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Of lost tales

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Captivating (from top) Ravana being stopped by Jatayu, and Sita giving alms to Ravana from behind the Lakshman rekha.
Captivating (from top) Ravana being stopped by Jatayu, and Sita giving alms to Ravana from behind the Lakshman rekha.

RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN

Arts from the Earth attempts to bring back Chitrakathi from Pinguli.

Around 1999-2000 Lalit Kala Akademi had mounted an exhibition of paintings. The show had a small painting with a caption saying it was the last surviving work of art from a tribal family of Pinguli (Pinguli is an old village on the Konkan coast, about 32 km north of Goa). The painting was Chitrakathi – the famous folk and art form, now nearly extinct.

Since then, Siddharth Tagore, art and documentary filmmaker, collector and connoisseur of art whose expertise lies in tribal and folk art form, has been exploring Pinguli and parts of Andhra border, home to families whose forefathers used to do Chitrakathi, live. In 1978, a documentary-maker Mushir Ahmad in his 19-minute documentary showed that a community of 60 families has preserved this 300-year-old folk art form. Now, 21 years later, Tagore on the basis of his extensive travel and research in the areas says, “There is only one family which is doing it now.”

Chitrakathi, the art of telling tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata on horizontal scrolls, with vegetable colours – often two-dimensional (on both sides of a hand-made paper) –traces its origin from Paithan paintings of mythological figures and the de-sanskritised epics in vibrant Marathi. It follows Sant Dyaneshwar and the non-Brahmin saints of the Bhakti movement. Tagore has been able to “buy” these works of art “directly from the families”. His collections boasts 30 such works, some of which are 50 to 60 year old and in pathetic condition, but some are as young as one-year-old. He has mounted an exhibition of these works at Arts of the Earth – a small art gallery-cum-museum that he has recently formed at Hauz Khas Village.

The tales

The Chitrakathi exhibition has tales of Ravana kidnapping Sita, Ram and Lakshman tracing Sita, Jatayu being slashed by Ravana as he attempts to save Sita, Hanuman’s ordeal in finding Sita and so on. The works are a study of the years-old tradition, cultural and religious beliefs of their creators. For instance, most of the characters in their artworks have ‘slant’ or side faces, similar to animals. Their architecture through pillars, fluffy colourful curtains hung on the ceilings etc., come alive in them. The characters, especially females are localised. For instance, Sita wears nathni as women in Maharashtra do. And interestingly, the villains in the works for example, Ravana or Duryodhana, are white bodied while friendly figures like Hanuman, Sita or Rama etc., are mostly pink. “This rises from an urge to fight the British who were considered villains by them,” informs Tagore adding, since these works are ‘ritualistic’, their makers are rigid about making any changes in them. But he has started giving them contemporary themes to work so that this art form can be revived.

(The exhibition is on view till August 10 at 22-A Hauz Khas.)


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