Painter, story tellers and magician

Midnapur District, West Bengal

Anonyme, Manasa, 1980, couleurs végétales sur papier, 25x280cm.

Magnifique rouleau ancien marouflé sur toile avec cette très singulière et gracieuse danse des morts. Numéro d'inventaire PWB / 005

In Bengali, "Pat" means "scroll" and "Patua" or "Chitrakar" means "Painter". The origin of the painted scrolls is very ancient. We could find some in the Pharaohs' graves in Egypt. In India the first description of these painted scrolls can be found in a sacred text dated 200 B.C.

Nowadays, this art form is still used mainly in the West Bengal and Bihar states. In West Bengal, the painters are also singers. The scrolls are done with sheets of paper sewn together and sometimes stuck on canvas. Their width can go from 4 to 14 inches and their length, seldom below 3 feet can exceed 15 feet. A piece of bamboo, sometimes carved, is placed on each extremity of the scroll and is used to roll and unroll the painting which is done with vegetal colours : charcoal or burnt rice for the black, betel for the red, a fruit from the Nilmoni tree for the blue colour, etc... In order to fix the colours, they add a tree resin which they first melted.

The story is shown in sequence, like a story board or a comic strip. Seldom are the scrolls with text.

Anonyme, Création du monde, 1980, couleurs végétales sur papier, 25x360 cm.
Numéro d'inventaire SP / 011

The Patua is a kind of minstrel. He goes from village to village, with a bag containing several scrolls. He gathers together the villagers around him and unrolls his paintings never showing more than 2 or 3 images at a time, and he sings the painted story. Then the villagers give him some rice and rupees. This way the Patua earns his life.

The subjects painted by the Patuas in West Bengal are extremely varied. Their audience is mainly Hindu or Muslim, sometimes Catholic. The themes are inspired by the sacred texts of each of these religions. To these religious subjects are added some profane ones which go from historical epics (local, national or even international : they could evoke the French Revolution as well as the bomb in Hiroshima) to some more general themes (painting about the cyclone which devastated the Midnapur district or, more recently, Mother Teresa's death). They also speak about political subjects which are given to them by the local authorities like the regrouping of the lands or the family planning. Thus is still developing one of the most ancient patrimony.

Anonyme, fête de Baha, 1980, couleurs végétales sur papier, 25x460 cm

Les limites entre le style des rouleaux peints du Bihar et du West Bengal ne sont pas toujours évidentes. A ce sujet, l'on suppose que certaines familles de peintre du Bihar ont émigrées au West Bengal et réciproquement. Ce rouleau, typiquement Santal dans sa façon de représenter les personnages, dans la finesse de son trait et sa composition aérée s'attache cependant à un souci du détail et de la couleur qui sont d'avantage les caractéristiques du West Bengal. Numéro d'inventaire SP / 002

Santal Parganas District, Bihar

Like the Patuas, the Jadu Patuas are painters and story tellers and go from village to village carrying their painted scrolls made of paper sheets sewn together with a bamboo stick on each extremity.

Jadu means "Magician". The themes they represent on the scrolls are much more limited than the Patuas. There is about a dozen themes. However, there is different interpretation for each theme. A Jadu Patua can, looking at one scroll, say different stories depending if his audience is Hindu, Muslim or Santal. This last ethnic group is the most important audience for the Jadu Patuas.

The Patuas live with the money that the villagers give them after listening to their stories. The fact that they are magicians give a special effect to their intervention because the villagers fear them.

One of the most revealing images of the Jadu Patuas' role (in the Santal community) is the "Mritu pat" or "image of the deaths". When somebody dies in a village near the Jadu Patua's one, the "artist magician" visits the family of the dead with a small and simple image (about 3 x 2 inches) which is supposed to represent the dead in a simple way. Only the late person's pupil is missing. Showing this image to the family, the Jadu Patua tells the story evoking the suffering of the dead whose soul is still trapped in hell. The family then gives an offering to the Jadu Patua in order for him to intervene. The ritual for the Magician painter consists then to paint the dead's pupil in order to free his soul.

Mritu Pat (image des morts), années 1990, couleurs végétales sur papier, 6x4cm.

The principles developed by the Jadu Patuas are : the Baha's feast (a strange mixture of Hindu and Santal myths showing a lot of festivities where tribal dances, sacrifices and drinking sessions scenes are mixed); the creation of the world (where we can see the first human couple being born from the coupling of a goose and a gander); the painting of Kali (composed with 3 or 4 paper sheets only, showing Kali in her most terrifying aspects) and a lot of scrolls about Yama, the god of hell (showing all the ill treatments, sometimes sexual, given by Yama and his servants to the dead who behaved badly during their lifetime).

It seems that the scarier the Jadu Patuas'style gets, the more highly he is regarded.

Hervé Perdriolle

Anonyme, Yama pat, 1980, couleurs végétales sur papier, 20x190 cm. Numéro d'inventaire JPA / 017

Patua and Jadu Patua Links

Lease of life for dying art form
By Arti Sahuliyar

Bildrollen wandernder Sänger in Bihar, Orissa und Bengalen (Indien)

A portal for Santals

The Lutes of the Santal, by Bengt Fosshag

Painted Folklore- Tradition of Chitrakatha by Archana Jha

Les Patua « de village », peintres, montreurs d'images et colporteurs au Bengale (Inde) par Rosita De Selva

Between tribe and caste: The Jadopatias of Bengal, by Hans HaddersDepartment of Social Anthropology, University of Trondheim, Norway

The Patuas of West Bengal
Sudipta Biswas

Painted scroll depicting the September 11 attacks on New York

Singing Pictures video by Lina Fruzzetti, Ákos Östör, Aditi Nath Sarkarcolor, 40 min, 2005

Copyright textes, photos et collection : Hervé Perdriolle