Unfurling a world of wonder: A journey into Bengal Pattachitra

INTRODUCTION

Bengal Patachitra is an art form that is closely related to the states of Odisha as well as in West Bengal. The Sanskrit word Pattachitra, is made up of two expressions. The word Patta means ‘cloth’, and Chitra stands for ‘picture’. Therefore, Pattachitra is both a cloth based painting and a unique tradition of visual storytelling accompanied by a song. The stories are painted on long scrolls and the Patuas, an artisan community found in the state of Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, gradually unfurl the long scrolls while presenting the long stories through their songs. Bengal Patuas or Chitrakars earn their livelihood by recounting stories from Hindu mythology, local folklores, and Sufi traditions. 

HISTORY

Some of the scholars claim that the Patua tradition of storytelling goes back all the way to the 10th and 11th century CE. With historical themes as their foundation and the enchanting songs interwoven with their paintings, like Patua Sangeet, it is believed to have its roots dated back to Pre-Pala period. However, tangible evidence of Patua tradition only makes its appearance in the 18th century CE. 

Bengal Pattachitra encompasses a diverse array of forms such as Durga Pat, Tribal Pattachitra, Medinipur Pattachitra, Chalchitra, Medinipur Pattachitra, and Kalighat Pattachitra. The final  tradition of Bengal Pattachitra, Kalighat, was developed by the renowned artist, Jamini Roy, adding another layer of artistic brilliance to the rich tapestry of Pattachitra.

The stories told through these scroll paintings are incorporated from epics like Mahabharata, Ramayana, narrating stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses to the popular Bengali folklore of Manasha and Chandi, and Behula and Lakshinder. 

COMMUNITY

The community of artisans that is dedicated to creating Bengal Patachitra are  Patua Community. These artisans, who are usually Islamic by faith, go by various names such as Patu, Pota, Patua. The places where Patua community can be found are West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha in India and even in some parts of Bangladesh. 

In the earlier traditions, the Patuas or the Chitrakars were not confined to painting or Chitrakari alone, they were versatile artists and storytellers. The Patachitra primarily consisted of stories from Hindu mythology, local folklore, Sufi tradition and contemporary themes. Traditionally, these Patuas would traverse villages, bearing bundles of scrolls on their backs, visiting the homes of rich folks and renowned houses. They would orally recount stories, gradually unfolding the scrolls in the process and would be given rewards for their colorful and lively performance. 

This act of performing the Pata is known as ‘Pat Khelano’ and the act of narration is termed as ‘Patra Gaan’. It consists of three stages- the bhavita (introduction), the kahani (story) and the mahatmya (glory). The narrative structure would follow the pattern of ‘tripads’ or ‘three beats’ akin to those found in Indian classical music. In the earlier tradition, a typical Patua would undergo training in all the three aspects. Picture the unfolding of the Ramayana, with Hanuman's majestic leaps across the canvas accompanied by the melodious narration of the Patua. It creates a mesmerizing symphony of sight and sound, leaving the audience truly spellbound. However, over time, this tradition has changed with some Patuas specializing in singing and narrating while others dedicated themselves solely to art and painting. 

In the bygone era, Patuas were revered and specially invited to celebrations, where they would showcase their craft to a captivated audience. The practice is still followed today, albeit rare, the Patuas are invited to schools and hospitals to raise awareness about the art form. Factors such as inflation, the advent of television, and the rise of multimedia led to a decline in both the need for and interest in Bengal Pattachitra. Despite these challenges, the intrinsic beauty and cultural richness of this traditional art form continue to endure, waiting to be rediscovered and appreciated by a new generation.

THEMES

Central to the themes of Bengal Pattachitra is rich tapestry of Hindu mythology and Bengali folklore. It is within these vibrant narratives that the Patuas had found boundless ideas for their creative expressions. The iconography primarily features deities such as Krishna, Kali, Shiba. 

In addition to the iconic deities, Bengal Patachitra also embraces Bengali folklore that has been passed down through generations. Stories of Mansha, the snake goddess; Chandi, the embodiment of female courage; Behula, the fearless wife on a heroic journey; and Lakshinder. They have a special place in the hearts of Bengal Pattachitra artists and enthusiasts.

A recurrent folklore based narration used in many Patas also include, Wedding of Fish, Tribal Wedding and Creation of the World. In contemporary India, Patua artists have been commissioned to paint a wide range of topics on women rights, child rights, literacy, environment conservation as a tool of public communication. 

Chalchitra and Durga Patta(Pot)

 

Durga Patta(Pot) in Bengal Pattachitra

Durga Patta(Pot) in Bengal Pattachitra

 

Chalchitra, integral to Bengal Patachitra, holds significance as the background portrayal of Durga Pratima or idol. Also known as Debi Chal or Durga Chala, it serves as the canvas for the artistic expression of Patuas, who refer to it as Pata Lekha, indicating the writing of Patachitra. Historically, Chalchitra was utilized in idols dating back 300–400 years in the Nabadwip Shakta Rash tradition. Though it faded for a period, Chalchitra has experienced a resurgence in popularity. 

Durga Patta(Pot), also known as Durga Sara, holds a distinguished position in Bengal Patachitra and is recognized as a worshiped form. This particular Patachitra is revered during Durga Puja in the Hatsarandi Sutradhar society of Birbhum district and Katwa. The hemispherical Durga Patta(Pot)features a central depiction of Durga, surrounded by paintings of Ram, Sita, Shiva, Nandi-Vringi, Shumbha-Nishumbha, and more. This intricate portrayal not only pays homage to religious traditions but also serves as a testament to the artistic brilliance embedded in Bengal Patachitra.

MATERIALS

The ‘patta’ or the surface used for Pattachitra paintings by the artists are prepared using cotton clothes or old saris which are starch-free. These ‘pattas’ are arranged in layers one on top of each-other and each layer stuck to the other by a paste made of tamarind seeds, Kaitha or wood apple gum, and chalk powder. This cloth is then sun-dried to achieve a desired thickness.

Natural dyes and pigments derived from fruits and vegetables are used for imparting various hues to the artworks.  Hingula (cinnabar), Haritala (orange-yellow), Kala, Sankha and Geru are the quintessential palette of colors employed in the creation of  Patachitra scroll paintings. Ramaraja which is a sort of indigo is used for blue. White color is made from the conch-shells by powdering, boiling or filtering in a very hazardous process. Hingula, a mineral pigment, is employed for red. Harital, the king of stone colors used for yellow, lends a brilliant orange-yellow tone to the artworks. Pure lamp black or kala is prepared from the burning of black shells. Green is achieved by boiling green leaves with kathia gums. Brown is created out of geru stones.

The indigenous artists or the Chitrakars use brushes made of hair of domestic animals. They carefully bundle these  hair strands and tie them to bamboo sticks, creating an organic and functional tool for their creative endeavor.

The realm of Pattachitra is not static; it evolves, mirroring the dynamism of the stories it narrates. While preserving its essence, contemporary artists venture into uncharted territories, experimenting with new themes and techniques. Bengal Pattachitra transcends mere art; it embodies a legacy, fostering a dialogue between generations and serving as a vibrant celebration of life. To contribute to this living heritage, we can support Patuas by embarking on a journey into the stories woven within Bengal Pattachitra, allowing its vivid colors to kindle our imagination. 

In this exploration, you may uncover a new facet of yourself—one that communicates through storytelling and revels in the beauty of art breathing life into ancient myths and modern realities.

Remember, Bengal Pattachitra is more than just a painting!

References

https://sarmaya.in/guides/endless-scroll-the-genesis-of-bengals-pattachitra-art/

 https://bengalpatachitra.com/

 https://blog.artlounge.in/blog/2021/4/8/indian-art-form-patachitra

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattachitra

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patua

 http://www.craftmark.org/cms/public/uploads/1602054379.pdf

 https://bengalpatachitra.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattachitra#:~:text=Patachitra%20or%20Pattachitra%20is%20a,and%20folktales%20inscribed%20in%20it.

https://medium.com/@NazariyaIndia/discover-the-art-of-pattachitra-in-west-bengal-india-e9e89e5cc6ef

https://bengalpatachitra.com/process/

https://bengalpatachitra.com/performance/

https://spaindustrialdesign.wordpress.com/2020/12/22/patachitra-of-west-bengal/

https://www.caleidoscope.in/art-culture/patachitra-paintings

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