As an interior designer, I have always had an affinity for our traditional crafts and this week, I want to discuss the art work of four legendary folk artists. Pattachitra refers to the folk paintings from the state of Orissa, in the eastern region of India. 'Patta' in Sanskrit means 'vastra' or 'clothing' and 'chitra' means paintings. The tradition of Pattachitra is closely linked with the worship of Lord Jagannath. Apart from the fragmentary evidence of paintings on the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri and Sitabhinji, murals of the sixth century A.D., the earliest indigenous paintings from Orissa, are the Pattachitra done by the Chitrakars.
One of our most celebrated Pattachitra artists is Ragunath Chakraborty. He is mainly a painter of folk life and his paintings have highlighted boat racing, fishing, tribal dances, the barge of Behula and so on. His lines are influenced by folk culture, but he has a distinct style of his own unlike other traditional Patuas. His use of colour is vivid and his paintings 'Kamarshala', and 'Green Bangladesh' make extremely attractive wall pieces for foyers and living rooms.
Rickshaw painting is another indigenous form of art that is unique to this region. In Bangladesh, R. K Das has been considered a pioneer of rickshaw painting since the 1950s. His subjects range from movie stars to depictions of village life and colourful cityscapes to pictorial interpretations of social issues to flora, fauna and animals. His work is exceptional in its combinations of colour and imagery. His painting 'A Colourful City' looks striking on both white and blue walls. It is strongly reminiscent of our culture and tradition.
'Sarachitra' is another popular form of art. Sara refers to the lid of a clay pot. Folklorist Gurusaday Dutt once wrote that there was a time when each and every house in Bengal was like a little piece of art. Women of the households were known to decorate their walls, doors and windows by hand paint. Gurusaday Dutt was mostly known for his interest and contributions to Bengal's folk art, folk dance and folk music. He started a number of organisations and societies aimed at preserving these elements of folk culture. He spent a lifetime collecting and studying art objects and handiwork from the remotest corners of undivided rural Bengal such as paintings from Kalighat, patuas' scrolls, embroidered kanthas, terracotta panels, stone sculptures, wooden carvings, dolls and toys, moulds used for making patterns on sweets or mango-paste etc. Most of the several thousand artifacts he collected are on display at the Gurusaday Museum in Thakurpur in the suburbs of Kolkata. Gurusaday Dutt also wrote extensively on folk culture.
In bygone eras, greater Dhaka and Faridpur were famous for Sarachitra. Hindu families used to paint pictures of their Gods, Goddesses and other religious symbols on saras. Laxmi sara is still very famous as are Durga and Radha, Krishna saras. After the partition of India and Pakistan many people relocated from their birthplaces and in this process patuas also moved from Bangladesh to India. The spread and shift of arts and crafts in this region also occurred in the same way. Some authentic and very old saras are preserved in the Guru Sodoy Dutt museum in Calcutta. Our national museum and folk museum of Sonargaon also preserve traditional Sarachitro. Originally potuas painted saras with natural colours and their brushes were made of goat's fur.
Shukumer Paul is a well renowned sara painter and his themes are mainly inspired by rural life. He has skillfully blended popular rural motifs and trends with his fine arts degree. His work represents rural life but also contains elements of modernism.
Shokher Hari is a symbol of traditional Bangladeshi folk culture and a popular name in this genre is Sushanto Pal who is originally from the village of Basantapur in Rajshahi. He has a long history of folk artists in his family. The main feature of Sushanto's work is that he transcends the limitations of the decorated earthen pot and uses paper as his media and haris as his motifs. He has also developed his own artistic expression, combining it with his own conception, beliefs, experience and choice of subjects.
Bangladesh has a rich history of folk art and however these art forms may have transformed over centuries, it is a heritage of which we should be well proud.
NAZNEEN HAQUE MIMI
Photo Credit: Tamim Sujat
Special Thanks: Gallery Jolrong