Traditional Pata Chitra art on verge of extinction

Ershad Kamol | Published: 22:25, Apr 13,2018

 
 

Image of a pata chitra by Shambhu Acharya.

Pata Chitra, scroll painting, a traditional art form of Bangladesh having history of over a few hundred years, is now on verge of extinction due to lack of promotion and preservation.
Those who are still continuing the family tradition of making Pata Chitra make their canvases and colours with natural elements to narrate the stories of the legends relevant to the contemporary audience. In some rural areas in Bangladesh, a choir, usually belonging to the snake charmer community, narrates the stories of the scroll paintings in night-long shows during the winter. Such songs have been termed as Pata Gaan (scroll painting songs) by some researchers.
Both the scroll painting makers and scroll painting singers say they occasionally perform these days in the rural areas as like many other traditional art forms Pata Chitra and Pata Gaan are on verge of extinction for the urbanisation and availability of various other entertainment sources on TV and Internet.
The artisans make the pata (canvas) by coating white coloured ordinary cloths with thin layer of clay. They also make vibrant basic colour sheds like red, green, yellow and black with vegetables, tamarind seeds, lime and others, and depict imaginary portraits of the legends by following some distinctive forms and patterns, what they learnt from their ancestors. Brushes are made from the hairs of a mongoose or a rat or a buffalo.
Art historians claim that the traditional art form has a history of over one thousand years and practiced in Bangladesh and in some parts of India.
But, the themes, composition and techniques followed by the artists living in Bangladesh differ a lot from those living in the Indian states. When the Indian traditional artists living in West Bengal and Orissa depict images of Hindu gods and goddesses, artists belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities living in Bangladesh depict myths of Gazi, Kalu Champbati that represent human beings’ supremacy over all living beings and religious tolerance.
These types of scroll paintings are also called as Gazir Pata in some parts in Bangladesh, especially in the South-west region where the myth was developed during the mediaeval period depicting a Muslim saint named Gazi, who married a Hindu girl named Chambabati and lived in the Sundarbans region by taming all the wild animals of the mangrove forest. Kalu is Gazi’s adopted brother and a close aide. So, images of a well-built man, tigers and beautiful woman are common features of the patas practiced by the rural artists in Bangladesh.
These scroll paintings are not usually displayed in art houses or galleries but are displayed in the rural areas as a performing art form where choirs, mostly belonging to snake-charmer community, narrate the stories of the patas or scroll paintings following the style of narrating ballads. These types of performances usually take place during the winter on the premises of the house of a rich person or a leader of a village.
Recently, the composition style of the patas or scroll paintings are drawing interests of the art lovers, galleries and promoters in the urban areas. They are holding scroll painting exhibitions made by the traditional artists at home and abroad. Shombhu Acharya, who has a family tradition of creating patas for over 400 years, displayed his works in art galleries in London, England.
Many traditional artists are also modifying their styles to get attention of the art promoters these days. They also say that they are finding it difficult to find choirs to render the narrations of the scrolls as snake charmer communities are on verge of extinction.
The government in 2016 has inscribed both pata gaan and pata chitra on national list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. But, there is no data of artistes who practice these art forms not even any safeguarding programme for continuation of the transmission process of the art forms.
But, as a ratifying country of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention 2003, it is the responsibility of the government to safeguard the ICH elements and the artists as well.

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