Each subject in the paintings is given an explanation in the painter's own interpretation. As a result of the predominance of Santals in the area, the choice of the subjects in the paintings reflects Santal interests.
1. Life in Deaths kingdom
The scrolls start with a picture of Jom Raja or Yama himself, who is depicted as an obese black-faced figure sitting on cushions and smoking a hookah pipe and in his hands he holds a club and a book of punishments for evildoers. The pictures illustrating typical punishments are: black-faced minions of Jom Raja tearing people or pulling their hair or tying ropes and chains around them. There are specific punishments for specific crimes. The scrolls end with a panel showing the kind and the good sitting comfortably on chairs in Death's kingdom. The emphasis is on punishment and these paintings when they are shown at the time of death emphasize to the jadupatua pretensions to magic power.
The scroll paintings depicting Jom Raj or Death's kingdom concentrates on punishments rather than rewards providing simple moral teachings stressing:
2.The story of the creation of the Santals as preserved in Santal tradition
The Santal story of the Creation is more popular. According to the legend, in the beginning there was only water and under the water earth. Then the Creator, Thakur Jiu, first made water creatures - crabs, alligators, crocodiles, fishes, prawns, worms and turtles. Then he made two people out of mud and gave life to them but the Sun Horse came down from above and trampled on them, breaking them into pieces. Then Thakur Jiu decided to make Has and Hasil - two birds, a gander and a goose by rubbing dirt from his chest and molding it into these shapes. Then he breathed life into them and they flew into the air and settled on his hands. At that very moment, the sun horse came to drink water and as he drank foam dripped from his mouth and floated on the water. Thakur Jiu then advised the birds to go and sit on it like a boat. The goose and the gander complained that they had no food.
Thakur Jiu then called a crocodile, prawn and crab and told them to bring up earth from underneath the water. Each tried in turn but failed.
Finally, Thakur Jiu called a worm which said it would do the assigned task if a turtle would stand firmly on the water. So Thakur Jiu tied the turtles legs and the worm dived down, sucked up the mud and excreted through its tail on to the turtle's back until the world was built. After that Thakur Jiu leveled the earth with a clod-crusher but some of the lumps tuck to the crusher and became mountains. The foam on which the birds were floating settled on the earth and Thakur Jiu sowed some seed in it and they grew. The goose and gander made their nest on the grass and laid two eggs from which the first man and woman were born. They were named as Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi. The birds fed the newly born with juice squeezed from food on to cotton wool. They grew up in a place called Hihiri Pipiri and the man and woman were naked and unashamed. One day the greatest Santal bonga or spirit, Maran Buru ('the Great Mountain' )took human form and under the name of Lita came to visit them and he taught them how to brew beer. They drank the beer until they were intoxicated. Next morning they were filled with shame as they were aware of their nakedness and they covered themselves with banyan leaves. In due course, seven boys and seven girls were born to them. The boys and girls when thy grew up committed incest. The eldest boy choosing the eldest girl and the others followed in similar manner.
In due course children were born and the first parents divided them into clans so that in future a brother might not marry a sister. Thus the first Santals increased. They moved further deeper into the forest and settled in a place called Khoj Kaman. Here they began to ignore their clans and again committed incest. As a result, the Creator destroyed mankind, exempting only Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi. They sheltered in a cave and for seven days and nights Thakur Jiu rained down fire and the whole creation was destroyed, Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi alone remaining. A fresh start was then made. Children were again born and new clans were established, twelve clans replacing the original seven and incest was banished from the clan.
This saga is painted in the scrolls in a summary manner. The Hindu jadupatuas sometimes appear to misinterpretation this story especially in the depiction of Santa gods and bongas. The Creator, Thakur Jiu, is connected with Sin Cando, the Sun, and even in Santal minds the two often blend. The painters at times employ figures resembling the Hindu deities Brahma and Vishnu.
3. The Santal festival of Bahajatras
During the Santal festival of Baha, one can see bulks of scroll paintings of the Santal Parganas. This festival is celebrated to honor the three chief Santal bongas on whose blessings the welfare and fertility of the village depend.
In the scroll painting, the honoring of the three Santal bongas is clearly depicted by showing a majestic row of three figures two of them with large heads. The central female figure corresponds to Subahdra; the male figure with black face corresponds to Jagannatha and the second male figure in white face to Balabhadra.
The painters depict 'Brahma' as the third member of the Santal trio. The scroll of the mysterious couple illustrates the jadupatuas' acute problem of how best portray bonga subjects. The couple consists of a stork or goose-like bird, termed Garur bonga, and a monkey-like creature termed Harur bonga. Garur is derived from Garuda, the bird vehicle of Vishnu and Harur from Hanuman, the monkey-ally of Rama. It is possible to associate Garuda and Hanuman with the opening Hindu trio which pictures of the chief Santal bongas are based.
4. Mass meetings of the Santals for dancing
The fourth type of scroll painting focuses on the mass dancing of Santals at local fairs. Their festivals coincide with the Hindu festivals like the Kali and Durga Pooja. The jadupatuas depict Kali with black face, lolling tongue and grisly necklace of skulls. Though Kali is not worshipped by the Santals she is connected in their minds in these cheerful occasions.
5. The personification of Santal clans
A fifth type of scroll personifies the Santal clans which, according to tradition, where originally occupational. The first panel shows Hor Raja, the mythical chief of the Santal tribe riding on horseback and hunting deer and hares. The Kishkus or the ruler clans are depicted by showing Kisku Raja seated on an ornament smoking a hookah pipe and conducting business with a trader. The fighting clan is represented by a line of soldiers marching with muskets over their shoulders. The Murmus or the priestly clan are personified by a figure lolling on an elephant.
6. A tiger or leopard often with a human rider
The sixth subject for jadupatua scrolls is the tigers' god. The faction of this god arose in northern Bengal in the Terai and in the Sundarbans on the Ganges delta. In both these areas tigers caused threat to life and cattle. Therefore it was natural that the people believed that there was a presiding god who controlled tigers and who if invoked would protect them. In North Bengal the deity was known as Sonarai, in East as Barekhan Gazi. In the East, there were, scroll paintings depicting the Gazi and his feats. The Gazi was painted as a Muslim holy-man holding a string of prayer beads and a staff known as asa danda. The tiger god is depicted as a Muslim holy man or a pir with a small straggly beard, holding a rosary and a club. His vehicle is depicted as a spotted leopard. Whenever a scroll depicts a tiger without a rider it tends to be identified by the jadupatuas as Baghut bonga.
Unlike the scrolls of Bengal that depicts the story of Gazi or show scenes of tigers killing men, additional panels in jadupatua scrolls depict Muslim subjects. Frequently there are panels showing pir's shrine with flags flying from bamboo poles and worshippers standing on either side. Sometimes there are scenes from the Muslim Muharram festival. There are scrolls representing mock sword-fights.
7. The adventures of Krishna with the milkmaid
Most jadupatuas possess a long scroll devoted to the story of the god Krishna. No attempt is made to cover all the various phases of Krishna's life as expounded in the Bhagavata Purana and the selection depicted is highly significant. In the scrolls depicting Krishna, he is seen playing on his flute with his beloved, Radha and there are the presence of one or two milkmaids (gopis) standing beside him.
One or two panels then show Krishna with his fellow cowherds milking a cow, his foster-mother Jasoda standing beside him. Then the story jumps to flirtatious Krishna - the Krishna who steals the clothes of milkmaids and hangs them on trees, Krishna teasing the milk maids and stealing their curds as they carry the pots to market, or making advances to them. These are situations that are well known to the Santal youths who mix freely with the girls. There are pictures of Radha and Krishna seated on a great lotus and of the circular dance. The scroll ends with the cowherds seeing a vision of Krishna as an Incarnation of the god Vishnu. The jadupatuas possessed three or more scrolls and when one of their scrolls began to tear, they copied on to new paper. There was no wish to create a new story or present the story in a new way or in a new style. The jadupatuas were content with what the old ones and continued to copy the old versions of their forefathers.