Have you heard of a village that has survived solely on the folk art of scroll painting instead of farming – the traditional way of life in our villages? For a first hand experience, drive to Naya – a village in Pingla Block of West Midnapore, about 130 km away from Kolkata where you will find a village of folk artisans, who are both painters and singers.
Enter Kona Expressway through Vidyasagar Setu and continue straight ahead. At the end of Kona Expressway turn left into NH-6. Follow NH-6 and cross Dhulaghori Toll Tax, Uluberia, Kolaghat and continue towards Kharagpur. After Kolaghat Crossing you will reach Debra while cruising on NH-6. Turn left from here into Debra- Sabang Road to reach Balichak. Continue towards Mundamari and from its main crossing turn left into Pingla-Paramanadapur-Moyna Road to reach village Naya.
The entrance to village Naya is located on the left of the road just opposite to an Indian Oil fuel pump. You need to be really alert to spot it or else you would miss it altogether .
Among the numerous wonders spread all across the state, this small village with only 75 houses revived the Patachitra culture of Bengal through its painters called the patuas or chitrakars. It is a real achievement for the patuas of Naya to pursue the folk art form of Patachitra, a part of our heritage and ensuring a remarkable revival.
Pat pronounced as ‘Paut’ or Patachitra is a unique folk tradition of Bengal where stories are painted on cloth scrolls pasted with paper. The Patachitra scrolls come in varied sizes from 3 to 25 feet in length and 1 to 2 feet in width. Patachitra is known for its bold colours, lines and strokes, made with natural dyes. The diverse subjects of Pat include mythological stories, epics, tribal folk lore, social messages and narrations on contemporary events as well.
The word ‘Pata’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Patta’ meaning a piece of cloth. According to research, Patachitra has been mentioned in Puranas, epics, ancient literatures and historical descriptions.
The painters are called patuas or chitrakars who sing the stories as they unfurl the scrolls. Patuas, are a unique group of folk artists who are painters, lyricists, singers and performers rolled into one – part teacher and part entertainer.
A patua is more respectfully called as chitrakar which literally means a painter. It is interesting to note that the term patua or chitrakar has been adopted as their surnames instead of a caste title, irrespective of their religion.
Patuas and chitrakars have been referred to in literary works dating back by more than 2500 years. It was popular among Hindu tribes like Santhals, Hos, Munda, Juangs and Kherias who painted Patachitras depicting the birth of their first ancestors, Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Burhi; they had seven sons and seven daughters and these seven brothers were married to their sisters.
With the growing influence of Buddhism, the patuas embraced the faith. Buddhist kings and monks made extensive use of scroll paintings to preach Buddhism and during this time Patachitra probably spread to Bali, Java, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Tibet. With Muslim invasions, Islam spread and the chitrakars became followers of Islam.
We met Dukhushyam Chitrakar – a noted performer and his son Robbani Chitrakar- one of the best singers at Naya. However, it was 72-year-old Shyam Sundar Chitrakar who elaborated upon the history and the tradition followed by these folk artists.
According to Shyam Sundar who has been residing in the village for the last 50 years, Naya evolved gradually as a stopover for the patuas. Earlier, the patuas travelled from village to village, traditionally singing and displaying the scrolls with fascinating stories. They covered long distances on foot travelling from their homes to different parts of the state with halts at Naya. They were rewarded with paddy by their audience for their performances.
Sometimes around 1940, the landlord of Naya offered the patuas a shelter to stay overnight so that they could return early the next morning for their performances. Gradually, Naya developed as a regular night halt for the patuas. Thereafter, the patuas purchased land and settled in Naya which turned into a village exclusively for patuas. Later on, it was Amit Kiran Deb, erstwhile Chief Secretary of West Bengal Government and Animesh Pal, the Principal of Medinipur College, who took initiatives to develop the village and improve its connectivity and other amenities.
The patuas faced hard times at the beginning of the 20th Century and gradually drifted to other professions. However, some of them continued with their traditional profession and stayed back at Naya. With every passing day the situation became unbearable for patuas. In around 1990, some NGOs came forward to their rescue. The art form gained immense popularity in foreign countries and marketing abroad helped in improving the socio- economic conditions of the artists. Some of them gained recognition at national and international levels which turned the wheel of fortune through positive publicity.
Interestingly, during our visit a few patuas shared with us that since August last year, they were receiving allowances directly in their bank accounts. Surprisingly, they were unaware that it was the information and cultural affairs department under the Trinamul Congress led state government which is paying allowances to all registered patuas at Naya and directly transferring the money to their newly opened bank accounts. The allowance started with `750 per month and has been increased to `1000 per month at present.
Presently, there are about 75 patua families in Naya with almost every house having at least one patua. The houses of patuas are brightly painted with Pat motifs. During our visit to the village, we noticed the subjects of paintings which varied from traditional folk art to very modern art form. Some of the Pats depict stories of fishes while others portray events like Twin Towers attack or Tsunami.
We heard of patuas, who won the President’s award for their exemplary paintings. We also came to know about artists like Anwar Chitrakar, whose paintings have been showcased at the Harley Gallery in the United Kingdom.
“Initially, I used to sell an 8×12 inches painting for `100 to 150. Now, with the increase in demand, a piece sells for `800 to `1000 on an average,” told Eyakus Chitrakar.
We also met Swarna and Dukhushyam, well known to many in the Kolkata’s artists’ circle. A little secluded is the house of the veteran artist, Nani Gopal. Three Pats of Jesus Christ were on display at his place. Here, pictures depicting tales from Ramayana were displayed along with colourful scrolls with hard hitting social messages like human trafficking and others.
Traditionally, patuas were men, who were assisted in their work by the womenfolk; but in recent times the women have come forward to lay their claim as Pat artists too.
All colours used on Patachitra are sourced from natural materials. For instance, yellow is made from turmeric, blue from Aparajita flower, saffron from lotkon leaf, red from Segun tree, black from charcoal, green from runner beans, white from kusum mati available from the bottom of ponds etc. The dyes after extraction are put in pots made out of coconut shell and mixed with resin made from the latex of bael (wood apple).
Their traditional paint brushes are also handmade using goat or squirrel hair. The hair strands are tied around a wooden stick with thread. All dyes are extremely bright, striking, waterproof and almost permanent in nature.
Support by NGOs
Since 2004, ‘banglanatak dot com’, an NGO, is working with the patuas to revive the unique tradition of Patachitra and Pater Gaan. They have taught the patuas to make diverse products using their painting skill. The art is used as a tool for social communication. This has led to generation of extra income and also empowerment of the women in their community. The Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre with the help of Ministry of Rural Development, supported capacity building and promotional activities during 2005-2009. Project Ethno-magic Going Global (EGG), an ongoing project supported by the European Union has facilitated interaction between patuas and contemporary painters and new media artists from Europe has resulted in betterment of their economic condition.
During our visit to Naya, we met Prof. Urmila Chakraborty from State University of Milan and Danielle Sattaneo from Italy who are regular visitors to the village. They conduct projects and organise tours for foreign tourists on a regular basis for mutual benefit.
The artists community at Naya has formed a cluster with 220 Patachitra artists called ‘Chitrataru’ sometimes back to showcase Patachitra paintings and products. This artist community runs a Folk Art Resource Centre in the village Naya. Workshops on Patachitra are held for visitors and students to teach the process of making natural dyes and the style of painting along with process of applying the dyes on scrolls. Charges vary between `300 and `500 for each trainee for a group of 4 to 6 people.
The patuas may also be hired to train students or to display their skills at fairs at different cities. Their charges vary from `1000 per patua per day to `2000 for a group of 3-4 patuas with all other expenses paid for.
Best time to visit
Naya can be visited on any day of the year. The patuas welcome and exhibit their products on sale in their own houses. Team WHEELS was fortunate to find Naya in all its glory as most of the patuas displaying their works, were actually awaiting the arrival of a group of Italian tourists on that day from Kolkata. However, the paintings and other materials are not put on display everyday at Naya.
The patuas of Naya have also started organising an annual fair called ‘Pat-Maya’ from 2012. It showcases the rich tradition of the patua community skilled in translating their ideas through colourful images backed by soulful tunes. During this time, the village dons a vibrant look with its huts and walls brightly painted with Patachitra motifs. Tourists take a stroll down the pathways where scrolls depicting history, heritage, mythology and modern realism are displayed while the patuas perform their songs. Last year it was held between November 14 and 16. The festival is usually held during November every year.
The colourful village of Naya, thus, beckons you to pay tribute to the striving lives of patuas who pursue an ancient art form as vocation of scroll painters.
There is no hotel to stay at Naya. However, the Chitrakars sometimes accommodate the visitors at their place on request against a modest charge
Tapan Das (Banglanatak.com) – 9836000672
Shyam Sundar Chitrakar – 7679150266
Robbani Chitrakar – 8116995226
Monu Chitrakar – 9732731776
Swarna Chitrakar – 9732799107
Eyakub Chitrakar – 9733952127