PATACHITRA by Ravi Kant Dwivedi

The Patachitra

                             (Traditional Audio-Visual form of communication)

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Patachitra are the original audio-visual entertainers and communicators. The Chitrakars or Patuas are basically entertainers who communicate their message through traditional mode of audio-visual communication. The message could be a mythological story or a social one. The Indian tradition of storytelling, often accompanied by painted panels or scrolls, can be traced back through literary evidence to at least the second century BC and are known to have existed almost all over the subcontinent. Buddhist, Jaina and Brahminical literature contains abundant references to the art of painted scrolls (Pata chitras) which were exhibited to educate and to entertain the people. Classic Sanskrit literature has several references to Yama Patas. Narrative paintings are still produced in Rajasthan (Phad), Gujarat (Garodas), Jharkhand (Jadu Pata), Orissa (Patachitra), Assam (Oja-Pali),  and a few Deccani examples like Chitrakathi in Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. And, of course  Patachitra of Bengal.

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The narrative mural paintings on the walls of the huts of Rathwa tribes of central-eastern Gujarat and Bhilalas of Western Madhya Pradesh and illustrations of Pinguli textiles from Shri Kalahasti are also some rich examples of not only of narrative traditions but also shows the innovative talent of  Indian traditional artisans and a knack (likings) for illustrated narrative presentations.

References of the Chitrakars can be found in epics like Bana’s Harshacharitam and Vishakhdatta’s Mudrarakshasa. Chanakya used them as his espionage agents to gather information from the villages. It is said and now, is established that during medieval period many kings used them as their propaganda and espionage agents for their ability to penetrate to the very core of the society in pretext of showing the Patas.

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This tradition of storytelling with visual support can be seen in the early Indian sculptures at Sanchi, Bharhut and Amaravati, which are highly narrative in character. The early Indian narrative sculpture was rooted in the tradition of the early practice of narrating stories with visual aid, a practice still continuing in folk art forms.

One of the most crucial features of visual narratives in Indian art is the manner in which the ideas of time are comprehended and incorporated in the work of art. They divide a song (story) into several episodes and visualize accordingly. The details in the painting (panel) depends on the length of that particular narration in the story. Interestingly, the visualization is very similar to the way a film maker or (precisely) an animator prepares a storyboard.

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The Bengal School    

The golden period of the Pata Chitra in Bengal* was during the Pala dynasty (7th to 11th cent.), but the tradition remained intact even towards the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th cent. In places like Dhaka, Noakhali, Mymansingh, Rajshahi (all now in Bangladesh), Medinipur, Birbhum, Bankura, Purulia, Nadia, 24 Parganas, Murshidabad and Kalighat in Kolkata of West Bengal and Santhal Parganas of Jharkhand and Mayurbhanj area  in  Orissa.  They paint subjects of   mythological order like stories of

Bengal here means the area known in ancient times as Banga Desh, which includes present day Bangladesh and Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa.


Ramayana and Mahabharata, Durga Saptasati, Kali, Shiva Purana, Chandi Pata, Jagannath Pata, Manasha (the serpent godess), Yama Pata- depicting sufferings in Narak, Behula- Lakhinder, Ghazi Pata, Jishu Pata and of course Santhal Janam Katha (origin of the Santhals) and other stories from Santhal life and myths.

The finding of a recent American research is that the Bengal Patachitras are the mother of all comic strips in the world.


Their occupation is to paint a story in a sequence on a scroll (Pata) of paper or cloth and showing with the help of related narrative lyrics. The songs are either written and composed by themselves or learnt through oral traditions. They resort to chronological sequencing of a story and while doing so they visualize and paint the episode of a definite moment, when a reference to it becomes imminent in the oral narrative.

In Eastern India the Chitrakars can be broadly divided into two main groups- the Patuas and the Jadu Patuas.  The Patuas serve to the populace ‘in general’ and Jadu Patuas serves mainly to Santhal Adivasis along with other populace of the area.

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The Patuas-              

The Chitrakars or Patuas are neither Hindus nor Muslims but most of them have two names- one Hindu and one Muslim name. It is not surprising to find Kamalpati and Kamaluddin are the same person. A peep into their inner life shows how they have maintained a perfect balance between two religions and can teach many of us lessons of intolerance. They are a good example of religious harmony and integrity.

As said earlier that they carry two names, but generally one name is popular, which can be a Hindu or a Muslim name. Here interestingly, suppose a Patua is popularly known as Sk. Shaboor or Kalam, his wife might be applying sindur (vermillion) in the parting of her hairs and uses Shankha bangles (symbols of Hindu married women), in another instance, Shankar Patua’s wife might not uses neither of these rather apply Surma (a kind of eye liner) in her eyes and looks like a perfect married Muslim women in her appearance. It is a common sight inside the house of most of the Patuas, the pictures of Hindu gods, goddesses are hung together with pictures of holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.

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The Patuas are spread mainly in the districts of Medinipur, 24 Parganas, Birbhum and Murshidabad. The paint stories from Hindu mythology, some of the popular themes are Manasha Mangal (Behula- Lakhinder), Chandi Mangal, Raja Harish Chandra, Sati Savitri, Nemai Sanyas, Satya Narayan, Yama Pat (The Court of Yamraj) and stories from Ramayana and Mahabharat. Also they paint a number of stories from Islamic traditions like Satya Pir, Ghazi Pir and on contemporary subjects like Advantage of Education, Anti Dowry and Equality to Women (Gender discrimination), HIV-AIDS and disasters like 9/11 and Tsunami and many more.

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The Jadu Patuas

As said earlier the Jadu Patuas serves mainly to the Santhal Adivasis. Santhals are one of the largest and oldest among the Indian tribes, spread over Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, M.P. Assam and Jharkhand. The Santhals are mainly horticulturist and nature lovers. For their day-to-day and agricultural needs they are dependent on other communities like potters, blacksmiths, weavers etc known as “Harmittang” among Santhals.

There is another community, falling in this class of Harmittang are Jadu Patuas whohave earned a separate entity by virtue of their ‘Pata’ (scrolls).  Jadu Patuas are basically entertainers but they have a definite and an important ritual to perform in Santhal life- is “Chakshudaan” (vision giving/vision donation).

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There is a misconception regarding the term Jadu Patua. Since Santhals call them Jadau Guru (respected person), people generally confuse or relate this term with Jadu or magic. But Jadu Patuas neither have any relation or they practice magic. Some scholars have an opinion that it is a gimmick to perform Chakshudaan. A Jadu Patua never show any gimmicks, rather Chakshudaan is similar to the Shraddh ceremony among Hindus, end of   the mourning period, after any death in the family.

When a Santhal dies, within 2-3 days after the cremation or burial (depending on which system the family follows), a Chitrakar visits the mourning family with a single small painting of a male, in case a male had died or of a female, in case a female had died. Also items (Jadu Patua wishes to get gifted) like utensils, a hen or goat, an umbrella is painted in the picture but noticeably eyeball of the human figure is not painted.

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When a Jadu Patua reaches the household, a Charpai or a Chowki, with a clean bed-spread is laid for him to sit, his feet are washed by the head of the family, a brass bowl filled with turmeric mixed water is kept besides him. After settling down, The  Jadu Patua  narrates an imaginary story that he met the deceased person in his dreams, s/he was very upset and confused because he could not see the path of the heaven because his eyes are left behind on earth to see his favorite earthly things like goat, utensils etc. At the end of the story he shows the family, the reflection of the painting in the bowl. The Jadu Patua continues to say that he had promised the deceased to bring his/her favorite things so he can go to heaven. After this the family gives him some money, food, used cloths, mattress etc. of the deceased and Jadu Patua very aptly paints the eye and shows the reflection of the painting (with complete eye) and with this ritual, the mourning period considered to be over and the family returns to their normal routine.

It is with this skill or his swiftness in panting the eye, is appears like a gimmick, which people relates with magic tricks and magic to the term Jadu. Some people believe it needs some magical powers to make it possible to bring back some ones vision. Rather, as mentioned earlier, Santhals call them Jadau Guru and in colloquial term Jadau became Jadu. As mentioned, the Jadu Patuas serve mainly to Santhal tribes; naturally their concentrations are in the Santhal populated areas in the districts of Bankura, Purulia and Birbhum of West Bengal and Dumka, Godda, Deoghar and Dhanbad districts of Jharkhand.

The Jadu Patua’s paint mythological stories similar as Patuas but their a specialization  is to paint Santhal Janam Katha (Origin of the Universe), which is tribal concept of how the universe and first human couple born.


The Patuas use vegetable or earth colours. They obtain these colours by grinding or burning some stones, extract of some flowers, vegetables and leaves. The colours are then mixed with natural gum of Bael (Aegle mermalos) or Tamarind seed (Tamarindos indica) gum to make them applicable. Previously a long cloth was treated with a coating of chalk-white mixed with gum and smoothened by rubbing with a smooth round stone. The surface thus is ready to paint. However, presently the use of paper is popular among Chitrakars.

The drawings are free from external influences and the lines are simple, bold and spontaneous in character. While subjects are basically the same, the depiction and painting style differs from, person to person. This tradition has been carried through the ages often with individualistic variations.


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  1. Shubhashis says:

    Thanks to Ravi Kant Dwivedi for sharing this with us. I shall request Ravi, an Ex-Student of Kala Bhavana in mid to late 70s to share with us more specific information with photographs of the ‘Jadu Patuas’- the Santhal chitrakars; as in this part of the world in and around Santiniketan we do not find the Santhal chitrakars in general. At least no such Santhal chitrakar has come to my notice in near about Santiniketan. These photographs of Patachitras or the scrolls are in the collection of The Asian Heritage Foundation (AHF), New Delhi. The AHF has world’s single largest collection (more than 5300) of Patachitra and Jadu Pats, which Ravi Kant Dwidedi has documented and archived. His contribution to this web site ‘Muktodhara’ is genuinely appreciated.

    • Anonymous says:

      I must thank dwivedi for his excellent contribution towards this traditional form of art. Is there any relation between pata chitra of Bengal and phad paintings of Rajasthan? Both are folk paintings and technique is almost the same. Apart from these what are the other similarities these styles have.

  2. Ravi Kant -Pata chitra niye tomar lekha khub bhalo laaglo. Sanger protyekta chabi asadharon. abar porte hobe. chabigulo barey barey dekhar moto.

    • bijoy says:

      Diwedi, I appreciate your contribution to this excellent form of folk art. I have a question. Could you please tell me the differences and relationships between the two very similar form of art- Pat Chitra of Bengal and Phad Paintings of rajasthan.

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