Jadupatua illustrations are vertical scroll paintings popular in Murshidabad, Birbhum, Bankura, Hooghly, Burdwan, and Midnapore districts of West Bengal and Santal Parganas of Bihar. Traditionally, they were executed on cloth, which was later replaced by paper.
The paintings showed the rewards and the punishments meted out by Yama, the God of death to the souls after their departure from the mortal world. The artists who painted these scroll were known as Jadupatuas or Duari Patuas, which literally meant magical painters. Belonging to the same community of potters, barbers, blacksmiths, sweetmeat makers and inhabiting the region of Santal Parganas, they traveled from village to village and gave their performances for which they were paid in cash or kind. The other means of livelihood practiced by them included cultivating a piece of land or piercing nose and ears.
Besides this, they also visited homes, which were recently visited by death with a picture of the deceased complete in every aspect except for the iris of the eyes. They also carried with them other paintings showing objects like utensils, cows, goats, ornaments and money. Once they reach the house of the deceased they evaluated the resources of the family and based on their judgment took out the pictures stating that their loved one is wandering in the other world without a sight and they could restore the vision in return of the objects indicated in the picture. Once they received the payment, the Jadupatuas would perform the ‘Chakshudana’ i.e. restoration of the eyes by filling in the iris of the eyes on the painting.
The Santals also followed a tradition where the charred bones of the dead were immersed in river Damodar. Most of the Santals found it a difficult preposition so they often requested the Jadupatuas to go to Damodar and make a symbolic immersion by consigning the drawing in the water. In return, the Jadupatuas received fees for it.
Apart from the funeral theme, the Jadupatua paintings included other subjects too like ---‘the story of creation of the Santals’, ‘the Santal festival of Bahu’, ‘Jatras or mass meeting of the Santals for dancing’, ‘the personification of Santal clans’, ‘a tiger or leopard’ and ‘the adventures of Krishna with the milkmaids’.
The scrolls executed in natural colors,with brushes made of goat hair, were characterized by a common form and style. The Jadupatua families of Santal Paraganas had close connections with the Patuas of Bengal and thus certain common idioms were reflected in the paintings.Typically, in the Jadupatua paintings there was a sheer abandonment that enabled the artist to distort any or every form and give expressions & colors for dramatic and poetic purposes however where the contact with the Hindu society was greatest the figures showed more sophistication.