For Patachitrakars, singing their own composition is the first step towards painting

Painting is usually a visual art, not associated so much with sound. But, for Khadu and Radha Chitrakar, folk artists from the Patachitrakar community in West Bengal, singing their own composition is the first step towards painting. Their art stems from their music.

They performed at No. 1 Shanti Road studio recently, singing while displaying the paintings derived from their songs.

The event was organised by the Centre for Public History (CPH), Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, as part of their Living Histories series.

Melody and colour

The Chitrakars sang stories in Bengali, which were translated by Indira Chowdhury, director, CPH. Even someone who doesn’t understand the language would be enraptured by the melody.

“Each one of these paintings, however small or big, has a story behind it,” says Radha. The paintings are made on patas (scrolls of cloth) of various sizes.

One is struck by the vibrant colours of the vegetable dyes and the intricate patterns. These paintings are influenced by the Gond painting and Kalighat style, among other tribal and folk arts.

“Visiting and participating in several art exhibitions around the country, they have picked up different styles and have been experimenting constantly, bringing in more variety in themes and style of painting,” Indira says.

“The Patachitrakars were originally village entertainers. They would go around the town singing. With the popularity of television increasing, people stopped listening to them. This prompted them to create new narratives that reflect the current lifestyles of the people,” she adds.

Epic themes

Several members of the community belong to the Islamic faith; yet, the Puranas and the Hindu epics are a major theme. For instance, one of the songs performed at the event was on the abduction of Sita.

Wedding processions and local practices were other themes on display. Interestingly, they portray not just human weddings but also those of animals. The fish was a major recurring motif.

Social awareness

Among their contemporary compositions were stories woven around the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots that followed, and the 9/11 attack in New York.

“Theirs is a community that has lived in relative harmony with others. But there is always a chance that communal differences may lead to conflict. Through these songs, therefore, they help enhance the solidarity among the local people,” Indira says. The government employs them in campaigns for polio, HIV/AIDS and the like.

The Chitrakars seem to be not just custodians of an ancient art form but also active participants in a social process.