should encourage the sale of purely handmade palm leaf paintings; the sale of screen paintings on palm leaf bases will let disappear the rare skill. After that, any country can mass produce palm leaf paintings by using a printing machine. Children in school should be taught how to appreciate art objects so that they can protect the art when they grow up. The state should replenish palm trees in the coastal belt as palm trees have multiple by-products which can be used for making the roof of ethnic houses; the palm is a delicacy, and its leaves are used for paintings and making other handicraft products. Palm trees resist the cyclonic storm and reduce their impact. Besides, the local villagers will earn money by supplying raw materials to artisans and selling palm products.
Since marketing is a real problem for poor artisans, the state government should remove the corrupt and inefficient officials from the State Handicraft Departments. Sincere, honest and efficient officials should be responsible for procuring handicrafts from poor artisans living in remote villages. The practice of selling substandard handicrafts to Utkalika under the brand of National or State Awardees should end as it compels simple artisans to market their products through the award winners. The state government should purchase quality handicrafts directly from poor artisans only. Should sincere efforts be made to train handicraft traders in the state about exporting correctly, as many of them need help understanding the export formalities? The most important thing is to nurture young artisans who can understand Odissi Bhangis, Mudras and Bhavas to bring out expression in the paintings. Drawing lines is most important, requiring five years of practice under skilled artisans. Odisha can regain its past opulence if it protects and preserves its painting traditions.