Among various folk-arts of India, Patachitra (scroll paintings) of Bengal is unique because it is a medium of both visual as well as oral communication. Patachitras portray religious deities, nature, society and culture in their paintings and the stories in the paintings are narrated by the painters (Patuas) in the song form and hence help preserve valuable information about social and religious traditions, and details of socio-political conditions.
The three original formats of painting a patachitra from Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum and West Mednipur are-
- Jadano pat or the scroll- showing episode sequences in a vertically placed manner- all illuminated along the picture frame one above the other- with commonly ten to fifteen frames in all.
- Arelatai pat- here the picture frames are horizontal in nature- bound in two ends by two wooden sticks to enable the patua to unroll the pat as he gradually displayed it in front of an audience. This contained primarily six to eight frames.
- Choukosh pat or the square pat is a single sheet of rectangular paper which is commonly used to eulogise a deity or an incident
After the drawing is complete, the songs are created to suit the visuals. Primarily, this only included vocals, but later on simple instruments like percussion, e.g. the dugdugi or wind instruments like the flute or even the harmonium were added.
Traditional Patachitra depicted stories from
- Various Indian mythologies like Ramayana, Bhagvat Gita and Mahabharata
- Indian religious texts like Puranas
- Local folktales, including Oral Traditions of communities
- Various Hindu and Muslim saints who were locally famous
- Different historical incidents of local significance (e.g. death sentence of various revolutionaries under British India
Overtime, Patuas evolved and adopted stories from various international and local historical incidents and more recently have depicted stories of current interest including. September 9/11 attacks in USA, global-warming, deforestation, AIDS and HIV, etc.
Originally, paper and cloth and sometimes palm-leaf manuscripts were used to paint the scrolls, however, in recent years, this has been substituted completely by the use of paper. The brushes are still made from the whiskers of the tail of squirrels and mongoose, which are tied with thin strips of bamboo to give the shape of a paint-brush. Patachitras use natural colors but acrylic colors are increasingly common. Traditional natural colors are
- White color or ink is made from ‘Khari mati’ or ‘Kaat Khari’ which is a type of soil. Sometimes, white ink is also made by grinding conch shells, which is a very complicated process. It is also made from ‘Ghusom mati’ or a type of white colored soil found after digging the ground to the depth of around 20 feet.
- The black color is collected from the soot of a lantern or a mud pot used for cooking rice.
- The yellow color is made from turmeric paste.
- The red color is made from Hibiscus, beetle leaves, tobacco and also from fruit capsules of Jaffran or Latkon tree.
- The saffron color is also derieved from Latkon tree.
- They also get the pure red pigment by different layered filtering of soil known as ‘Geri matti’. They use the essence of leaves from a creeper called ‘Dolichos Lablab’, which is a kind of kidney bean.
- They get the orange from Palash or Kimsuk Flower (Butea Monosper).
- The violet is extracted from the sap of Pooin fruits (Basella Alba) and the
- Pink by blending red and white pigments.
- The resin is derived from the seeds of the wood apple which is also used as a coloring agent.
Inspite of a long and glorious history, Patuas and their patachitra like many other folk arts are struggling to survive in the modern times. Younger generation is losing interest in the art form that has been handed over from generation to generation. Surviving artists are catering to consumerism and creating pictures that do not represent true tradition of Patachitra which uniquely combines both the visual and oral traditions. Interestingly, spread of Internet and ecommerce sites selling Patachitra have increased the awareness and may lead to the revival of this glorious tradition. Several Patachitra and accompanying songs can be found on youtube. Click on the following links to listen to beautiful songs by Patuas
Our e-commerce site http://www.yourhandmadeitems.com is offering a platform to the artists like Patuas to display and sell their handmade Patachitra to anyone with internet access and appreciation of this art form. Support us in our endeavors and buy and support the artists
Ref: Intangible Heritage Transformations- Patachitra of Bengal exploring Modern New Media; Dr. Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai; International Journal of History and Cultural Studies (IJHCS) Volume 1, Issue 1, PP 1-13