Bengali Popular Art, Kalighat Patachitra

By Anuradha Datta

“Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love.” Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali renaissance man, and the first non-European to win the Noble Prize for Literature.

On 14 September 2015, Nehru Centre inaugurated a special exhibition on Kalighat Patachitra. This exhibition showcases, for the first time in the UK, a private collection of original Kalighat pata paintings.
The name Kalighat Pat or Kalighat painting comes from the name of the temple where it originated, and from the name of the village priests called Patuas who travelled from place to place and were the original painters of this folk art style and also  from the name of the cloths or scrolls, called patas on which the paintings were done.

Babu Bibi songbad

During the 19th Century near the Kalighat temple in Kolkata, India, pilgrims and visitors used to come and visit the temples of Goddess Kali and other deities, and take back souvenirs made by the local patuas from the Kali temple. The artists or the patuas used to visit pilgrim sites and make iconographic paintings of the Gods and Goddesses on earthen pots as well as scrolls. The visitors used to buy these patas, especially as they were more economical for the common man, than buying an idol. These paintings over a period of time developed as a distinct school of Indian painting.

By the early 19 Century Kali temple became a popular destination for local people and pilgrims from all over the country.  The paintings used to be an important media at that time, there was no photography, and these painters became the record keepers of that time. The artists not only painted the Gods and Godesses, but they started  to incorporate in their paintings scenes of daily life. Such as different professions, people in their local dress, dancing  girls etc. The artists also portrayed other secular themes and personalities and in the process played a role in the Independence movement. They painted heroic characters such as the revolutionary Tipu Sultan and Rani Lakshmibai.

Goddess Kali

Pata chitra is an art of rural Bengal.  Rural Bengal remained almost the same during the Colonial period. Urbanisation and the industrial revolution could not influence the simple lives of these rural artists, who continued with their own artistic sensibilities. The British later also became patrons of this art. The artists gradually started learning new techniques and started creating new forms of art.
They used several colours like blue, red, green, yellow and black. Yellow was produced from the roots of turmeric. Blues was made from the petals of Aparajita flower, the black was from the common soot from oil lamps.

This style of art also played a major role in influencing the likes of great Indian artists such as Jamini Roy. This particular form of art in rural Bengal is still a part of the folk art of Bengal.  It was a successful venture by NUGA and Baithak uk . There were many visitors who were genuinely interested in this form of art, and were engrossed in seeing this rare and special collection.


AnuradhaAnuradha Datta has a M. A in English Literature and a  B.ED