Village of Painters: Patua: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal, India

Village of Painters: Patua: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal, India
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Village of Painters: Patua: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal, India


In West Bengal, India, a traditional caste community of artists, called patuas, paint colorful scrolls to accompany songs which they sing to relate historic, current, religious and cultural events to their audiences. These itinerant painter/singers are part of a long lineage that has passed the tradition down for generations.

In the past, patuas traveled long distances to perform in small villages, singing the songs and unrolling the scrolls panel by panel to accompany the narrative in exchange for food, clothing or payment. Now, many patuas perform in more populated areas for people who come to them to purchase their painted scrolls. While their work has been recognized by museums and universities around the world, the artists are still struggling to compete with other popular entertainment forms such as radio, television and movies. Over time, the artists have created repertoires of scrolls and songs that continue to engage their audiences, covering such topics as 9/11, the movie “The Titanic,” the tsunami in Indonesia and how to use a condom to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. Many of the scrolls have a moral or lesson which relates to the story.



To make a scroll, the patua begins with the paper. Artists use commercial poster paper, using one piece per frame of the scroll, sewing the pieces together. Once the pieces of paper have been assembled, the artist rolls the paper to make it conform to the proper shape. Most patuas use pencil to outline the forms of the characters and images. The individual frames are demarcated with decorative borders which disguise the seams between frames.

patua 2

After the imagery and borders have been laid out, the painting begins. The scroll painters use available plants and minerals to them to make pigments for the paintings. The gum of the bel (wood apple) fruit acts as a fixative and as a binder. Some of the colors and their sources are white – lime powder, yellow – turmeric, black – lampblack or crushed, burnt rice, red – pomegranate juice or vermilion paste, blue – indigo, green – broad bean leaves. Some artists purchase commercial paints to use in their work. Similarly, many artists use brushes that they make out of goat and squirrel hair while others purchase ready made brushes

The patuas’ official caste designation (or hereditary occupation) is “Chitrakar” or Picture Maker. The term patua and “Chitrakar” are interchangeable, though the artists generally use “Chitrakar “ as their surname even though they are not related to one another. Traditionally, patuas were men. Women have always assisted with the preparation of materials, but now they are also recognized as talented artists and performers in their own right. Female patuas play an important role in sharing information with women about issues that might be regarded as inappropriate topics of discussion between women and men.patua 3

As the scroll painters adapt their work to changing times and topics, their devotion to their trade can be seen in the following verse:



The Patua’s Creed

To speak the truth is our vow.

Our work will be to establish the truth.

We shall follow the path trodden by great men and women.

We shall serve the poor and downtrodden.

That will be our religion.

We shall speak the truth and not uphold the wrong.

It will spread the fragrance, the fragrance of the rose.

We will behave like human beings, not hating one another.

We shall light the way of truth, the light of truth will spread.

We shall overcome all malice and greed, all anger and lust.

To speak the truth is our vow.

Our work will be to establish the truth.

We shall follow the path trodden by great men and women.

We shall persuade men and women to act in a humane way,

To give up what is false in word and deed.

As the sunlight that shines on the daytime,

May we all become the light of goodness to everyone.

We shall honor those who are poor and oppressed.

Never shall we be unmindful of their sorrow.

We shall shun violence, speaking ill of others,

And spreading rumours.

To speak the truth is our vow,

And to follow the path trodden by great men and women

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Sudipta Kr Maiti
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Sudipta Kr Maiti

Founder at Tune Up Success
Sudipta Kr Maiti-An Engineer- a father-a common man-with -common-life experience- the mind behind Tune Up Success. Want to inspire you with simplicity and openness and promise to enhance your efficiency and capabilities towards success. Welcome, Happy Tuning..!!
Sudipta Kr Maiti
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