Patachitra revival: A tale of commercialised art and lost stories

Patachitra is one of the oldest and most well-known indigenous art forms of Bengal, dating back to roughly the 12th or 13th centuries. Photos: Urmi Mukherjee

Ajay Chitrakar’s eyes still light up when he speaks about “those days” when they used to go from village to village, showing their art and singing their songs to do a “service to society” — raising awareness or educating the masses. Those were not easy days. Sometimes, they would go around the villages for an entire day and not get even one square meal.

“People would look at us with suspicion. Some thought we were thieves. So, we would take our identity proof with us,” he chuckles. But Ajay wrote songs on that too, to be sung at another time, at some other show in another part of Bengal.

The septuagenarian is a patachitra artist, or patua, of Naya village in Pingla of West Bengal’s West Midnapore district, some 111 km from Kolkata. Today, hundreds of tourists throng the village every year, especially in the winter months. An annual fair is also held at Naya, which has earned the epithet of “Patachitra gram” (village), and the patuas travel all over India and beyond.

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