Everyday Life in the Patas of Kalighat
A.K.M. Khademul Haque
Department of Islamic History and Culture
University Of Dhaka
The word Pata (pronounced as ‘pot’) means picture in general, but it is particularly ascribed as a kind of picture painted on cloth. Since the mythical age, a community of artisans in rural Bengal used to make a kind of painted scroll depicting a series of stories and earn their livelihood showing them in public as well as narrating the story. The community is called Patua and the scroll they carry is called Pata. But the Patas of Kalighat means a different, distinctive variety of art-idiom. It is associated with a class of paintings and drawings on paper, produced in the vicinity of the famous temple of Goddess Kali in the outskirts of Kolkata during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Ever since late T.N. Mukherjee wrote about this ‘inferior type of paintings sold at prices ranging from one pice to 4 pice or one anna – each’ (Mukherjee, T.N., 1886) – much has been spoken about it. Mukherjee’s apprehension that it was an inferior art-craft did not stand long; rather, soon it attracted attention not only from art-critiques, but also from historians, sociologists and anthropologists. Scholars like W.G. Archer (1951, 1962 and 1971), Ajit Ghosh (1926), G.S. Dutta (1932a, 1932b, and 1933), S. Sengupta (1973), Prodyot Ghosh (1963 and 1967), Jyotindra Jain (1998 and 1999) and Amita Ray (1998) have made significant contributions in the study of Kalighat Patas. Researches have been done on the origins, growth and development of Kalighat Patas, on the sources of the pictorial vocabulary presented by the artists of Kalighat, and even on the anthropological antecedences of the painters as well. But it is such a huge phenomena, that there is still scope for new researches. This paper intends to examine the social and historical context of this art-style and the messages found in it about the everyday life-style in contemporary Kolkata. The Historical Context
The origin of Pata painting dates backs to the vedic age. In Sanskrit, Pata means cloth and it was used as such in vedic language. But in Mahabharata, it is used in the sense of picture. The technique of Pata painting is discussed elaborately in Arya-Manju-sri-Mula-Kalpa. According to this ancient Buddhist text, Buddhist missionaries carried with them cloth-scroll paintings illustrating the tales from Jataka while propagating. These scrolls were called ‘Patta’ (Ghosh. P. 1967: p. 08). Unfortunately no such Jataka patas survived. But the technique used by the Buddhist missionaries hardly changed; the village Patuas of Bengal used the same, though the theme have changed mainly to the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Even though many of the poor artisans converted to Islam during the Muslim rule in Bengal, these themes remained unchanged in most cases. And as the art craft of the Patuas is hereditary and the themes are more or less same, all the patas are almost similar. They depict the same few stories about the gods and goddesses, and the artists actually never tried to be art-conscious, independent artist who wants to make his mark through his works (Ghosh, P., 1967: p. 09). The popular themes depicted in these village patas included stories from the life of Lord Krishna and that of Shri Ramachandra. Apart from that, stories related to Behula and the curse of Manasa Devi was also popular in the eastern part of Bengal. Patuas converted to Islam invented another very popular type of stories for their patas called Gazir-Pata, which depicted stories about Muslim warrior-saints. This types of story telling was popular in the village areas of both parts of Bengal until the last century, but with the gradual improvement of technology, specially the invention of cinema tarnished this popular art idiom. But it should be noted that as the materials used for making patas were very easily perishable, now it has become difficult...
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