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#TravelTales: Exploring Naya, Bengal’s Village of Singing Painters

A quaint little village in West Bengal, Naya is home to around 250 patuas or chitrakaars, a unique community of folk artistes who are painters, lyricists, singers and performers all rolled into one.

#TravelTales: Exploring Naya, Bengal’s Village of Singing Painters

An intricate tapestry of music and visual art is what makes Naya more than just a village in West Bengal’s Paschim Midnapore district. A quaint little village, Naya is home to around 250 patuas or chitrakaars, a unique community of folk artistes who are painters, lyricists, singers and performers all rolled into one. These traditional painter singers specialize in the ancient folk art of pata chitra, a type of narrative scroll painting.

Naya village
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The Patua community of West Bengal has practiced the ancient craft of patachitra since the 13th Century. The traditional painters would wander from village to village, entertaining and educating village folks. They would unroll each hand-painted scroll, frame by frame, and sing pater gaan or narrative songs that they had composed themselves.

Their diverse repertoire included mythological stories and tribal folklore as well as social messages and narrations on contemporary events. In return for their performance, the villagers would remunerate the hardworking artists with rice, vegetables and coins.

A Patachitra
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Over time, however, interest in this art form faded out. To ensure that their art form remained relevant in the contemporary world, the patuas adapted their skills and themes to changing times. As a part of this effort. a group of innovative patuas established a patachitra village at Naya. Slowly, their efforts to revive their artistic heritage started paying off.

Today, after a period of decline, the patachitra art is flourishing again in the village, with village youngsters taking up the traditional art form as a passion and profession.

A pata is created by painting on a canvas made by stitching together multiple sheets of commercial poster paper. In earlier days, jute fibre canvas was used. Plant-based colours and lamp black (a pigment made from soot) are mixed in coconut shells with the sap of the bel tree (wood apple), which acts as a binder. After finishing, a thin cotton cloth is glued to the back of the painting to provide longevity. Next, the completed scrolls are kept in the sun to dry. The patuas also paint wooden souvenirs, decorative hangings and mud walls with striking natural colours.

A Patachitra scroll
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Presently, the patuas of Naya make rectangular and square-shaped paintings of different sizes – only a few of them still make the traditional 20 feet long scrolls. In addition to stories from folklore, mythology and epics, the artists have started choosing their themes from contemporary events such as the 9/11 attacks, the French Revolution, the life of Mother Teresa, and the devastating tsunami of 2004.

Social messages like conservation of trees, female infanticide, child trafficking and AIDS awareness also figure in their paintings. In addition to the scrolls, the patuas also paint single-panel images of traditional subjects, such as a cat eating a lobster or fish, tigers, rows of cows or white owls. A few of them still sing their self-composed songs, but only on demand.

The patachitra art tradition was customarily  passed down from father to son, but today many patua women have also taken up the craft, guided by Dukhushyam Chitrakar (a highly respected senior painter). Led by her, these women have not only established themselves as excellent artists, but also as leaders within the community.

Swarna Chitrakaar, a patua artist of Naya
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Under an initiative ‘Art for Livelihood’, these women are spearheading local development. The patuas now paint on a diverse range of medium including cloth, clay and ceramic. With the support of the NGO banglanatak dot com, the patuas have also founded a painter’s co-operative, CHITRATARU, that has helped their work find new markets and audiences.

Thanks o this initiative, patas from Naya have found a place in renowned art galleries across the world. Many patuas from the village have won the President’s Award too. They have also participated in exhibitions, cultural exchange programs and festivals in USA, Germany, Australia, France, Britain, Sweden, and China, as well as all over India. With their work winning widespread acclaim, Naya is now regularly visited by art collectors and enthusiasts from all over the world.

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Since 2010, CHITRATARU has also been organizing an annual three-day festival ‘Pot Maya’ to celebrate the success of the local artists in reviving their heritage. Held in November every year, the festival showcases modern paintings as well as scrolls dating back hundreds of years.

A display at the Pot Maya festival
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The villagers paint the mud walls of their houses with colourful patachitra motifs and hangs scrolls on ropes in the courtyards. They also spruce up the surroundings and adorn the entire village in flowers before readying their homes for the visitors’ stay – with no hotel in the village, the patuas house the visitors in their own homes and in tents.

With the onset of the festival, the quiet hamlet is transformed into a vibrant cultural hub where visitors can learn about the craft of patachitra. Several workshops are held, stories are told, and different types of pata artwork is displayed for sale. Musical and dance performances by eminent artists start in the evening and go on well into the night. Demonstrations on natural colour extraction from sources such as marigold, indigo, teak leaves, saffron, and turmeric are also held.

Watching a patua singing gently in harmony with the soft colours and delicate imagery of his work, as oil lamps create a magical play of light and shadow over the canvas, is a spellbinding experience. If you are an art enthusiast, make time to the visit this unique village for a mix of traditional art and music in a beautiful rural setting.

This year, the Pot Maya festival will be held between from 11th to 13th November at the Naya village, which is a three hour drive from Kolkata.

Contact Number of Gurupada Chitrakaar, a National Award winning patua from Naya : 0947559979

Also Read: This Mysterious Himachal Village Was a Meeting Point for Famous Artists, Potters and Actors

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