Kalighat Paintings refer to the class of paintings and drawings on hand-made or more usually on machine-made paper produced by a group of artists called. Kalighat Paintings is a form of Indian modern art that is inspired by religious and mythological characters as well as civil life. Kalighat paintings, as the name suggests, were created in the Kali Temple area on the ghat (bank) of the Burin Ganga (a canal diverging from the Ganges River) .
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I have visited several museums after that to get the inherent taste of this gracious art and found a great zeal to write a review with the knowledge that I have gathered these days. One of the earliest pieces of description on Kalighat paintings by Ajit Ghose 2 is also worth to be mentioned here.
Kalighat Paintings: Murder in the Collection | Royal Ontario Museum
The exact date of beginning the activities of the patuas at Kalighat is difficult to trace 3,4 as there are no historical documents about the origin. To know the origin of this genre, one has to rely upon certain evidences. The material evidences like type of paper and colours used by the patuas point towards the first half of the 19 th century for the origin of the type.
The other means to know the origin is to follow the date of acquisition of these paintings by different European collectors and from which it can be concluded that Kalighat paintings have been commenced sometime after the erection of present day Kalighat Temple and probably between first and second quarter of 19 th century.
By the early 19 th century the Kalighat Temple was a popular destination for local people, pilgrims and certain foreign visitors as well. With the rise of popularity and fame of the goddess Kali, many of the artisans and craftsmen flocked to Kalighat area to capitalise the new market by selling cheap religious souvenirs to the visitors.
Soon after that a number of skilled artists moved to Kolkata from the rural Bengal especially from 24 Paraganas and Midnapore and set up stalls outside the Temple. Each section was known as a pat and the artists therefore became known as patuas.
The patuas would travel from village to village, unrolling the scroll a section at a time and singing the stories to their audiences. However, the visitors to Kalighat did not want to buy long scrolls which would take a lot of time to paint.
The patuas therefore started painting single pictures involving just one or two figures that could be painted quickly with simple forms leaving the background plain and eliminating non- essential details. Jyotindra Jain, the famous art historian and museologist, however has different opinion regarding the artist behind Kalighat paintings.
He highlighted that the traditional art practitioner of Bengal at that time like potters, carpenters and stoneworkers were also involved in making Kalighat paintings apart from patuas. However, the paintings have attained its pinnacle in between and Most of the Kalighat painting collections at museums in different parts of the world can be attributed during this period 5.
The glamour of Kalighat Paintings decayed gradually after that, as the market was flooded with cheap printed reproductions of the themes of Kalighat paintings. These cheap copies have practically killed hand-painted art production as a business and with it the artistic instincts and creative faculty of the painters of Kalighat. Not being able to cope with the competition of machine-made productions cheaper than hand-drawn and hand painted pictures selling at two or four pice each, their children have now taken to other professions.
When German traders found that these pictures had a very great sale throughout the country—for they were sold in thousands all over India—they imitated them and sent back glazed and coloured lithographed copies which flooded the country and drowned the original hand-painted pictures.
The old art has gone forever; the pictures are now finding their homes in museums and in the collections of a few art lovers. W G Archer finally concluded that the final phase of Kalighat paintings ceased to exist after about The collection, which numbers about watercolour drawings and paintings, also includes line drawings and hand coloured lithographs.
The Bodleian Library in Oxford holds Kalighat paintings. There are other museums in different parts of the world which also hold some of the Kalighat Paintings in their collection.
In Bengal, Victoria Memorial Hall has a collection of 24 Kalighat paintings 5the Indian Museum has in its collection 40 paintings and four drawings of Kalighat style 4 while the Gurusaday Museum holds more than 70 drawings and paintings. According to Mukul Dey 8 the kalkghat of drawing, was very simple and a family affair.
Kalighat Paintings: A review
Then a third member of the family would put in the proper colours in different parts of the body and the background, and last of all the outlines and finish would be done in lamp black. They would generally mix these colours with water and gum and mould kaligyat on a kalighatt stone with a granite muller. Kalighat paintings were produced with variety of water based, opaque colours on papers.
Several colours like blue, indigo, red, green, yellow, carbon black etc.
For example yellow was produced from the turmeric root, blue was paintigs from petals of Aparajita flower, and black was produced from common shoot by burning an oil lamp under a pot.
Silvery and golden colours were also used for ornamentation. Kalighat artists used colloidal tin 1 extensively as a substitute of silver to embellish their paintings and to replicate the surface effects of jewels and pearls.
Along with the colours, gum of Bel fruit or crushed tamarind seeds 5 was used as binder. Later on, imported factory-made water colours were available from Britain and patuas took full advantage ka,ighat these cheaper materials, avoiding use of home-made colours.
The themes in Kalighat paintings had wide variety. From the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddess to the religious and contemporary social events —nothing left behind as the theme of Kalighat paintings. Kalighat paintings were mainly sold as items of religious souvenir taken by the visitors to the Kali temple.
It was thus obvious that the prime focus were given on religious and mythological characters. Amongst the deities, Kali was the favourite which was quite reasonable and apart from that Shiva in the form of Panchanan or sitting along with Parvati on Nandi or carrying Sati, Lakshmi herself or in the form of Gajalakshmi or Chandi as Kamalekamini, Durga as Mahishasur mardini, and other gods and goddesses like Kartikeya, Ganesha, Saraswati, Jagadhatri etc all were the popular themes of Kalighat paintings.
In the village, unrolling the sequential frames of pictures of two great epics while chanting the story was all the part of the traditional performances of patuas in Bengal and Kalighat paintings were no exception to potray the episodes of two great epics.
The Kalighat patuas painted stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in a quite fashionable way. The interesting thing in Kalighat painting was the presence of Islamic icons. There were many such instances which pertained to Islamic mythology.
Inthe Tarakeshwar murder case 1,5,10 was a public scandal in Calcutta based on an affair between Elokeshi, the young attractive wife of Nabinchandra Banerji paibtings the mahant or chief priest of the Shiva temple at Tarakeshwar.
In the trial, Nabin was sentenced to life imprisonment and the Mahant was fined and imprisoned for 3 years. Various scenes related to the Tarakeswar affair were portrayed in Kalighat repertoire: During s, Shyamakanta Banerjee became famous 1 for wrestling with tigers while performing in circuses.
This subject was also reproduced many times in Kalighat paintings. The Kalighat patuas showed an interest in portraying domestic pets which might be an influence of Mughal as well as contemporary British artists.
Today the practice of Kalighat paintings still continues in the villages of Bengal where the rich traditions are proudly being carried out by the patuas which are being handed down through the generations. This is surely a matter of great appreciation and a consortium is needed whose un-tired effort will revive the glorious past of Bengal.
All the images used here are from Wikipedia and Wikimedia websites. Partha Sanyal is a Textile Engineer. Besides his profession, he is having interest to explore traditional arts and heritages of Bengal. His other interest is paintingz do research on Terracotta architecture of Bengal. Lady with a Peacock Figure 3: Radha Krishna Figure 4: Nabin Kills Elokeshi Figure 6: A pair of pigeons.