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ECO-DESIGNS, FOLK HERITAGE

PATUA PAINTINGS FROM WEST BENGAL

FOLK ART BY PATUA COMMUNITY

The “Patua” is a beautiful folk painting style developed within the artistic community of patuas. The word “Patua” originates from the Bengali word “Pota“, which means an engraver. The patua artists are widely known as Chitrakars, which means a scroll painter. Patua paintings are referred to as Patta (পট). The techniqe of patua painting is more or less similar to the famous art form Pattachitra.

These patua artists or chitrakaars, mainly resides in the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha in India and parts of Bangladesh. Today the majority of patuas come from the districts of Medinipur and Birbhum in West Bengal, though historically there were also patua villages in Bankura, Howrah, Murshidabad and Bardhaman districts.

Patua Artist- International Kolkata Book Fair

THE “PATUA” COMMUNITY

The history of Patua community dates before the time of British colonialism and Islamic invasion. It is a 1,000-year-old tradition inspired from the unique story-telling art of India. The art flourished in the villages of West Bengal where Patua artisans wander from village to village, singing traditional pater gaan or narrative songs while practicing patua. They would halt at every village engaging audience by narrating and singing epic stories while scrolling down the paintings depicting those stories on scrolls.

The International Kolkata Book Fair

The Patua is a special community composed of Hindus as well as Muslims both coming together as- Chitrakaars“, that means painters. The origin of this community is believed to from Hindus, many of which overtime converted to Islam as a strategy to avoid the oppression by a hierarchy of subcastes created during the Sen Dynasty. Many patua artists, identifying themselves as folk painters, use Chitrakar as their last name whether they are Hindu or Muslim.

“PATUA”- AN EXAMPLE OF HINDU MUSLIM HARMONY

Undoubtedly, the Patuas are the most diverse clan of folk artists displaying a classic example of religious harmony through art. Most of the patua artists are Muslims while celebrating Hinduism. In their own words, they sing of Hinduism while practicing the rituals of Islam.

The present day patua community exhibits a live demonstration of togetherness. During the wedding ceremonies of Patua, the maulvi comes to recite the Six Kalimas and the bride and groom are anointed with turmeric according to Hindu traditions. These kind of generous practices within the patuas continually promote communal goodwill and religious harmony.

COMMON PATUA SUBJECTS

Majority of patua paintings are based on religious illustrations from both Hindu and Muslim tales like Ramayana and the lives of popular Islamic saints. The main objective of the community was not to sell their artwork but to make living from donations for their performances. They often perform patua in local fairs, weddings, festive gatherings so as to engage more people and increase their audience base.

“Tagore Tells and the Patua Paints” is a project that enables the reinterpretation of Tagore’s texts by the patua artists. Texts like Tota- Kahini or The Parrot’s Tale, Birpurush or The Hero (a small boy’s fantasy in verse about an adventure), Diner alo nibhe elo or Daylight is Fading (a poem describing a rainy sunset) and Brishti pore tapur tupur (rain falls drop by drop) etc were choosen to be created in the form of patua art.

TYPES OF “PATTS”

There are two main types of patts or scrolls: 

  • JADANO OR SCROLL PATTS– They can be painted horizontally or vertically.
  • CHOUKO PATTS– These are single square panels with an individual scene or deity depicted on them.

The patts or scrolls are made to tell the epic stories of gods and goddesses, lives of heroic figures like leaders and saints. Modern patuas includes stories of national leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose, social and political issues such as girls education, health issues etc.

Extraits de Tsunami de Hazra Chitrakar (Naya Bengale) 

MATERIALS USED

Traditionally, all of the patuas art is carried on with eco-friendly materials. Some of the earliest patuas were painted on palm leaves. Many rural patuas still continue to use natural materials for their paintings, keeping alive the age-old heritage of making organic paints and painting equipment.

  • CANVAS- Canvas is made up of small strips of cotton cloth called “patt“. It is prepared by coating the cloth with a mixture of chalk, gum and tamarind seeds.
  • PANELS- The panels or patts are sewn together and secured with an old fabric from the back to strengthen the scroll.
  • DYE/ PAINT- Colors are naturally obtained from vegetable and mineral sources. Naturally occurring sources such as indigo, turmeric, blueberries etc are much preferred.
  • BRUSH- Patua painters used a brush made out of bamboo stick with goats or squirrel hairs .

CURRENT SCENERIAO OF PATUA PAINTINGS

The traditional occupation of the Patua artists is scroll painting, image making, painting wooden souvenirs, decorative hangings. But now they live more settled life. They do not travel far villages to entertain locals with patua story telling’s and earn livelihood. Today, they are more professionals and showcase their work at local art fairs, exhibitions, museums, and even on online platforms.

Patua artist – 41st International Kolkata Book Fair

Their stories are not based on religious deities anymore but revolve around community, socio-political issues, contemporary events, human rights and so on. Natural paper canvas is replaced with wood, textile, terracotta and other popular mediums. Today most patuas are rectangular and square-shaped paintings of different sizes – only a few of them still make the traditional 20 feet long scrolls.

After a period of decline, the patua art is flourishing again within communities and young artists are taking interest in learning this beautiful art as a passion and profession. E-commerce and social media platforms are certainly serving as a boon in the popularity of this beautiful art form.

RELATED: PATTACHITRA

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