The folk art of Orissa is bound up with its social and religious activities. In the month of Margasira, women folk worship the goddess Lakshmi. It is the harvest season when grain is thrashed and stored. During this auspicious occasion, the mud walls and floors are decorated with murals in white rice paste or pithau. They are called jhoti or chita and are drawn not merely with the intention of decorating the house, but to establish a relationship between the mystical and the material, thus being highly symbolical and meaningful.
Folic painting in this tradition survives till today in all its pristine freshness. Throughout the year, the village women perform several rituals for the fulfillment of their desires. For each occasion a specific motif is drawn on the floor or on the wall. For instance, in Lakshmipuja a stack of paddy or rice sheaves is drawn on the walls structured like a pyramid. During Durga Puja, white dots superimposed with red are painted on the walls. This combination of red and white signifies the worship of Shiva and Shakti. To draw a jhoti or chita, the fingers are dipped into the rice paste and made to trace out intricate patterns on the floor or walls. Sometimes a kind of brush is prepared from a twig to one end of which a small piece of cloth is attached.
This is dipped into the white rice paste to draw patterns on the wall. At times, the paste is sprinkled on the walls with delicate swishes of de mist, sad a pattern resembling bunches of paddy emerges on the wall. The chitas me also drawn on grain bins, on small pavilions for household deities, on the threshold of homes and on earthen pots used during marriage and on other auspicious occasions.
Muruja is drawn on the floor with powders of different hues. White powder is obtained from the grinding of stones, green powder is obtained from dry leaves, black from burnt coconut shells, yellow from the petals of marigold flowers or turmeric, and red from red clay or bricks. Muruja is generally used during rituals in the forms of mandalas. In the holy month of Kartik (November) women observe penance and draw muruja designs near the tulsi plant. Drawing of muruja designs needs a lot of skill and practice. The powder is held between the tips of the thumb and the forefinger, and allowed to fall delicately through them to form lines and patterns which are a delight to the eye testifying to the innate skill of the practitioners who are generally women.
The rustic people of Orissa used to cover their bodies with tattoo marks. Tattooing is also referred to as Kutei Chira and carried out by pricking the skin and applying black soot. A tattoo mark on a woman is believed to symbolise chastity. Some believe that it is a shield against the torture of Yarna, the God of Death, or a means whereby ones soul attains salvation.