With the introduction of Modern art in India, several ancient tradition forms of art are dying out. Naya, a hidden gem, in the state of West Bengal, struggles to keep the ancient craft of Pata Chitra alive. Just 130 kms away from the city of Kolkata, the artists of this village strive to adapt to contemporary art while still sticking to the basis of this traditional, 13th century art form. Besides the artwork itself, the beauty of this practice lies in the fact that these artists use plant and vegetable based colours and a pigment from soot. They mix this in coconut shells with sap from the wood apple tree which helps act as a binder for these colours.
Back in 2019 when I visited this village, I happened to be there during the "Pata Chitra Art Festival" A festival that attracts several photographers from West Bengal and is a site worth witnessing.What came as a shock was that, besides me and a fellow traveller from Ireland, there was nobody in the entire festival who was outside of Bengal. It was heartbreaking to see that such great work received barely any exposure at a national level, global reach seemed far off. Irrespective, one of the locals was kind enough to open up his home to us. You would think that given their lack of language skills and poor financial status, they were devoid of a happy, content life. But it seemed to be the exact opposite. No local had been as warm and welcoming as the locals of this quaint village. Besides inviting us into their home, they served us food, gave us a background of this lovely village, it's art and the struggles they faced as a community. We're quick to assume that poverty in India is equivalent to unhappiness. I was glad to have been proved wrong. The hospitality and the communal vibe of this village was a real eye opener. With the rich becoming richer, we tend to forget our roots. We're so involved in our own lives that community ceases to matter at all.
The traditional art form of Patachitra involves painting 5-20 ft scrolls that depict folktales, mythological stories and now even adressing several social causes. The artist not only displays these scrolls but also composes and performs a musical narrative to explain every image on the scroll. This blend of performance art with painting is what makes it so unique and special. While this continues to remain an invaluable tradition, that these artists struggle to keep alive, younger generations are also adapting to changing times without straying away from the basis of the technique. To sell their work to larger audiences, they now paint decorative handicrafts, household items and textiles. A means to provide a sustainable living for the community.
Though people across the country lack knowledge of this beautiful age old tradition, the Government of West Bengal and a local NGO has gone a long way in keeping this art form alive by collaborating with the EU. Artists have been certified, won awards for their work and have also travelled across different countries in the EU to display and perform their artwork. With the support of the National Government and global organizations like UNESCO these communities could definitely go a long way. Besides having their artwork recognized, providing financial aid to such art communities that exist all over the country, will help keep India's folk traditions and rich cultural heritage, survive and encourage younger generations to continue pursuing these art forms without succumbing to modern art culture.