Exploring Naya, Bengal’s Village of Singing Painters

An intricate tapestry of music and visual art is what makes Naya more than just a village in West Bengal’s Paschim Midnapore district. A quaint little village, Naya is home to around 250 patuas or chitrakaars, a unique community of folk artistes who are painters, lyricists, singers and performers all rolled into one. These traditional painter singers specialize in the ancient folk art of pata chitra, a type of narrative scroll painting.

The Patua community of West Bengal has practiced the ancient craft of patachitra since the 13th Century. Their diverse repertoire includes mythological stories and tribal folklore as well as social messages and narrations on contemporary events.

Over time, however, interest in this art form faded out. To establish it again, a group of innovative patuas established a patachitra village at Naya. Slowly, their efforts to revive their artistic heritage started paying off. Today, after a period of decline, the patachitra art is flourishing again in the village, with village youngsters taking up the traditional art form as a passion and profession.

A pata is created by painting on a canvas made by stitching together multiple sheets of commercial poster paper. After finishing, a thin cotton cloth is glued to the back of the painting to provide longevity. Next, the completed scrolls are kept in the sun to dry. The patuas also paint wooden souvenirs, decorative hangings and mud walls with striking natural colours.

Presently, the patuas of Naya make rectangular and square-shaped paintings of different sizes along with the traditional 10 to 20 feet long scrolls. In addition to stories from folklore, mythology and epics, the artists have started choosing their themes from contemporary events such as the life of Swami Vivekananda or Rabindranath Tagore.

Social messages like health awareness and conservation of trees also figure in their paintings. In addition to the scrolls, the patuas also paint single panel images of traditional subjects, such as fish, tigers or rows of cows.

The patachitra art tradition was customarily passed down from father to son, but now the leadership is mostly with women. Led by Swarna Chitrakar, these women have not only established themselves as excellent artists, but also as leaders within the community.

Since 2004, under an initiative ‘Art for Life’, the Patachitra artists of Pingla have spearheaded a new journey of reviving Patachitra and strengthening local development. The patuas now paint on a diverse range of medium including cloth, clay and ceramic. They have also formed their own cluster, CHITRATARU, which has helped their work, find new markets and audiences.

Thanks to this initiative of an UN accredited NGO banglanatak dot com, Patachitra from Naya have found a place in renowned art galleries across the world. Many patuas from the village have won various awards too. They have also participated in exhibitions, cultural exchange programs and festivals in USA, Germany, Australia, France, Britain, Sweden, and China, as well as all over India. With their work winning widespread acclaim, Naya is now regularly visited by art collectors and enthusiasts from all over the world. The village now holds the Geographical Indication (GI).

Since 2010, CHITRATARU has also been organizing an annual three-day festival ‘Pot Maya’ to celebrate the success of the local artists in reviving their heritage. Held in the 3rd weekend of November every year, the festival showcases diversification and scrolls dating back hundreds of years and attracts thousands of visitors.

The villagers paint the mud walls of their houses with colourful patachitra motifs and hang scrolls on ropes in the courtyards. Naya is at 3.5 hours drive from Kolkata, an ideal day trip. There is provision of stay at nearby well furnished Guest Houses and at Village Resource Centre with basic amenities. Nearest hotel is also quite basic, located at 45 minutes away, at Balichawk. Many people also stay at Patuas’ houses.

With the onset of the festival, the quiet hamlet is transformed into a vibrant cultural hub where visitors can learn about the craft of patachitra. Several workshops are held, stories are told, and different types of pata artwork are displayed for sale. Attractive folk festival happens in the evenings. Demonstrations on natural colour extraction from sources such as marigold, indigo, teak leaves, saffron, and turmeric are also held twice a day during daytime.

Watching a patua singing gently in harmony with the soft colours and delicate imagery of his work, as oil lamps create a magical play of light and shadow over the canvas, is a spellbinding experience. If you are an art enthusiast, make time to the visit this unique village for a mix of traditional art and music in a beautiful rural setting.

GETTING THERE

Take a train from Howrah towards Kharagpur, get down at Balichawk (It takes less than 2 hours). Then, 45 minutes by car/bus. One can take a car from Kolkata, take left at Debra, cross Balichawk, left at Mundomari crossing, cross Pingla Thana, Naya village will be at left.

Website: www.banglanatak.com

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