Pater Durga: A brief note on Patadurga of Hatserandi Village of Birbhum District, West Bengal (published in the Searching Lines, 2015, a students' journal of the History of Art Department, Kalabhavana, Visva-Bharati)
Gurusaday Dutta in his seminal work “Banglar Rasakala-Sampad” wrote that generally in the daily life of the interior villages of Bengal, we come across practice and demand of mainly three kinds of painting activity. Firstly, ancestral practice of narrative scroll Patachitra by the people of Patua community, secondly floor and wall painting known as Alpana practiced by village women and thirdly painting on dolls made with clay and wood. Along with these regular paintings, we get to see painting on sara (round terracotta plate) known as Sarapata and single frame paintings known as Chaukapata (square Pata) by the Patuas or Sutradhars or other painter communities of Bengal. Nearly all the paintings by Patuas of Kalighat were small Chaukapata, namely images of Radhakrishna, Shiva-Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Saraswati etc. These were bought by the visitors to use as home deities as well as to decorate the walls of their houses.
Ramesh Basu in his article “Banglar Prachin Chitra O Pat” mentions that E.B. Havell read an article by Ajit Ghose at India Society of Landon on 20th October 1926. This was later published in the society journal ‘Indian Art and Letters’ Vol. No. 2 with the title ‘Old Bengal Paintings: Pat Drawings.’ It is stated there that “those oldest Patas found from Bengal were images of Gods and Goddesses. These Patas were worshiped as substitute to three dimensional images. The practice still exists in some villages. Hence it can be claimed that Patas emerged to fulfill religious/ ritual need.” It is farther stated that examples found of this kind of painting which were made on a surface prepared by putting coating on stretched cloth were not many. Most of them are images of Durga and other gods and goddesses. There is a description about an old Patadurga, more than hundred years old (from 1926), painted by Iswar Sutradhar for some patron of Bishnupur princely state. In this Pata, Goddess Durga is situated at the centre of a temple painted centrally. Other figures of gods and goddesses are put at the niches of the temple. At the top Shiva is shown with his acquaintances Nandi and Bhringi. On the right side of the Goddess, Lakshmi and Ganesha and on the left side Saraswati and Kartik are painted. The blue background of the Pata was highly appreciated in this description. Valuable ornaments and dresses of the Goddess as painted reference of textile and jewelry excellence of the time got special mention too.
Patadurga exists in a particular geo-cultural territory of West Bengal. The practice of worshiping Patadurga can be seen especially in Birbhum, Bankura, Bardhaman and some areas of West Medinipur. In this ancient visual repertory ancestral traditions as well as the method and materials are more or less continuing with the time.
Sudhir Chakrabarty in his book “Chalchitrer Chitralekha” (1993) gave an insightful account of the life and works of Patuas who are engaged with Chalchitra Pata. Chalchitras are painted narrative on a semi-circular panel where figures are drawn from Puranic sources available greatly in folk life of Bengali society. Placed behind- above of the Durga clay idol, Chalchitra creates a backdrop as well as connect the main idol with references from Purana. Usually painted in a semi circular space at the top of the backdrop no idol seems complete without a Chalchitra. Most of the Chalchitra Patuas come from Kumbhakar (potter) and Sutradhar (carpenter) community as they are the makers of the idol they paint the Chalchitra also. After painting of the Chalchitra the idol composition becomes complete and ready for worshipping. Chalchitra from different areas as well as from same area with various artists, bear local-village-family-individual characteristics, all at the same time with varied degree of synthesis. Sudhir Chakrabarty expresses his despair about the present state of this field where understanding and appreciation of this special repertory of folk painting is becoming rare. So the Patuas involved with the art are losing their interest and it is becoming a usual practice to paste readymade Chalchitras, bought from the market at the back drop.
During his field-work for this book on Chalchitra, Sudhir Chakrabarty visited Hatserandi to meet Kalipada Sutradhar who was the senior most Patachitra artist alive then in the village. Sudhirbabu gave a compassionate account of the artist’s faith, skill and despair. That is where he found the existence of Patadurga. Sudhirbabu describes:
“Hatserandi by its name is very unique. It does not go with the common average village names usually found in Bengal. The ritual and customs of Durgapuja in this village is also different from all other places. Because, in this village instead of clay idol, Duga is worshipped in Patachitra. Earlier all the images for Durgapuja in this village were painted on Pata. Now six/seven images are Patadurga and remaining five/six are clay images….. It must be remembered that in our country, practice through Ghat-Pat-Jantra was preferable for worshipping Devi Durga or Shakti. Use of Murti or idols came lately. So in one particular village if we found this practice of Pata- puja then a specific search about the people, social structure and priest community there can provide some new information. There is no place here to go deep into this description. But a hint can be placed here that seventy to eighty families of Brahmin lives there and this tradition of worshipping Patadurga in the Chattapadhya family is continuing at least for two hundred years. One contextual fact is that the Patadurga is kept there for the whole year after the puja and immersed next year and a new Patadurga is installed at the worshipping place. This practice has effects on the colour application of the Pata. Loud colours are used in the Pata so that it can last for one year.”
Hatserandi is situated eight miles away from Bolpur by the bus road towards Palitpur. From the bus stop it is half an hour walk on the moram road through paddy fields to reach the village locality. Now the road from the bus stop to the village has been concretized. Hatserandi is also known to some of the interested scholars and researchers for terracotta temples. Myth says that there were 108 number of terracotta temples belonging to different families of the village. But most of them have perished or existing in a decaying state. Few (5 or 6) of which has got some reliefs on them. Almost 20 years back when Sudhirbabu went there, Hatserandi was a developing village. He mentioned that the village got majority population of Sadgops(farming community). Bagdi, Bauri, Sutradhar and some other communities also inhabit there. The geo-natural arrangement shows that the structure of the village is very old. The economic condition of the villagers is more or less stable. Every one Sudhirbabu met showed respect for the Sutradhar family and showed him the way to the house of Kalipada Sutradhar. Kalipada Sutradhar with his brother Gurupada Sutradhar and their sons provided the carpenter’s work for the village. That’s why they were also known as Mishtri (the title commonly used in Bengal to mention skilled worker). Along with this regular work every year Kalipada with his son Adargopal would paint the Patadurgas for Durga puja. Painting Patadurga for puja was their family tradition. Kalipada was above seventy, half blind with cataract expressed to Sudhirbabu his eagerness for this act of painting. Fragment of the conversation between them following below:
S: I heard that you paint most of the Patas of this village?
K: Yes, you are right. I have crossed seventy seven. As long as I am getting blessings from my fathers and forefathers and the Mother (Durga) let me paint I will continue painting. This is not my affair. I do not paint.
S: If you don’t paint then who paints?
K: She makes me paint whose Pata it is.
S: Yes, it is very strange! How do you paint without the vision?
K: See, then I have to speak from the beginning. I am writing Pata (Pat lekha) when I started helping my father since childhood, likely when I was ten. You can say it like an addiction. When the Devipaksha (fortnight before Durgapuja) starts my mind is fuelled with eagerness. Restiveness occupies to write (paint) her rupa (image). My sons know all these. Surely the mind becomes filled with a pure serenity. Villagers also come to know that now Kalipada Mishtri will start work (painting).
This tradition continued with his son Adargopal Sutradhar. Although Kalipada Mishtri did not get much recognition from outside Adorgopal had managed to get recognition from the outside world. Adargopla’s Patadurgas are documented and collected by interested eminent researchers like Deepak Bhattacharjya. Harubala Sutradhar, wife of Adargopal, mentioned that Patadurgas by Kalipada Sutradhar were also collected by Deepak Bhattacharjya, Ashok Kundu and Badal Pal. Adargopal was known to scholars and artists from Santiniketan and used to get invitation from Poush Mela Committee. Jhanak Jhanker Narzery, eminent artist and ex principal of Kalabhavana went to Hatserandi to meet him and see his work. Purnanada Chatterjee, ex principal of Pathabhavana, writer and reporter with Ananda Bazar Patrika, belongs to the abovementioned Chattapadhya family of Hatserandi. He also inspired Adargopal and endorsed his art activity. Adargopal Sutradhar, educated to secondary standard was serving as work education teacher in Singi High School of a neighbor village and retired in 2004. He had passed away at age of 72 out of a cardiac arrest in 11th February 2013. Lately because of his ill health his cousin brother Manik Sutradhar filled the demand for the Patadurgas. Manik Sutradhar, son of Badal Sutradhar is an idol maker (Pratima Shilpi) learned painting Patadurga from Adargopal.
Manik Sutradhar’s style of painting to some extent departs from the family style. His drawing of figures is free flowing and bears character of primitiveness.
This year Harubala inspired their only son Ramkrishna to adopt the family tradition and paint for the Chattapadhya family. So Ramkrishna painted his first Patadurga following his father’s style taking reference from the photographs of Adargopla’s Patadurga. These photos were gifted to the family by one researcher (mother and both he could not remember the name). Ramkrishna is a young man (in his mid twenties), married and father of a two year old son had interest in art since his childhood. He along with his mother Harubala helped Adargopal to prepare the Patadurgas. The art works he produced during his growing years were appreciated in the village. As a consequence after his high school study he tried to get admission in Kalabhavana to learn painting. That time he started to come to the campus and met many senior students at Kalbhavana and showed his drawings and paintings to get feedbacks. Naturally he was not quite clear about his ambitions but however vaguely he was looking towards a career as a modern artist. That’s what I felt when I met him then at Kalabhvana. Somehow he could not pass the first admission test to Kalabhavana. Dejected by the failure he lost his interest and did not apply again and slowly got absorbed in other family duties. Now after his father’s demise and with his encouraging mother he is getting interest in the family tradition. He is meeting people known to his father and also managing to present himself to the invitations earlier he would accompany with his father. Last year during the Poush Mela Ramkrishna along with his mother met eminent Bengali film actor Ranjit Mallik who showed special interest to the family tradition of Ptadugra and promised them that he would visit Hatserandi during coming Durgapuja.
Patadurgas of Hatserandi are usullay six feet in length and six feet in height with an arch shape at the top end. Along with the usual Durga and associated images Chalchitra is also painted following this arch. First the frame is prepared with ripe bamboo and sal-wood. Then a new cloth (Markin Kapar) is pasted on the frame after making it wet with clay-water solution.. For that purpose sticky clay (entel mati) solution is used. This wet cloth is stretched with jute rope from behind the frame. When it gets dried the surface is coated with white chalk (khari mati) solution. The coating is applied for two-three times. Then the figures are drawn and composed with faint red colour on the white surface. Then slowly colours are filled. Dust/earth colours are mixed with gum and water. Primary colours are mixed in varied proportion to produce different colours and their shades. After making the figures the back ground is painted with blue. The black colour is used at the end. Very intelligent application of shades and colours brings a natural illumination to the whole Pata.
I went to Hatserandi to document Patadurga during Durgapuja of 2013. Then I found four Patadurgas from four different families. One painted by Ramakrishna, another by Ratnakar Mete from Gandhpur, a neighboring village of Hatserandi and other two by Manikchandra Sutradhar. These Patadurgas are known by the name of their patronizing families. Such as Chatterjee-Barir Patadurga, Rai-Barir Patadurga, Mukherjee-Barir Patdurga and Mondal-Barir Patadurga. Ramkrishna painted for the oldest puja of Chatterjee family. Previous year Manikchandra Sutradhar painted for the Chattapadhya family as Adargopla could not do the work due to ailing health. Usually Adargopal continued with the Chatterjee familie’s endorsement after his father Kalipada Sutradhar. Facts reveal that Manikchandra’s father Gurupada Sutradhar also painted Patadurga for this family beside Kalipada Sutradhar. Same happened with other families too. Due to different reasons patron families change the artist endorsed for Patadurga. At present Manikchandra (in his late sixties) is the senior-most artist from Hatserandi. His main engagement is to produce clay idols for Durgagapuja and other pujas all through the year. Along with that he is also painting Patadurgas for more than last ten years. This year he painted for Mojumder-Bari and Mondal-Bari. Ratnakar Mete, in his early forties, has been endorsed for Mukherjee-Bari’s Patadurga for last three years. Earlier he had painted for Mondal-bari. Ratnakar’s style of Patadurga is quite different from the artists of the village. Ratnakar’s Patadurga shows influences of printed calendar images of Durga. Apart from above mentioned four Patadurgas another family, Pal-Bari bears this tradition but in a different way. Ten years back I have seen there a Patadurga in oil painting on ten feet by ten feet canvas attached to the wall with wooden frame. Artist’s name ‘M.N. Bhoumik, Durgapur’ was written on the canvas. This oil painting was painted at least 35 years back from when I saw it. Utpal Pal, my friend from the family revealed that before this oil Patadurga Sutradher artists of the village were endorsed to paint for the family. This year I found there a large size flex image printed from some available calendar image of Durga.
“Honour both spirit and form – the sentiment within and the symbol without.”—Teaching of Sri Ramakrishna
The brief report on the Patadurga of Hatserandi village reveals a very specific sub-field in the Patua discourse, which is providing to be a potent force to carry out the traditional mode of ritual and life as well. There we see and artist’s relationship with the society is continuing to exist in a dynamic state.
Artist -thinker Benodebehari Mukherjee observed that, as the traditional artist (karigar) traverses a way of the convention their individual reflection does not always get surfaced in their work. In contrary he/she knows what his /her responsibility is. Sudhir Chakraborty opines in this context to his research on Chalchitra Pata, that these artists are fallen now from this sense of responsibility to their work and tradition and traces the cause behind this situation. He observed that the dilution happens because their works does not pay much and there is a great lack of connoisseurship also. The common base of faith between the artists and the society they serve to live has been tattered by the passing time and changes happening through modernization (read urbanization), commoditization and universal inclination towards money-capital. In this context we can look again at Benodebehari’s explanation of the situation from his fundamental quarries on art, “Shilpa Jiggasa” in the book “Chitrakar”:
“Man has to do some work to arrange for food, clothing and shelter. But if all his energy is exhausted to arrange these basic needs then it becomes impossible to follow any great ideal. For that leisure is required. Artist, Writer, Philosopher, Scientist all work hard all over their life to manifest their individual ideal within this leisure. It becomes difficult for the artist to create art when the society fails to provide this leisure…. To touch the heart of the society with one’s own heart and expand his own heart by the heart of the society is the sole responsibility artist carries forward. If the society tries to displace artist from his own position then the artist community revolts.”
As we find from the contemporary history of folk life that if these marginal artists could not succeed to revolt against the predicament of their ruining profession then what they at the end attempt is to leave the profession for a life of a lesser workmanship. Who loses and who wins in the game may be an interesting subject to ponder upon but as a whole the society loses its elementary aesthetic sense.
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