Today the gates of night’s fortress
crumble into the dust—
On the crest of awakening dawn
assurance of new life
proclaims “Fear Not.”
The great sky resounds with paeans of victory
to the Coming of Man.”
--Rabindranath, April 14, 1941, CRISIS इन CIVILIZATION
Pats and Patuas: Introduction
“Our intellectual society becomes paranoid by any thing connected to religion, and then they even forget the religion of humanity. Whatever it may be, they do not find any enjoyment (rasa) in the perception of religion, but they can preview these paintings (Pats) without associating them with the religion, because there is no difference between god and human. ….In their understanding the name Purusha (male) stands for Sri Krishna and Prakriti (female) is perceived in the image of Sri Radha. They are the mystery of creation, cause of mystery – and they were there, they are there. These images allowed the artist to take unprecedented freedom according to their allusions. Here the freedom exactly means their truth (or the context of freedom stands here from the perspective of their reality). It (freedom) most possibly did not have any application on the life in general, and then it could have raised criticism. Even granting this freedom we come to notice no distinctions between Sri Krishna and other Cowboys. I have mentioned earlier that here, there is no place for metaphor, here image is all and everything with each gestures, they woke up by themselves as there is no place for emotion (Bhava). Color has surpassed the line of the eye, where eyes do not expresses any resonance of the narrative. They have repeated these gestures because these always expressed the character of one and it is seldom subjected to imagination and it is incorporated exactly from visual reality.”[i]
Itinerant painters are found in many countries all over the globe. A significant purpose of their trade and existence must be their ability to express or campaign the need full without making any chaos or shouting. ‘Joshua Roll’ of Europe and ‘Dragon scroll’ of China could be viewed as other derivatives of Patua repertoire. Direct and indirect references show that in India culture of Pat and Patuas have emerged long past from her indigenous social background.
Some scholars have emphasized that during Buddhist era the Pat tradition had flourished with new recognition and openings particularly in eastern India (Bengal, Orissa and Bihar). The greater influence of Buddhisiam and Jainisam in the earlier Gour Janapadas worked as a background for higher concentration of Pauta communities in these areas and henceforth worked as a dominant factor behind their distinctive achievements in the field of Patachitra.[ii] Then time onwards Patuas have settled in various popular pilgrimages of eastern India. The heavy concentration of Chitrakars around the Jaggannath Temple of Orissa exemplifies the fact. But we do not find any evidence of scroll Pat in Orissa, where as the continuous existence and polyvalent achievement of scroll Pat can be viewed as a distinct character of Bengal Patua repertoire. Gurusaday Dutta in his seminal work BANGLAR RASAKALA SAMPAD, evaluates that long scroll Pats are most elegant and vibrant with higher aesthetic achievement among the various examples of Patua repertoire. Although scroll painting on epical narratives are also found in South India as well as Western India (such as Garoda scrolls of North Gujarat, Chitrakathis of Maharashtra, Phad pantings of Rajasthan) but the variety of content and singing of the scroll Pats are unique features of Bengal Patua repertoire. Singing of the scroll has its distant derivative in the performance of Bhopas who sings the narrative of Phads. Comparing these two repertoires Kavita Singh observes: “unlike the bhopa who is specialized as a bard but does not paint the images he carries, the patua is usually the author of the images he displays. Contrary to common belief, however, the patuas are seldom the composers of the songs the sing. Some innovative patas have songs invented by the patuas, but for the most part, the songs are drown from a corpus of traditional material; some times the songs by patuas are used also by other performers of the region, such as glove-puppeteers…The patua songs are usually short, sparse, almost a fast-moving inventory of events. The songs currently being sung seldom last more than ten minutes, but all through the singing the scroll is constantly being handled; new events are revealed and old ones are rolled away.”[iii]
In Bengal who paints Pat are generally known as Patuas. There are varied historical records, which would suggest that the art of painting was not solely belonging to the community of Patuas only. There were many other communities such as Sutradhar, Kumbhakar, Malakar etc. who also took painting as their subsidiary profession. Artists from these communities along with the Patuas who are also known as Chitrakars, together created the many-folded world of indigenous art in Bengal. Painting various kind of Pats such as Scroll Pat, Square Pat, Sara Pat, Ghat Pat, Ganjifa Pat were common to this communities along with other more reliable or permanent occupations like idol-making, pottery, wood carving and carpentry, temple building etc. which had better economical prospects then painting Pats. But in this whole list of communities Patuas or Chitrakars are the exceptions. All though they have taken other occupations according to their immediate needs but predominantly and primarily remained attached to the art of painting Pats. Binoy Bhattacharya observes “From the list of their occupations it is clear that Patuas prefer independent kinds of work requiring skill and intelligence which will not interfere too much with their itinerant habit. The Patuas being skilled in so many things can often do more than one job at a time and earn more than ordinary laborers.”[iv] To continue their identity as folk painters they construct a long and prideful history of struggle against multi-layered oppression and discrimination by the larger society. Some times they have shown resistance and in other times they stepped down but secretly saved their Pats and tradition of Pat painting. However unfavorable the condition may be, they never escaped from their historical role as painter or folk artist.
Coomaraswamy (1929) suggested that the Patuas had been playing their trade since thirteenth century AD and most likely centuries prior to that. One camp of scholars claims a post-Aryan origin for this artisan caste, while others conforming to nineteenth century nationalistic approach suggest a tribal source of the Patua tradition. In continuation with the later view Bimalendu Chakraborty (1996) opines in his book LOKAYATA BANGLAR CHITRASHILPI O CHITRAKALA that Patuas are originally Bede or Bedia. Sudhir Chakraborty emphasizes the fact in his book CHALCHITRAER CHITRALEKHA: “Patuas are specially an artist community who belongs to lower strata of the social system and they originally belong to the clan of Jajabar (Itinerant), Bede, Bagdi or Bauri”. Combined source of myth and oral history provides us some clues about this lower status of the above mentioned artist community. Brahmavaivartapurana (Shastri 2004), an important Sanskrit Text written in thirteenth century Bengal, states that Patuas were born of a union between Vishwakarma, the celestial architect, and a semi divine dancing girl, Ghritachi. Because of this disrespectful marriage both were cursed to be reborn on earth as low-caste Shudras. On earth she gave birth to nine sons, which can be red as nine castes. These nine castes were known as Navasakha group of the nine recognized artisan castes. They are Malakar, Karmakar, Kanshakar, Sankhakar, Kumbhakar, Tantubai, Sutradhar, Swarnakar and Chitrakar. The verse tells us that Chitrakars are grouped among the lowest three of the nine castes. So this account suggests the Hindu origin of the Patuas and also their lower status in the caste system. The text further informs us that this artisan community was caste out of Hindu society because they did not follow canonical procedures in playing their trade. If roughly translated, the critical line reads: “Chitrakars, for painting pictures untraditionally have just been expelled from the society by angry Brahmins.” In other words, they did not conform to the standards put forth in the Shilpashastra literature that lay out the aesthetic canons of Hindu iconography.
History shows that during the reign of Ballal Sen (circa 1160 – 1178), the second king of the last Hindu dynasty in Bengal, restructuring happened with the regional caste system into a rigidly ranked hierarchy of a variety of sub-castes and was known as the Kulin system. The Chitrakars were thus more oppressed as a result of this restructuring, which would explain their motivation behind converting to Islam when the Sen Dynasty declined from power and Muslim rulers ascended to the throne of Bengal as Islam had no discrimination on castes. Binoy Ghosh confirms us in his article ‘PATUA O PATSHILPA’ about the fact: “Patuas and Dhokras amongst the artisan castes/ communities, during these changing political and social equations under the Muslim rulers of Bengal, felt socially uplifted to accept Islam.” He further observes: “…every student of Social History surely knows that the most of the Bengali Muslims and Bengali Christians changed their religion as an outcome of protest against the intolerable and inhuman oppression and discrimination by the strictly Brahminic elite (Kulin) society of Bengal”. The clan occupations of pre-Hindu tribal origins were attributed or accommodated within the older-medieval Hindu society as the lowest in the rigid Brahminic caste system of Bengal. The process of degeneration has continued till so far with different faces in different times gradually turn these communities into mere mark bearers of this social discrimination. Discipline of Social Studies and Social Sciences indicate that one root cause behind these still persisting discriminations in the social atmosphere must be the selfish enjoyment of facilities allowed or produced by these discriminations. By creating subalterns in those lower castes/communities their labor were made cheaply available and less payable for the powerful elites or the upper castes people. The more downtrodden one becomes, his/her work becomes less valuable/payable to the society at large.
But about Dhokras and Patuas it can be said that their art and trade perpetuated from pre-Hindu tribal past to the present day. In between this long journey there must have been several disjuncture or punctuation. They became Hindu; they became Buddhist, then Muslim. Flowing with the shifting stream of history of Bengal, Chitrakars and Patuas of Bengal adopted many cultures and religions but never forgot their art. Hence we come to notice at least three distinct phases in the Patua repertoire. They are Pre-Hindu Tribal phase, Hindu phase and Muslim phase.
Diversity and variations in the Patua community and their repertoire of Pat would gide us to understand social cultural and aesthetic significance of their arts and practices. As we get to see different kind of Pats, Patuas/Chitrakars themselves are/were not the same always.
“....You have slept for unnumbered ages; this morning will you not wake”[v]
Changing conditions and changing paradigms: problem statement
Further study in the Patua tradition and the field of folk art in general reveals the changing paradigms and causes behind these changes. Any concerned reading of the changing paradigms must notice that the post–independence conditions of existing Patua repertoire demands more extensive and multilayered research with fresh aptitude and questioning.
Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and few others from Shantiniketan started practice-based research extensively in the field of folk and village culture and collected all available materials of great importance for the Nandan Museum. Earlier seminal works of Gurusaday Dutta and Dinesh Chandra Sen and few others who worked in the field of folk culture of Bengal are unavoidable till date and the discourse thus emerged is primarily outcome of the tireless works of these few concerned scholars, researchers and collectors and artists. With great urge they requested their readers to actively participate in the aesthetic search of the indigenous culture and its potent persistence through time but that did not really make any great impact on the mass in general or common Bengalese, in their understanding of the folk culture.
The multilayered cultural inheritance of the past civilizations and their cultures got objected and obstructed during the period of colonial rule and time after that. For the present discussion the important point to be noted is the consequential effect of the partition of undivided India on the cultural inheritance of the people of this subcontinent. The most severely disturbed two territories were Punjab and Bengal, politically, socially and culturally. But before discussing this later phase we need to look back to the colonial period where the above-mentioned disintegration started in all directions of the indigenous culture of the country and Bengal as well. Pre-colonial social system of village Bengal came to a stand still and the values and worldview of folk life, which were so far compatible, started tearing their roots from the tradition and its inheritance. We can notice that India’s history of modernization co-insides with the history of colonization and later with the struggles for independence.
During the collonial period changes in governance, land reforms by establishment of Zamindar system with a permanent contract (The Permanent Settlement, in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis), enforcement of new laws, tax system, rise of new business centers (Kolkata, Bombay, Madras, etc.), making of new roads, fast-spreading streams of railways, establishment of universities and restructuring of traditional education system every thing contributed in bits and pieces to the disintegration of traditional social matrix and its folk life and social distantiation as a whole. Self-dependent villages came under the Zamindar system and the landlords to pay the high tax to the Company and to maintain their socially uplifted economic status, started extracting the villages and its people. Farmers would lose their land, workers their trade, businessmen their ethics, artists or artisans their patrons. As their patrons, already deprived from their pride were struggling socially and economically, the artists would turn into destitute.
To overcome this helpless condition the Patuas mostly shifted to other trades and few of them who continued with the Pat-trade deserted their villages and started shifting to Kolkata, the newly emerged beloved city of the Britishers and the Babus. They settled around the famous pilgrim centers (Kalighat, Chitpur, Patuatola) of the city looking for the potential buyers from the visitors to these popular pilgrim centers, who were mostly villagers and middle class urban mass. Usually square Pats on religious icons were on sale in the initial stage of these new settlements, as there was no tradition of selling Scroll Pats to the public earlier too. Later on under the changing conditions these urban Patuas started looking for newer subjects and mode of production to attract the growing interest of the urban people. Thus the introduction of contemporary city life as a potent subject entered the repertoire with a simple but versatile linguistic approach. Kalighat Pats with all its brilliant achievements became famous and more famous in later days, as they portray visual commentary and social critique of the colonial Bengal and its urban culture from the urban Patuas. Probably first time in their tradition they played the role so directly and brilliantly.
Traditionally narrative scrolls were painted to accompany Patua’s performance of the Pat songs (pater gan), where the audio and visual combined together, one into another, would produce a complete arrest of the viewer’s senses. Historically, by this trade the Patuas of our country would play the role of mass educator and knowledge depositors to their audience. And the trade was taken respectfully and seriously in the indigenous culture. In return to their performance they would earn their livelihood from the monitory and materiel donations (dana) given by the applauding audiences.
During the difficult time of social upheaval due to colonial rule and modernization of the nation, uprooted from the traditional purpose the repertoire of Scroll Pats gradually lost its relevance in folk life and slowly started vanishing. Social and cultural distantiation gradually increased between urban and rural societies as well as between people within each society. Same happened between educated intellectual class and uneducated working/peasant class. Various attempts from government, non-government and cultural organizations and concerned individuals of post-independence era could not make any remarkable impact on the growing blindness[vi] thus generated by these distantiations. Somehow we lose the game in the beginning by depending heavily on the promotional and welfare-mode of engagement with the “other”. Following the participatory mode of engagement of earlier mentioned scholars the present research is a quest to find an alternative ground where the self and the other could no longer be segregated so distinctively. In other words the discourse of major and minor through engaging with each other would invigorate life vitality for both; where no one needs to bear the welfare of other.
The present research does not aim to achieve any new goal apart from the already asked ones by earlier researchers and scholars. Concerned scholars of the field through their valuable efforts emphasized the need for urgent concern from the people with interest in their culture and tradition for an engaging and participatory viewer-ship. The present research would try to find where we stand now, in this context of social cultural distantiation, after sixty four years of democracy and attempt to enquire how and why this blindness prevails both in the discourse of major art and practice of the minor art about each others context and inheritance. And who gets facilitated by these conditions? As Gilles Deluze pointed out “history is made only by those who oppose history (not by those who insert themselves into it, or even reshape it).”
“…The musk is in the deer, but it seeks it not within itself: it wanders in quest of grass.”[vii]
Revisiting the discourse and mapping the area of the present research: context and background
The paradox thus emerged farther examined by Binoy Ghosh in his article ‘Social Distance in Culture’ (Samaskritir Samajik Dooratwa) through an appropriate quote from Lewis Mumford: “The fact is that only a handful of people in any age are its true contemporaries. Only sluggishly do the mass of people respond to the currents that are sweeping through the ruling classes or the intellectual elite; if this is mainly true even today, it was more so before universal literacy had quickened the space of communication.” Binoy Ghosh analyses, “With the advent of the new era most of the motivation (or activism) of these very few individuals does not get transfused into the larger mass, not even a percent of it. It happens because mediums (or carriers) of culture did not developed in the earlier ages and their natural development is facing difficulties even in this era of modern mass education (communication) system…. social depth or penetration did not grow proportionately with the faster expansion of culture cartographically”. Binoy Ghosh observes that geographical spread of modern culture too got obstructed during British rule because the colonial rule created various difficulties in the natural stream of progress and development in technological devices such as transports, industries, factories, towns and cities, etc. As its obvious result the distance between rural society and the urban society of present time gradually furthered and regional circles of rural culture got disconnected from the stream of the epoch culture and started getting distorted, decayed and in many occasions paved the path of disappearance (death). On contrary we come to notice that many elements of the tribal era and medieval era have comfortably disseminated (spread widely) into the rural culture of the modern era. Binoy Ghosh coments: “Scientists state that the most characteristic cultural mark of the modern era is delocalization (decentralization) of mind. Development in modern mass consciousness is naturally flowing towards this delocalization, but usually no sign of that can be seen in Bengal’s rural societies till date. In the society of Bengal (and also Indian society) the vertical expansion of culture is mostly withheld by the social discrimination with respect to caste-race-sect.”[viii]
The above discussion is put forward to understand the difficulties faced by any concerned researcher in the field of folk art and culture. Keeping these salient points in view if we proceed to the post-independence era of the Patua repertoire we face the similar disposition and distantiation, what obscures any complete appearance of the field. Tarapada Santra critically observes that the establishment of parliamentary democracy in India through mass elections moves towards identifying its people distinctively to bring them into the number game of politics. So the questions for confirmation become more prevalent than ever before. The clichéd debate arises with more clarity: are the Patuas Hindu or Muslim? Prior to the partition of Bengal there did not seem to be any strict sectarian demarcation, yet as religious communalism became a growing problem of colonial and post-colonial India, the lines of identity were gradually drawn, paradoxically within the ‘secular’ society of independent India. Tarapada Santra informs us: “shortly after the independence, the Hindu Mahasabha (a Hindu nationalist organization) made concentrated effort to reconvert Muslim Patuas through purification rite (suddhi). The process started from Kolkata and extended its mission deep into the villages of Bengal. Later on Bangiya Chitrakar Unnayan Samity was founded to organize the newly reconverted communities for the inclusion in the register of schedule castes and tribes. The mission is not yet completed; but the official organizations such as the above mentioned guided by specific vision and mission, caused stronger division between Hindu Patuas and Muslim Patuas”.[ix]
But the resistance has not died yet. Tarapada Santra observes, “But majority of them (Patuas/ Chitrakars) at the end, continue to reside in the middle-path. And Patuas who prefer the path of harmony actually remained attached with the profession of Pat-trade, where as, the other Patua communities beholding distinct Hindu or Muslim identity mostly have shifted from the Pat-trade (Pat painting and Pat singing)”. Tarapada Santra examines: “how the history of some communities among many possesses some indigenous characteristics in West Bengal. In the rise and fall of different kingdom at different historical juncture (Yugasandhi) these communities, marginalized by the new society converted their religiosity for the sake of survival. But they continued their own rituals, community faiths and professions. At the present era, their social history is getting more and more importance in the study of humanities. Chitrakar/Patua community of west Bengal is one of those.”[x]
Researcher or folklorist from his/her high cultural subjective position faces challenge to cope up with this ever reconstructing world of folk culture to deal with the plural-shared and always manipulating subjectivity of folk/minoritarian consciousness. Besides, there is nothing more contradictory and fragmentary than folklore.[xi]
In other words we need to notice incredible ability of this consciousness to adopt their life as well as practice to the changing conditions continuously. What is striking about the Patuas/Chitrakars is their resilience, their ability to adapt their art form to modern necessity by addressing issues of current interest. It is no wonder, then, that some of them have survived to some degree, even though many Patuas have been forced into other occupations.[xii]
Many intellectuals believe that the tradition is waning as a result and will not survive another generation (e.g., McCutchion 1989). “But is this really the case? I do not believe that it is” opines Korom. It becomes relevant to think what Binoy Ghosh would have said about the changing paradigms when a resource centre emerges at the Patua village of Naya, through the active agency of Bangla Natak Dot com (a Kolkata based NGO working for more than a decade on the field of folk and indigenous culture of Bengal). In this context it would be important to study the possibilities thus appeared with these changing conditions.[xiii]
Reviewing of the of the important literatures (publications, books) and marking the gaps citing the present research
Two significant publication of national impact have greatly contributed to the perception about the field of folk culture in India. One, ‘Picture Showmen: Insights into the Narrative Tradition in India’, a Marg Publication (March 1998, edited by Jyotindra Jain), regenerates the discourse of contemporary narrative picture tradition. The book of collected essays is one of the first comprehensive historical surveys of the manifold tradition of pictorial narration in India from ancient times to the present day. Contributors to this volume discuss a gamut of traditional genres – the early Buddhist narrative techniques and aspects of narrative in Indian miniature painting, as well as later narrative folk arts from Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and the Deccan, and work of Gulammohammed Seikh, “a neo-narrative painter from the world of contemporary Indian art.” Besides descriptions of actual performances, the studies include insights into the lives of the traditional performing families and their efforts to keep their art alive in the face of dwindling patronage. Thus the crucial work reconstructs a discourse with a Nationalist frame of the post colonial time to organize the so far scattered world of picture narrative traditions of India and looks into the contemporary conditions of those repertoires. ‘The “Murshidabad Pats of Bengal” by T. Richard Blurton studying and exploring the valuable collections of British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum reveals the brilliant world of Murshidabad Pats. He clarifies: “This brief article on just one group of the rich tradition of Bengal scroll-painting is an attempt to isolate a regional and chronological variant – the Pats from Murshidabad, dated to the turn of the eighteenth-nineteenth century. Whatever the future of these definitions, the brilliance of the colours, the invention of the design, and the sheer indulgence in narrative even when the episodes are not all known, mark these paintings out as works of art of verve, excitement, and importance”.
The potent present and performative aspect of the Bengal Pat repertoire is looked upon comparing it with the Phad tradition of Rajasthan by Kavita Sing in her essay ‘ To Show, To See, To Tell, To Know: Patuas, Bhopas, and their Audiences’. She confirms us that the Patua may carry or sing scrolls on Rama, Krishna, Manasa, Chandi, Satyapir, Christ, Jyoti Basu, or Indira Gandhi, believing in none of these. “The patua must be prepared for a heterogenous audience with a range of belief systems, or for an audience that is bored with what he has to show. Innovation has positive value hare…. The patua shows his scrolls by day, seeking an opportunity, at any time and any place, to perform. His performance occurs among distractions; it impinges upon his audience’s routine. The patua is not given a time or a space of his own; he has to seize a time, a space, and make his own. The bhopa performs at night, when the day’s tasks are done and his audience is able to dedicate itself to hearing his songs. His performance is from of jagrata, a wake, in which the audience chooses to participate. Listening to the epic is a meritorious act. Thus the bhopa is assured of an audience. To gather an audience, the patua depends upon his wit and ability to please, and his remuneration depends upon their generosity. The bhopa negotiates a fee with the patron before he agrees to perform. Others present at the performance are obligated to make an offering of at least a few rupees to the phad. In the eyes of the law, the patua is today a beggar. The bhopa is a priest.” Thus Kavita Singh with her concerned analysis marks the adversity of Patua’s life and his trade in the light of changing patronages of present time. .
'Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India';(edited by Jyotindra Jain, Crafts Museum and The Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports Corporation of India Ltd., New Delhi, 1998) is another most important work on the field of folk/tribal art and culture. ‘The Other Masters’ produced a way of looking back into the traditional repertoire and the subjectivity of the artist with a new insight. The discourse thus available through various contributions on the diversified field of folk-traditional artists of special acclaim, gives a sensible critique on the earlier modernist takes, precisely speaking, of J Swaminathan and K. G. Subramanyan. “ Although both Swaminathan and Subramanyan were involved with tribal art in a ways that allowed the emergence of third world resistance to the cultural hegemony of the west, invigorating and diversifying modern art practice in India, their universalist frame of reference and unproblematic espousal of “high” art foreclosed the analysis of tribal expression within the realm of nation”.[xiv] Going with this line the discourse thus available through ‘Other Masters’ created a new space for the emergence of folk traditional subjectivity in the national and international art scene of our time. The discourse attributes equal need to emphasize on the subjectivity of the artist from folk/tribal origin and accommodates them in the larger discourse on art as the Other Masters. In this context it would be relevant to remember Jyotindra Jain's curatorial project "Kalam Patua: from the interstices of the city" where he in association with the earlier project "Other Masters" places Kalam Patua in the “newly emergent liminal space” of modernist paradigm where: "a few individual folk and tribal artists walked a different path evolving new symbolic strategies and tactically re-interpreting cultural traits from their own past to emulate in their work their contemporary personal and social predicament."[xv]
Thus the new value added to the artistic subjectivity of folk origin brings newer aspirants from the community and established a competitive but invigorated atmosphere around their, so far dried up tradition[xvi]. But the project seems to be self contradictory or incomprehensible if we view it from the other end, the world of the folk. The valuable critique thus provided by Towards A New Art History: “On the other hand, Jyotindra Jain has worked within the framework of “high” art to overturn conventional hierarchies that leave no room for individuality or excellence of artistic expression to rural/tribal crafts persons. By means of art historical methodology of appointing and legitimizing individual “masters” he constructs an alternative history of contemporary Indian art. Despite the fact that he successfully makes a case for delineation of tribal and folk artists as creative geniuses equal to the artists of the elite sphere, the glaring disparity of the social and material conditions of their lives gets overlooked. His more recent work does takes note of the historical shifts in patronage, and the influence of modernity in the works of these “timeless” artists, yet the project of appointing “master” in line with the artists of “high” art bypass the implications of plucking them out of their communitarian and historical contexts.”[xvii]
Present research would address the gaps thus created by the abovementioned discourse to understand the changing conditions and changing paradigms in the field of folk art and culture. The new conditions are looked upon in the book ‘Village Painters: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal’ by Frank J. Korom. The book is written in the manner of a travelogue to the village of Naya, where the life and practice of the Chitrakar community was noticed with respect to various tendencies and potentials generated by the changing paradigms. The work frames the new enthusiasm in the community of Chitrakars with respect to the ‘global society’ of post-colonial, post-modern present. “Detached from their traditional backdrop this Chitrakars or Patuas now paint for the ‘global market’ of our time”[xviii]. So the connoisseur’s blame about the loss of tradition in the Patua repertoire of contemporary time needs to be viewed from this perspective.
To understand the above mentioned fact critically we can look into the valuable discourse from Veena Das’s ‘Discission: Subaltern as Perpective’ from “Subaltern Studies”. In this article she places the concerned contributions from various fields contesting the problematic of structuralist methodology where the basic concern for man revolves around the rationality of human behavior. “There is an over determination of man as rational being in the structurlist methodology; hence the category of affective action becomes a residual category in which all that can not be explained by the paradigm of rational actions is sought to be fitted. The category of meaning is reduced to the category of motive; the rationally controlled individual who exercises a constant and alert control over himself in the interest of transforming the world becomes the measure. All other forms of being -- whether of nonwestern man or western woman are understood in terms of a lack, a deflection from the ideal typical action represented by the paradigm of rational action. …. In this context the question is not whether we can completely obliterate the objectified character of social institution, but rather whether it is at all possible to establish a relation of authenticity towards these institutions….. In this context[xix] the contributions to Subaltern Studies make an important point in establishing the centrality of the historical moment of rebellion in understanding of the subalterns as subjects of their own histories.”
So the present research considering these salient points in view would look after the ‘subaltern consciousnesses’ (as invoked in the discourse of ‘Subaltern Studies’), in the repertoire of Pats and Patuas with respect to the changing paradigms as a result of the changing conditions of the present time.
Research Problem and Hypothesis
“Culture industry”[xx] documents, collects, museumizes and auctions the work as product. The methodical apparatuses of varied kinds like promotion, enhancement, design development, creation of new market and buyers, about which the artists have no clear idea, are applied to the practices of these communities with the tag ‘folk’. The artist starts enjoying facilities of such conditions and his resistance against emersion into the system starts falling. Henceforth the artist starts enjoying being in a secured mold which bonds him to paint or write or sing what the industry thinks worthy of selling. The situation becomes more severe when the market starts commanding not only what to paint but also how to paint. The preference of contemporary galleries and their appointed curators on foreign made papers and colors in recent time, promoting the branded materials in the name of quality proposed as a sure factor working behind the choice of the buyers, could be seen as an example.
In other words the research would problematize the blindfolded comodification of folk art and culture precisely locating the problem of distantiation in the Patua repertoire of west Bengal. At present time with the growth of “global market” for all arts an increasing thrust would be prevalent for mixing up of both major and minor art practices. We get to see in the present time that Bauls are singing songs of Rabi Baul and (on the other hand, in the main stream culture) Bengali Bands/Rock Bands are singing folk songs. What should be the parameters of these mixing and what emerges out from these changing paradigms? How far these interventions can defy the curse of cultural comodification by putting up resistance with a life practice with love and respect of the “becoming other”.
A basic concern for the present research is to understand and trace the contemporariness of the Patua Practice by developing “an interventionist discourse on the universe of arts and ideas”[xxi]. Here an attempt would be taken to transgress the standard hierarchies and disciplinary boundaries. This would help us to deal with the dynamism of subaltern consciousness of so-called "folk genres"; here for the present project, Patua repertoire of West Bengal.
Without intervening into the modernist discourse that constructs the category "folk" (as the other)[xxii] as an ahistorical timeless anonymous practice, it wouldn’t make any sense to understand the contemporariness of such kind of community practices.[xxiii]
In this context the emergence of Biswajit Patua who did MVA in Painting from Kalabhavan would pose fundamental challenges to the understanding of folk in the discourse of major/ “high” art. Here the question comes from the body of his work: Is the language and practice of Biswajit Patua folk or modern or contemporary-folk or folk in academia or just contemporary art practice?
The present research would thus enquire in the repertoire of Pats and Patuas how the market oriented appreciation and promotion for any kind of art practice and methodologies thus developed and established by pedagogical institution nourishes the blindness discussed above. When “..our modern mind, a hasty tourist in its rush over the miscellaneous ransacks cheap markets of curios which mostly are delusions. This happens because its natural sensibility for simple aspects of existence is dulled by constant pre occupations that divert it.”[xxiv]How the changing cultural conditions and social atmosphere dissociate folk/tribal art practices from its basic mode of production and consumption. Viewed from this perspective the anxiety of connoisseurship about the loss of tradition in the field of folk/tribal art needs to be cross-checked with a self-critical frame. The blemish tones about the “contaminated folk” in the cultural sphere need to go through self-verification about one’s own understanding of his/her culture and tradition and the other. The way great souls of Bengal like Rabindranath, Najrul, Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Gurusaday Dutta, and in the later times cultural historians like Binoy Ghosh, Trarapada Santra participated in the folk life and art overcomes the hierarchical value judgments which make the blindness functioning. Their intervention into the field produced life vitality for both the self and other. Their love and respect of the folk life and culture transgressed the disillusions of otherness and prepared a process of “becoming” other by tracing the inheritance within (the self).[xxv]
Re-entering the quest; working plan; field work; research methods
sadho bhai , jibat hi karo asa
If He is found now, He is found then,
If not, we do but go to dwell in the City of Death.
If you have union now, you shall have it hereafter.
Bathe in the truth, know the true Guru, have faith in the true Name!
Kabir says: ‘It is the Spirit of the quest which helps; I am the slave of this Sprit of the quest.’[xxvi]
So the emergence of Kalam Patua in the larger discourse of art need to be reviewed keeping these salient points in mind and would provide a major concern for the present thesis. Works of Kalam Patua would be revisited accordingly for the search of an alternative subjectivity of ‘minoratarian consciousness.’
Biswajit Patua’s works and his practice would provide another departure point in the repertoire. His ‘becoming’ would be studied for the present thesis, analyzing his works done so far and during the course of the present research.
Paintings of Bhaskar Chitrakar, youngest son of Dulal Chitrakar, an idol maker and sculptor with national fame from Kalighat, would be studied as another variable from the changing paradigms. Bhaskar Chitrakar can be named as the only painter of ‘Kalighat Patchitra’ in the whole repertoire. Though painting is an occasional job for Bhaskar who primarily works in the family workshop for idol making, still his growing endeavor in the field of painting demands a critical acclaim for the present research. His practice of painting mostly so far remained in promotional mode. Order is placed first then the work is produced.
Works of Banku Patua and his sons, and works of Baidyanath Patua would be revisited to understand postcolonial development in the repertoire of Musirabad Pat. For this purpose discussion with Pulakendu Singha would provide some important insights. He has worked heart and soul for the upliftment of the community to the national and international art scene.
Works of Dukhushyam Chitrakar and Ajit Chitrakar and their successors like Rani Chitrakar, Swarna Chitrakar from Medinipur, would be reviewed to understand their influence in the changing paradigms of the repertoire. The documentary on Dukhushyam and Medinipur Chitrakars by Supriyo Das, HANIFAR SWAPNO’ (Dream of Hanifa), not yet seen, may provide some important insights on the repertoire.
Works from (not so much explored) community of Chitrakars from Purva Medinipur would make another case for the present research. To empower the discourse with other derivatives the works of existing Patua communities from Howrah, 24-Pharganas, Nadia, Birbhum and Bardwan would be extensively researched for the present thesis.
The changing paradigms of Orissa Patachitra and the works of some of the important artists from the repertoire (Anantha Moharana, Bibhu Moharana, Rabindranath Sahu, Bijoy Parida and some others) would be examined for the present research. The other derivatives of narrative painting tradition, as already discussed in this paper, from Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the Deccan would be revisited for a comparative analysis in understanding the changing paradigms of the folk repertoire.
During the first six months of the present project I would try to finish the archival works visiting the libraries of Kolkata (National Library, Gurusaday Museum Library, Kolkata University Library, Rabindrabharati University Library) and Libraries of Viswabharati, Santiniketan. Study of the collected works of Asutosh Museum, Gurusaday Museum, the State Archeological Museum, Behala and collections of Tarapada Santra in the Anandaniketan Samgrahasala of Bagnun and other important collectors would be completed tentatively within one year of the present research.
National fieldwork for the other derivatives as mentioned before, and collected works of various Museums (one important is Delhi Crafts Museum) would be completed within two years. During these period necessary interviews would commence and continue with K.G. Subramanyan, Jyotindra Jain, G. M. Sheikh, Kavita Singh and other important persons whose interventions in the discourse on folk-tribal arts and cultures contributed for the present research.
The next one year I would like to spend writing the thesis paper accordingly taking notes of the concerned suggestions from any quarter through discussions. And according to my understanding the present project would demand at least three years to take a shape.
asatoma satgamaya; tamasoma yotirgamayo; mirturma amritamgamayo
[i] Kamal Kumar Majumder, Bangiya Shilpadhara O Annanya Prabandha
[ii] Sarasikumar Saraswati’s book on Pal paintings PALYUGER CHITRA KALA provides us some brilliant examples of Patachitra (painting on wooden book cover).
[iii] See the article ‘To Show, To See, To Tell, To Know: Patuas, Bhopas, and their Audiences’
[iv] Bhattacharjee, Binoy. Cultural Oscillation: A Study on Patua Culture, Culcutta: Naya Prakash. 1980
[v] SeePOEMS OF KABIR, Rbindranath Tagore, RABINDRA RACHANAVALI, Rupa, 2002
[vi] As observed by Clifford, “An ignorance of cultural context seems almost a precondition for artistic appreciation. In this object system a tribal piece is detached from one milieu in order to circulate freely in another, a world of art of museums, market, and connoisseurship”.
[vii] SeePOEMS OF KABIR, Rbindranath Tagore, RABINDRA RACHANAVALI, Rupa, 2002
[viii] Binoy Ghosh, Samaskritir Samajik Dooratwa
[ix] Tarapada Santra “Patua o Patachitra, Medinipur, Hawrah o Chchobbish Porgana”
[x] Tarapada Santra “Patua o Patachitra, Medinipur, Hawrah o Chchobbish Porgana”
[xi] Gramsci opposing Raffaele Corso’s attribution of the folklore as “contemporary pre-history” emphasizes: “the minor arts have always been tied to the major arts and had been dependent upon them thus folklore has always been tied to the culture of the dominant class and, in its own way, has drawn from it the motives which have then become inserted into combinations with the previous traditions. Besides, there is nothing more contradictory and fragmentary than folklore.”
[xii] “…Yet capitalism having destroyed at the root of collective way of life or make a position of the same…Folk art can no longer economically sustain in any honorable fashion,….What then is the reason for its survival if not as a political act of resistance against the phenomena of forgetting that capitalism entails….” Anita Dube, Questions and Dialogue Exhibition catalogue article, Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery, Baroda, 1987.
[xiii] The basic lines of thought as executed here had their origin in the earlier dissertation project at FFA, MSU, Baroda. One important out come of this early phase of the discourse happened to be the curatorial project (Changing Paradigms of the ‘Folk’: Chitrakars from Naya) at gallery Kaleidoscope of Baroda, 2007. Twelve Chitrakars from Naya were invited for the workshop and exhibition. This curatorial project perceived as an academic exercise later on got invigorated by the insights and inputs from the Baroda art community. In a sense this was an attempt to revitalize the Patua practice through bringing it at the gallery conditions of Baroda and its majoritarian field to generate an interactive space for both. In this workshop opportunities were created to invoke an interactive spectatorship by tracing the aesthetic nuances of the practice and its performative possibilities. This opened up an opportunity to understand and to become conscious about the contemporary developments of the Patua repertoire
[xiv] See Towards New Art History, introductory essay to the collection Towards New Art History: Studies in Indian Art.
[xv] See the catalogue essay by Jyotindra Jain.
[xvi] So, Kalam Patua becomes one amongst 'The Other Masters'; as he becomes the exception in the backdrop of his community (Patua community) which has been homogeneously constructed undermining the differences of various natures, all through the modernist art historiography as an ahistorical category. In this context it would be worthwhile for the discourse to remember Foucault: “Discipline constitutes itself only through limiting the field and it functions through politics of inclusion and exclusion.”
[xvii]See Towards New Art History, introductory essay to the collection Towards New Art History: Studies in Indian Art
[xviii] Korom Frank J, Village Painters: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal, Museum of International folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
[xix] “After all, even the work of Goffman and Foucault, committed to recovering the knowing subject, has shown how the reified and alienating power of society flows through the tiniest capillary branches of society. How can the representational closure with which thought presents itself be shown to be the product of thinking subjects? In other word, are there reflexive devices which at as ‘corrections’ or ‘interrogations’ in relation to a given society?” ( From the same article)
[xx] The valuable insights provided by Theodor Adorno (in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception) invigorates the discourse at hand: “…Even today the culture industry addresses works of art like political slogans and forces them upon a resistant public at reduced prices; they are as accessible for public enjoyment as park. But the disappearance of their genuine commodity character does not mean that they have been abolished in the life of a free society, but that the last defense against their reduction to culture goods has fallen……Criticism and respect disappear in the culture industry; the former becomes a mechanical expertise, the latter is succeeded by a shallow cult of leading personalities. Consumers now find nothing expensive. Nevertheless, they suspect that the less anything costs, the less it is being given them. The double mistrust of traditional culture as ideology is combined with mistrust of industrialized culture as a swindle”
[xxi] See the first issue of Journal of Arts and Ideas, October 1982.
[xxii] As informed by Santhosh. S: “The studies in Indian art largely comprises of documentation of sites and objects with a kind of empiricism, the second group is a constellation of formalistic/stylistic analysis of them, the third category is a kind of social history of Indian art. Above all the differences in foundational methodologies they all share an idealist notion of history. This idealist notion of history closely linked with the idealist notion of nation and its golden past. So to say one of the primary functions of these texts is to produce an ideal ground to establish an organic existence of nation in order to bury its others. Because of this complex materiality of knowledge, each of our pedagogic acts conforms with the fact that each lesson on history we are undertaking is at the same moment mark an opposition to the history.” ( from Thinking about ‘New’ in the age of New Conventionalities in Nandan, vol.xxix 2010)
[xxiii] To make a point here, works of Dukhushyam Chitrakar, the most eminent from that village of Naya, with all the disjuncture of formal as well as contextual concerns, enlivens a subjectivity that functions in a position of “becoming”. All through his life and work he explored various subjects and their narrations addressing different social, political and environmental issues. Although many of the narratives are derived from the convention (like the mythological ones) and promotion by other cultural agencies of majoritarian concern (like the HIV Pat), some of them (i.e. Congress Biplabi (split of Congress), Jibankahini (autobiography) are self-generated and shows all the marks of individual subjective agency with a minoritarian consciousness as he remained the most influential agency (as an example as well as a teacher) to contemporanize the present practice of his community. These variables are not some kind of fixed categories; rather function in continuous overlaps and in contestations and put the question of subjectivity in complex.
[xxiv] Rabindranath Tagore, The Religion of an Artist.
[xxv] Rabindranath Tagore, the first noble laureate of Asia (for the famous English translation of Gitanjali), was also known as Rabi Baul of the people. Jamini Roy the most well known modern painter of his time internationally, is commonly known as Jamini Patua. How does it happen?
[xxvi] SeePOEMS OF KABIR, Rbindranath Tagore, RABINDRA RACHANAVALI, Rupa, 2002