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Pata Chitra

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Colors, Rhythms, and Stories: Patachitra Unraveled

Pata chitra or pattachitra is a traditional cloth painting technique. This art form is believed to have originated as early as the 12th century. It is one of the oldest living art forms. Pashchim Midnapur district of West Bengal is the hub of Patachitra artists. This ancient art of scroll painting is a major component of narrative art in Bengal, originally used as a visual additive during the performance of a song. The Bengal patachitra usually has a subject matter steeped in folklore and mythology. However, Kalighat patachitra can be considered as a portrait of colonial society and ‘babu’ culture as well.

The painters or ‘Patuas’ use cloth and paper as primary materials for their art. The word ‘pattachitra’ comes from the words ‘patta’ and ‘chitra’ meaning cloth and picture respectively. The canvas is prepared by coating the ‘patta’ with a mixture of chalk and gum made from Tamarind seeds. This provides the canvas with a durable strength. After this the cloth is dried and the artist directly starts painting with natural colours and dyes. Traditionally, the borders of the pattachitra are painted first. Every painting has an intricate and thick border of floral designs. The distinctive feel of the pattachitra is contributed by the bright colours and bold brush strokes used.

The figures have well defined postures and large eyes. The paintings have fine strokes of black brush lines, giving the paintings a unique pen work effect. Yellow, red, white and black are predominant in the pattachitras. Black is made out of lampblack, yellow from haritala stone, and red from shingle stone or sindur mati (red clay), while white is prepared from crushed, boiled, and filtered shells and chalk. Nowadays, the chitrakars have transitioned into painting on various canvases including tussar and silk sarees, bags, wall hangings, jewellery, decorative items and show pieces. Bengal pattachitra is world renowned for its prominent iconographic style and fine, bold lines used with primal colours. They have a modernistic touch with abstract linear treatment and densely populated compositions narrating a story.