(Last Updated on : 29/04/2013)
In an age of information, and satellite communication, it seems anomalous to talk about folk diversifications which provide entertainment and fostering values; conveying messages, and information. The importance of traditional art forms must be conserved because of their own aesthetic appeal and for fostering regional personality. Painting in Bengal emerged as a popular medium of cultural expression developing comparatively with a stroke of independence from the conventions of temple art and free from the influences of a royal court. Rural Bengal's painted scrolls and pats are one of the few genuine folk traditions surviving down to the present century. In the villages of Bankura district
, Birbhum district
, 24 parganas and Burdwan district, one can still see the patuas (the makers of the pats) selling their pats and selling these paintings at the various village fairs, entertaining the unsophisticated rural audiences with their jarano patuas, literally meaning rolled paintings.
Generally two theories mystify the horizon when origins of patuas are concerned. While one associates these artistic cult with tribal background particularly based either on physiognomy or on their customs, occupational prototypes and social organisation. The other view regarding their origin clandestinely categorises them as descendants of the storytelling tribes as is mentioned in the canonical writings of the Jains, Buddhists and Hindus, dating back as far as the 3rd century.
Pats are usually painted on paper of the cheapest variety, sometimes even on old newspapers. The jarano pats average 12 to 15 feet in length and are one or two feet wide. Apart from popular mythological stories, sometimes the theme is also a condemnation of social injustice ending with a picturisation of hell and of the evil doer being tortured in retribution. The pictures on the scrolls are arranged in rectangular panels, one below the other. The tradition is that as the scroll is gradually unfolded, the patua sings about ditties which are most often composed by him.
The colours that are used by the patuas for the various pats are mostly primary colours like yellow, red and blue. Sometimes green and brown are also used all laid out in flat washes. Hot tones are generally avoided. The overall effect that comes is extremely quiet and serene. Some of the pats, especially the early Ramayana
rolls, are reminiscent of the temple murals in colour and composition.
The claim of the line drawing as a most powerful medium of expression is strongly seen in the works of the folk artists from Kalighat. They originally produced their paintings for mass-sale to the pilgrims who were seen thronging the Kali temple. The eighteenth century and early nineteenth century were the golden age of the Kalighat artist. The entire family of the painters used to participate in the execution of a painting. It was seen that even the ladies were as dexterous as the men.
Originally the Kalighat patuas worked on religious subjects. Later they grew increasingly antagonistic to the English and French artists of the day. Consequently, the Kalighat patua made his art a powerful instrument of satire to mock the indulgent waves of westernization. Later on, the Kalighat patua art was even distorted to an extent in order to cater to the needs of the new aristocrats of 19th century Kolkata
. By the end of the century, the imported lithographs from Germany led to the gradual decline of the patuas.
The folk paintings of Bengal represent a sense of collective identity, of the artists of Bengal beyond the barriers of cultural racism once faced by Bengal. Creativity is on the side not only of innovation against convention, but also of the exceptional individual against the collectivity, of the present moment against the weight of the past, and of mind or intelligence against inert matte. Folk paintings of Bengal truly express such.