Naya village in Bengal is house to potua artists

The veins on Bapi Chitrakar’s throat swell and collapse in rhythmic movement. His voice pierces the silence of the misty morning. In his left hand, he holds a scroll portray, referred to as potochitro or pot. He makes use of his index finger of the opposite hand to level out components within the portray — the characters and occasions he’s singing about.

I’m in Naya, a village in Midnapore district about 110km from Kolkata. Fringed by cropland and canopied by lush foliage, Naya is a huddle of one-storey homes. Each wall within the village tells a narrative. Vibrant colors and stylish brushstrokes vie for consideration. Solely 80-85 households, every nurturing not less than one potochitro artist or potua, inhabit Naya.

A kaleidoscope of patterns and hues overwhelms the ground when 40-year previous Bapi, a seventh-generation potua, shows scrolls. Whereas fashionable narratives hover round folks tales and breaking information, intricate work with older themes — equivalent to tales from Hindu mythology (Manasamangal Kavya, Savitri Satyavan and Krishnaleela) — fetch the very best worth. You should buy a scroll for simply ₹400 or pay ₹40,000 for a finer and extra detailed piece.

Inside Bapi’s humble dwelling, a girl, seated cross-legged on a mat, bends over a bit of paper. She sways a pencil on the canvas abandoning a well-choreographed path that assembles to kind a picture of Durga slaying Mahishasur. The girl potua — Bapi’s mom Radha — obtained sponsorship in 2006 to take part in an artwork truthful in Frankfurt, Germany.

As the decision to prayer from the close by mosque streams in, Radha pulls the free finish of her sari over her head and tucks within the straying strands of hair. Like Bapi and Radha, many scroll painters of Naya, who know Hindu lores, scriptures and mythological tales by coronary heart, are followers of Islam. The village can also be house to Hindu potuas.

In accordance with one legend, potuas are descendants of the Hindu god Vishwakarma. Mentions of Bengal potochitro have been present in literature from as early as 1st century CE. Within the days earlier than cinema, tv and radios, potuas had been invited to carry out in group programmes, village festivals and personal capabilities of the wealthy. They had been rewarded with garments, meals, brass utensils and different requirements.

Poter gaan or the songs related to particular person potochitro(s) had been additionally used as a medium to convey messages of concord, peace and brotherhood throughout villages. A super potua is a painter, lyricist, musician and singer rolled into one. Usually, potuas unfurl scrolls step by step, singing songs with lyrics that resonate with the tales narrated within the work. Bapi, for example, carried out a track titled Machher Biye (marriage of the fishes).

Like potua communities in different elements of Bengal, the artists of Naya have inherited a repository of tales and songs from their predecessors.

I path Bapi to his relative Bahadur’s home, passing by the Potua Songhrohoshala — a constructing that hosts potochitro workshops in collaboration with IIT-Kharagpur. The scholars and professors of the IIT train these artisans ecologically sustainable methods to evolve their artwork, equivalent to in the usage of pure colors. In a sun-dappled yard in Bahadur’s abode, a girl attracts irises within the bulging eye-sockets of the characters in her portray. She dips her paintbrush in a coconut shell, refreshing the spent color. She is utilizing pure colors — ones which might be manufactured from vegetation such because the aparajita (Asian pigeonwings).

Pigments are extracted by crushing flowers, fruits, leaves, roots and seeds. The liquid is then boiled to extend consistency and eventually transferred right into a coconut shell and left to dry. The longer the publicity to the solar, the darker the shade. After drying, water and gum of the bael (wooden apple) is added to the color. The focus is saved within the shell.

“My dad and mom informed me that within the previous occasions, goat hair was tied to bamboo sticks to function paintbrushes. Paper was made by rolling cotton and including starch to it,” says Bahadur Chitrakar. From the womb of a steel trunk, he pulls out a sepia-tinted scroll. It depicts a scene from the Mahabharata. Bahadur asserts that it was painted 800 years in the past, utilizing the type of paper and brush he’d simply described.

Bahadur has additionally collected over 10,000 scroll work and specimens of varied different types of artwork (Madhubani and Warli, for example) from different elements of India and even overseas on his travels. His non-public home-museum known as Potochitro People Artwork Museum.

Potochitro is not restricted to scrolls. They’re now seen on hand-held followers, T-shirts, clay utensils, saris and ornamental gadgets equivalent to coasters. Bahadur’s courtyard is crammed with such creations. Right here, as I relish a meal of rice, dal, vegetable and eggs cooked by Bahadur’s spouse, I see a clutch of holiday makers shopping for from his assortment.

Whereas it brings within the cash the potuas want for sustenance, not everybody in the neighborhood is blissful about utilizing family objects and clothes as canvas. Considered one of them is Dukhoshyam Chitrakar, an elder who grumbles about gods and goddesses showing on T-shirts and saris. “They deserve a spot in temples; not on common gadgets of use,” he says. He corrects me after I presume that he’s a Hindu. A person like him is an artist above all.

Tania Banerjee is a contract author based mostly in Mumbai

Journey log

  • Getting there
  • Midnapore and Kharagpur-bound native trains from the Howrah and Santragachi railway stations halt at Balichak. From Balichak take a Pingla-bound bus for Naya.
  • Keep
  • Bahadur Chitrakar hosts vacationers in a single day in guest-rooms and serves tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner. The closest resorts are in Kharagpur metropolis.
  • BLink Tip
  • Pot Maya is a three-day pageant held in Naya each November to have fun potochitro artwork and artists.

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