The past coexists with the present in India. Patachitra is an ancient but living tradition of storytelling where the folk painters called patuas paint the stories on long scrolls and sing them. The patuas use colors extracted from various trees, leaves, fruits, flowers, seeds, and rocks. Traditionally, the paintings were on mythological stories. Nowadays, patuas paint scrolls on contemporary social issues ranging from violence against women to climate change.
Naya Village is the largest hub of patuas of West Bengal—a state in eastern India. The community celebrates their unique heritage in an annual festival called POT Maya. This year marked the seventh edition of their festival, held from 11 to 13 November.
The festival visitors, locals and outsiders alike, had many good things to say. Apart from enjoying the traditional cultural heritage of the community, they also appreciated the cultural performances put up during the festival. It was interesting to observe that many of the visitors who came from nearby cities and towns like Kolkata and Kharagpur, shared that they learned about the festival from different blogs. Subho Ghosh, a research scholar from IIT Kharagpur, felt that the paintings were extraordinary and that the Paater Gaan (Patachitra Songs) was an exclusive and aesthetic experience. For first timers like Jhilik Pal, the diversified Patachitra products were very attractive and utilitarian.
For repeat visitors of POT Maya, this year had two surprises. One was the newly developed Folk Art Centre that has not only a display of community art but also lodging facilities for visitors. And the other surprise was the collaborative musical presentation of Duo Fatale, two Swiss musicians traveling across West Bengal.
The patuas and their cluster Chitrataru are happy with how far they have come with POT Maya, which they have been hosting independently over last couple of years. They are happy that local people are showing interest and buying patachitra, which was limited to foreigners and urban visitors. They credit this newfound local interest to their festival. And while they are happy with their community’s progress, they feel as though they need to work more to ensure that the art tradition is safeguarded in totality and feel an urgency to transmit not just the product-making skills but also the singing skills and the stories.
ICH Correspondent Ananya Bhattacharya (Director, banglanatak dot com, India)