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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—only a few of them still make the traditional 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 French Revolution or the life of Mother Teresa.

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 today many patua women have also taken up the craft, guided by Dukhushyam Chitrakar (a highly respected senior painter). Led by her, these women have not only established themselves as excellent artists, but also as leaders within the community.
Under an initiative ‘Art for Livelihood’, these women are spearheading local development. The patuas now paint on a diverse range of medium including cloth, clay and ceramic. With the support of the NGO, banglanatak dot com, the patuas have also founded a painter’s co-operative, CHITRATARU, that has helped their work, find new markets and audiences.

Thanks to this initiative, patas from Naya have found a place in renowned art galleries across the world. Many patuas from the village have won the President’s Award 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.
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 November every year, the festival showcases modern paintings as well as scrolls dating back hundreds of years.

The villagers paint the mud walls of their houses with colourful patachitra motifs and hang scrolls on ropes in the courtyards. With no hotel in the village, the patua’s house the visitors in their own homes and in tents.
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. Musical and dance performances by eminent artists start in the evening and go on well into the night. Demonstrations on natural colour extraction from sources such as marigold, indigo, teak leaves, saffron, and turmeric are also held.

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.

There are daily trains from Kolkata to Balichak (1.5-2 hours) on the Kharagpur line. Naya is 26 km/45 minutes from Balichak. Here, the only option for stay is with the artist’s house.
Website: www.banglanatak.com
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