Odisha’s Ancient Art of Palm-Leaf Horoscopes Losing the Race with Digitalisation
Inscribing horoscopes on palm-leaves is a tradition in Odisha that is in its autumnal years. Artisans who painstakingly cast horoscopes on dried palm leaves with an iron stylus are being edged out by computerised horoscopes.
Ashis Senapati 25 Sep 2023 11:05 AM GMT
Sudarshan Acharya has been inscribing horoscopes on palm leaves for more than forty years. It is something, he said, he learnt from his father Krushna Chandra Acharya.
“As soon as a child is born, a horoscope is cast and it is inscribed on a palm leaf. It is a part of our cultural heritage,” Sudarshan Acharya from Baniamal village in Kendrapara district of Odisha told Gaon Connection.
But the digital wave that has swept the world has sounded a death knell for this traditional practice, the 65-year-old feared. “A computerised horoscope on paper costs no more than Rs 500, and many people are preferring to go for that,” he rued.
In the case of the palm leaf horoscope, it is a hard work of art. “The palm leaves are first dried, then writers use lekhani [an iron stylus] to inscribe the letters on it after which ink is applied. It takes two to three days to prepare this palm-leaf horoscope,” explained Acharya. He earns about Rs 1,000 per horoscope he inscribes and in a month he can do no more than five or six.
A decline in demand
Acharya uses an iron stylus called lekhani that is prepared by the village blacksmiths, to write on the dried palm leaves. “There was a time when I would receive many people at home requesting I make a horoscope on the palm leaves. However, hardly anyone comes now. Most of us have switched to other jobs to make ends meet,” Acharya said.
“Three decades ago nearly 300 families belonging to the Nath community made palm-leaf horoscopes on in Kendrapara district. Today, only 150 families remain who continue to do it,” Harekrushna Nayak a village elder from Chatarapatna in Kendrapara district,” told Gaon Connection.
“In my father's days, around 20 families in our village alone did palm- leaf engraving work. Now only five families do it,” 78-year-old Harekrushna added. “There are many very good palm- leaf writers in villages but it frightens me to think that this ancient art may well disappear with the cheaper alternative of computerised horoscopes,” he said.
No one to take forward the art
“A large number of young people from the Nath community have left this profession as it requires hard work and very little income. It is only the elders in the community who are keeping the art alive,” Himanshu Nayak, a 33-year-old palm-leaf horoscope maker, who is from Jajanga in Kendrapara district, told Gaon Connection.
Only those young people who are desperate for work are doing it, but it is just a stop gap job till they find something better, he added. He said he did not want either of his two sons to follow in his footsteps.
While sporadic efforts have been made by the palm leaf writers to try and infuse new enthusiasm for it, nothing has been done so far to give this age-old art form a much-needed shot in the arm.
Will another traditional practice face extinction? Sudarshan Acharya is sad that