POUSH MELA-2012: THE PATACHITRA ARTISTS
POUSH MELA-2012: THE PATACHITRA ARTISTS
The Patachitra or scroll-painting artists, invariably, along with the Dokra artists always sell their products on ground under the open sky in all Poush Melas. A roof at the fair ground is simply not available to these two great traditional artists from Bengal. In the land of Nandalal & Ramkinkar in Santiniketan, where plenty of pure rubbish can find a roof at Poush Mela, this is a fairly hard truth to digest for the sensible minds. Let us forget this for the time being and focus on Patachitras, after all I can only report what I could actually observe!
The Patachitra artists in Bengal usually belong to Midnapore district, but they are also spread elsewhere in smaller numbers. I got a bit familiar with a lady artist from Pingla, Midnapore and had some extensive talk with her about Patachitra. It is a family tradition passed on from generations. Interestingly, in the case of Patachitra, the future generation has a fair chance of getting into the trade of forefathers. These products do sell at fairs. A Patachitra artist is expected to make Rs5000/- at the minimum and up to Rs30000/+ at the upper end from this Poush Mela. Most of these folks will move to a fair at Jalpaiguri, from Santiniketan. Others will disperse to other fairs. The West Bengal Government organizes a fair at Midnapore district exclusively for these Patachita artists, this year the Patachitra festival ‘Pat Maya’ was held in Pingla, Midnapore district on 20th November 2012. All the fairs are usually held in winter in this part of the world, and hence it is a busy season for them. Few lucky ones get a call to be present at large craft fairs in Delhi or Mumbai, and that usually results in very good sales. The fair organizing committees do have an important role to play in promoting this type of traditional craftwork.
Patachitra or scroll painting in essence in not a craftwork, but a story told musically with the help of Patachitra displays. These days the music or the narrative part has vanished more or less, only a few old Patachitra artists can still sing a ballad along with the Patachitra displays. Pata artists sound a ‘dug-dugi’ (a tiny palm held drum) to attract the villagers with Pata scrolls and sing out the narrative. This can go on a daily basis, with some income and bagful of rice donated by the villagers. Singing along with Pata scrolls being less remunerative and requiring more singing skill, Patachitra now is getting slowly confined to a purely craft or artwork. But the scroll paintings remain intriguing, just as well, because of the ingrained story telling capacity. Every Patachitra, more or less, narrates some story, some facet of society or religion. The long scroll of paintings have now shrunk in length, the longest being 6 to 8 feet, suitable enough as an elegant wall hanging at the best. For example, the 5 feet (approx.) scroll below (in the snap), sold for Rs800/-, by the same lady from Pingla, after a bit of bargaining by the customer.
The shorter versions sale faster.
The related Government organizations have now guided the Pata artists to diversify their products to earn more. A plethora of new products can be found, like shirts, umbrellas, flower vases, caps, painted saras (earthen plates) etc. For these items, the Patachitra artists use standard fabric colours, a shift from their original scroll painting colours. A lady customer, with a small hand held fan appeared to be an interesting photographic composition for me! These fans sold for Rs50/-.
The jewelry box (snap above) costs around Rs100/-.
From the angle of sales, these products appeared interesting, but certainly out of tune with the basic structure and utility of scroll-paintings. The narrative singing has lost out to proliferation of the Tele Vision. Patachitras have now got reduced to interesting wall hangings, much preferred by urban folks and art collectors. The same piece of jewelry box may cost more than double in cities like Delhi or Mumbai.
Once upon a time interesting narrations were built upon such pieces. I kept on wondering, with fair amount of amusement, about the narrative song accompanying the old scroll painting above. The brownish looking Patachitras are old products, probably created by the forefathers of the present generation artists who have bought them to the fair again for sale at relatively higher prices. One particular difference that occurred to me is that the old painters definitely used finer brushes and the colours were less sparkling.
Interviewing the present generations artists, I have come to know that, for scroll painting they do not use fabric paints, but colours made indigenously at home. For example- the green is made from leaves, the orange from Khayer (an item used in Paan-the beetle-leaf), yellow from Haldi (turmeric), white from Chalk (lime stone?), black from coal-carbon etc. The adhesive is the great ‘Bel-er Atha’ (gum from wood apple). But honestly speaking, the sparkle of the recent scroll paintings made me rather skeptical about their claim.
Radha & Krishna will always remain the proverbial best-selling story of Indian mythology. To be frank, I always remain fairly impressed by the duo. Among the three scrolls as above, the last one is a more recent production. Even then please note the sparkle of the last scroll; it would be clear in later part of the article that most of the recent scroll paintings are even more sparkling than this one. In my limited knowledge, even in the last scroll painting of Krishna and his girl friends most probably ingredient colours have been used. Interesting to note in the last Patachitra, a lady is fanning Lord Krishna with a hand held fan, perhaps Krishna was feeling bit too hot either by playing flute to induce Radha into romance, or perhaps the sheer presence of the ladies added to the atmospheric heat of Briandavana at that point of time! In any case, never seen before a lady fanning Lord Krishna while he is playing flute, that too in the open fields of Brindavana!
Quite an interesting composition.
Bishnu, as ‘Baraha Avatar’ (snap below) remains interesting as well.
Compared to Lord Krishna, Devi Durga, Lord Shiva or Devi Saraswati appears more at ease with circumstances, and with less flambuoyance. Devi Durga is ofcourse a dynamic personality at the pose when she finishes off the demon ‘Mahisasura’; but otherwise she remains a stoic picture of faith and stability. All these God & Godesses have many interesting side stories, but such mythological paintings are hard to come by even from Patachitra artists. These days the motifs have certainly shifted to general rural life, with a tribal overtone in drawing patterns, which will be apparent when we come closer to the present generation. We are actually still mostly into scroll painting by the generations before the present.
The discernible ones always try to find the old Patachitras; these old creations have a niche clientele, who are aware of their antique value. Moreover, these old creations certainly differ in mood from the present creations. As scroll painters basically reflect their social experience in their paintings, with changing social structure subjects tend to differ quite a lot.
The scroll painting above, a relatively recent production, bit definitely from one belonging to the old school, made me ponder for quite sometime. Going from left, I presumed that the horse ridden character must be King Dasaratha killing a hapless son of a sage couple, later to face the wrath of the parents; but I failed to decipher the idea of a marriage to a bird in the third scene (from left) and certainly rued my lack of knowledge in Hindu mythology. The stories painted over the scrolls are the things to enjoy. Next time in Poush Mela, I shall try to get to the narrative part of the scroll paintings in much more details, perhaps with the aid of a sound or video recording system. It can be great if ex-students can help in this venture with more sophisticated gadgets.
Note the sparkle of modern day scroll paintings; we are now into present tense of Patachitra. The subjects remain interesting as social statements, but certainly in changed dimensions. The scroll above appeared fascinating to me with respect of the subjects portrayed. At the top it is the paddy sapling planting time at the very start of the cultivation season; then the harvesting season at the middle. At the bottom it is the festive occasion on ‘Laban’ or ‘Nabanna’, where the ladies are busy cooking and preparing delicious milk made sweets.
Rural life of people is an important theme these days. Making of the ‘Khejur Gur’ is one such occasion.
In the snap above, the character at the left bottom corner appeared pretty interesting. I am not 100% sure, but it seems the suited & booted guy is actually holding a movie camera. If that is so, then the painting can be a depiction of a movie set! With a turtle and a conch like gallery it is a fairly bizarre composition for sure, the blue base suggests water where as the camera holding man (if that is so) is standing on a green field! Well, I could not make out much about this particular scroll painting. Maybe next time more effort will be put to comprehend the paintings from the artists themselves.
Whether it is the forefathers or the present generation artists, all Patachitra painters remain quite enthusiastic about portraying marriage ceremonies. The subject appears to be a perennial favourite to them. The now non-existent palanquins, which used to carry the newly weds, can often be found in scroll painting. The wonder is these artists are eager to marry off everyone, right from human beings, to birds, fishes and even the tigers. The marriage ceremony of the tiger bride & groom (snap below) with elephants dancing (and perhaps singing too!) and another tiger playing the percussion instrument ‘tabla’ was just fascinating to watch.
The palanquin carriers were also fairly interesting characters on display!
The artistic evaluation of scroll painting is a job for the art community. To me, essentially a layman in art matters, these kinds of home trained artists mostly use traditional patterns with natural innovation that is bound to happen along with passage of time. They maintain continuity in this folk art form, but the changes in society generally get reflected in their art. It is actually an art form continuously evolving in themes. This has kept the art alive till date; and as far as my understanding goes by talking with these Patachitra painters the coming generation is also very much likely to be involved in the same trade, though formal child education in schools has also become a serious issue for the parents. Interestingly, even if someone from this artist community gets a government job, say the job of a primary school teacher, he or she does not give up Patachitra painting even then! Plenty of love for the profession still makes the community fairly close knit where marriages are usually sought within the Patachitra artist community themselves.
The co-existence of the past and the present is the most intriguing phenomenon to realize while observing these scrolls paintings. The prevalence of the almost inexplicable past adds an aura of mystery to Patachitra. It is absorbing to look at the past, and we can only hope for the future tense. The thin silver line is still the market is able to sustain these artists, but they all need our encouragement. Please give a kind thought to these Patachitra artists when you visit the next Poush Mela.