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Scroll Paintings Patua Paintings

Scroll Paintings in different parts of the world, especially China and Japan, have been associated with the history and culture of these civilizations. Scroll Paintings in West Bengal too are a part of an elaborate cultural performance, where they are unrolled while the story accompanying the pictures is sung. Known as Patua Paintings they narrate mythological and historical stories.

The Patuas of Mednipore (West Bengal) have practiced this art for centuries and have adapted their art form according to the needs of the time. This capacity to adapt has ensured that Patua Painting is one of the few surviving indigenous art forms of the region.

The Patuas

The Patuas of West Bengal are interesting anomalies. They are an endogamous caste whose religion is difficult to determine, for they follow both Hindu and Muslim customs. Muslim rituals mark all their important ceremonies but they paint Hindu stories in their scrolls and also observe a number of Hindu Festivals. The Patuas visit villages and go from house to house with their bag of scrolls. They narrate stories while unrolling the scrolls; in return of his services he is paid in cash or kind.
Most Patuas happen to be men and there are few, if any, women Patuas.

The Patas

Patas are sheets of paper sewn together and painted upon. These scrolls narrate mythological stories and in recent times they have incorporated other themes to cater to the changing taste of their customers. Contemporary Patas have dealt with historical events, ecological disasters such as storms and floods, and commentary on social issues.

They were once painted on cloth, but are now executed on cheap handmade paper. The scrolls are almost always unmounted. The size of the scroll paintings varies, they can be as short as four feet, and as long as fifty feet, however the average length of a Pata is around fifteen feet. A Pata is divided into vertical compartments, again not always of equal length, and each compartment narrates a different episode of the story.

Materials used in Patua Paintings

An array of interesting materials is used in Patua paintings. In the hey days the cloth which was used as the canvas, used to be coated with cow dung to obtain some texture, but today white paper is pasted on brown paper. They used natural materials as colors too - lamp soot for black, turmeric for yellow and indigo for blue. These materials were mixed with the gum of the wood apple tree, tamarind seed paste, neem gum and eggshell. A starch derived from the bel (Passion Fruit) fruit was used as binding material. But today most Patuas use synthetic colors and gums.

The themes of Indian Scroll Paintings

The mythological stories narrated by the Patuas are generally derived from the Hindu epics of Mahabarata and Ramayana, and also region specific myths like that of the snake goddess Manasa of Bengal. Krisha Radha legends are another favorite theme of the Patuas. But in Modern times the themes are derived from contemporary social and political issues. There are satires and tongue in cheek commentary on recent issues; even important topics like AIDS have caught the attention of the Patuas.

Globalization and availability of alternate forms of entertainment and information (thanks to internet and satellite television) in the remotest corners has resulted in dwindling interest in this once popular art form.
Globalization and availability of alternate forms of entertainment and information (thanks to internet and satellite television) in the remotest corners has resulted in dwindling interest in this once popular art form.

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