Patachitra is a story telling tradition of the Medinipore region of West Bengal in Eastern India. In this unique art form, oral tradition meets the visual structures of a narrative. The bard presents the story with pictures and simultaneously narrates a song called “Pater Gaan”. The word pata is derived from the Sanskrit and Pali word patta, which means “cloth.” Chitra means “picture.” Patachitra means “picture painted on cloth.” The painter community is called Patua. All of them bear the last name Chitrakar, meaning painter.
Patuas use colors extracted from various trees, leaves, fruits, flowers, seeds, and clay. Traditionally, the paintings were on mythological stories. Nowadays,Patuas paint scrolls on contemporary social issues ranging from violence against women to climate change. They are deftly capturing the changing times as they paint scrolls on tsunamis, 9/11, and other current events.
Patachitra is appreciated by art lovers for its effortless style of drawings and colors. The style of painting bears a strong linkage with paintings of Mohanjo-Daro and Harappa. The illustrious journey of Pata can be traced to the Buddhist period when it was used to spread the Jataka stories among the common people.
Earlier the Patua communities were found in most of the districts of south Bengal. Pockets of Patua communities can be still found in districts like Bardhaman, Bankura, East and West Medinipore, and Purulia in south Bengal. A few Patuas in Bankura and West Medinipore still wander from one village to another showing scrolls and collecting alms. Kolkata, too, has its inimitable style of Kalighat Pata, which sublimely captures the lifestyle of the city in the eighteenth century.
Patachitra was originally an art form of the Santhalcommunity. The influence of Buddhism is very much pronounced in their Patas. Santhal Pata is primarily of three types: Patas depicting various miraculous activities of the Santhal deities, ritualistic pats (Paroloukik Pata) depicting life after death, and lastly, the enquiry pat (Mara Haza Pata), which is painted to look for a person gone missing while hunting or otherwise. Chakhkhudan Pat is a custom still practiced during bereavement. When a person dies, the Patua visits the house of the deceased with a painting of the deceased, without depicting the eyes. Later the eyes are painted with charcoal and turmeric with the belief that it will free that person from all malicious deeds. Then this painting is immersed in water along with the ashes of the deceased.
Naya village of Pingla block in the West Medinipore district has kept the tradition of Patachitra alive. The village is home to around sixty Patua families. There are living heritages like Dukhushyam and Rani Chitrakar, national award winners like Gurupada Chitrakar who pursued their art form when it was a dying tradition. Today art lovers travel to the village to see and buy the paintings. Visitors stay at the resource centre or with the Patua families. Every November, there is a three day festival Pot Maya is thronged by hundreds of visitors. Women of Naya, such as Swarna, Monimala, or Jaba, are inspiring younger women to pursue the tradition. Today, the Patuas are travelling across the world showcasing their art form. Safeguarding Patachitra has contributed to socio-economic empowerment of the community. The art form has witnessed a revolution of color and ideas.