Ancient Legacies

, People

Bengal follows a tradition of intangible cultural heritage that has been around for centuries being handed down orally from generation to generation

MOST of my childhood memories are associated with cozy lazy winter afternoons spent in my small suburban town near Kolkata. Sitting in groups outside the houses, soaking sun, eating oranges or freshly made pickles, while the neighbourhood aunts would be knitting sweaters and exchanging designs. Our eyes would eagerly wait for regular visitors, the snake charmers, the monkey or the bear man, who would show us various acts. However, all of us waited for a very special and occasional visitor, the Potua Kaku. He was a thinly built middle-aged man carrying a big jhola (bag) on his shoulder that used to be filled with scroll paintings called the Patachitras.

Ancient art

Patachitra has been mentioned in puranas, epics, ancient literatures and historical descriptions as the style of painting similar to the cave paintings of Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Ajanta. ‘Patuas’ and ‘Chitrakars’ have been referred to in literary works dating back to more than 2,500 years. The folk art is appreciated by art lovers all over the world for its effortless style of drawings, colours, lines and homemade dyes. The painters, known as Potuas, do not just paint, they also sing narrative songs called the Poter Gaan as they unfurl the painting scroll to the audience. The songs are of wide variety ranging from traditional mythological tales, tribal rituals to stories based.

Evils of modernisation

With the rapid urbanisation, there has been a steep decline in people indulging in such art forms. They now choose to buy the paintings and hang them in their living rooms forgetting that the real essence of these paintings lies in the song narratives that the Potua presents along with the paintings. Hence, the livelihood of such artists have been affected on a large scale.

Reviving the artform

But with the support of an NGO, ‘Banglanatak dot com’ and the European Union, the narrative scrolls have found new markets and new audiences. Since 2004, the organisations have been working with the Patuas to bring life to this dying art form. Since 2010, a three-day festival at the end of November named Pot Maya is being held at Naya village in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal, where the artists display their artworks. Last year, a music team from Switzerland was the highlight of the festival. Workshops are held at for tourists at a very nominal fee. Several musical performances are held at the venue performed by eminent artists giving them a platform to revive this ancient art again!

Written By: Nikita Sharma

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