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Naya, a village where even a toddler knows how to hold a paintbrush

11 August, 2022 11:20:49
Naya, a village where even a toddler knows how to hold a paintbrush

Here’s a village tucked in a quaint corner of Pingla, Paschim Midnapur where even a two-year old holds on to a paintbrush even before they learn to walk properly. This is the Artist Village of Bengal where every house is looks like a painter’s open canvas and every resident is a born artist. This is the village that has sent award-winning artists to different parts of the globe, simple folk who have won at the world podium through their exquisite art forms --- the pata chitra. They have helped a dying art survive the test of time and relentlessly are passing it down to the next generations. They are the folk artists of Naya, who have preserved the quintessential folk-art traditions of Bengal on scrolls, that when unrolled, frame by frame, opens up a new world where the artist sings out the tale they painted. Travelling through Naya is a visual treat indeed.

Every mud hut is painted with plants and animal figures. From one tigers in luminescent yellow will leap at you, their vivid red tongues sticking out, while others showcase crocodiles swallowing their prey, some have the sunny flowers, owls with gigantic eyes, birds, and plants. It’s almost like being in a giant public art space. Patachitra had been popular among tribes like Santhals, Hos, Munda, Juangs and Kherias who painted them depicting the birth of their first ancestors Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Burhi, tales on how they had seven sons and seven daughters and how these seven brothers were married to their sisters. With the growing influence of Buddhism, patuas also embraced the faith. Buddhist kings and monks made extensive use of scroll paintings to preach Buddhism and during this time, Patachitra even spread to distant shores of Bali, Java, Sri-Lanka, Malaysia and Tibet. With Muslim invasions, Islam spread and painters became followers of Islam.


But this ancient folk art is still appreciated by art lovers all over the world for its effortless style of drawings, colours, lines and space usage. The world Pata derived from Sanskrit word Patta means cloth. The painters are called Patuas. Interestingly, patuas do not just paint, they also sing as they unfurl the painting scroll to show it to the audience. These songs are known as Pater Gaan. The songs range from traditional mythological tales and tribal rituals to stories based on modern Indian history and contemporary issues like protecting forests and preventing spread of HIV/AIDS. Patuas generally use natural colours, which they procure from various trees, leaves, flowers and clay.

The people of Naya have been artists for generations. There are 250 patachitra painters living in Naya and on any day, most of them are seen painting something or the other since morning, on a scroll or a saree or on jewelry. What’s inspiring is that every child of Naya also know how to wield a brush. Many chitrakars have been part of international projects like Manu Chitrakar, who has done a graphic novel about the life of Martin Luther King Jr –  I See The Promised Land – in collaboration with African-American writer and Blues singer, Arthur Flowers. Chitrakars like Manu straddle both faiths --- Hinduism and Islam, practicing customs from each. Some have syncretic names and Hindu and Muslim customs are often blended in this village.

Naya is just 3-4 hours drive from Kolkata and every November, they hold an annual fest, known as Pot Maya – three days of art, music and dance to celebrate the success of chitrakars in reviving their heritage. Painted sarees, stoles, T-shirts etc and décor items like lampshades, curtains, wall hangings are usually on display. The village also has a folk art resource centre (CHITRATARU), which showcases Patachitra paintings and products. They also hold workshops, and if you are enthusiastic to learn how to make patas and natural paints, they will teach you that too!

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