Amadubi village in the Dhalbhumgarh region of the East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand is the sole place where the folk art of “Paitkar painting” is practiced. The paintings are made by Bengali artists known as “Chitrakars,” which is Bengali for “picture-makers.” The paintings tell intriguing tales about the beginnings of existence, Hindu history and folklore, as well as tribal customs, festivals, and lifestyles.
The colours used in paintings are produced using natural materials including stones, leaves, flowers, and tree bark. Even paint brushes were once made in-country from goat hair. Paintings by Paitkar artists typically take the form of scrolls that contain a narrative-driven collection of images. In the tourist sector, Paitkar is surviving as a single frame artwork while gradually losing its elongated appearance.
The culture of the neighboring state of West Bengal can be linked to the lengthy history of Paitkar art. The narrative starts off when King Ramachandra Dhal, who ruled over the Dhalbhumgarh province, was in power. He was visited by a group of 22 Paitkar painters, who were swiftly captured by his troops. They were presented to the King and identified themselves as artists or singers who perform at various locations in exchange for goods. The King was so thrilled by their performance that he asked them to paint the queen’s bedroom. The painters accomplished a superb job, much to the King’s delight. In exchange for their persistent singing in front of the royal court, he offered them a permanent plot of land. Since then, the village of Amadubi in Dhalbhumgarh has become home to Paitkar painters.
Because of their singing abilities, they were given the surname “Gayen,” but over time they altered it to Chitrakar. Gayen singers are referred to as Gayens, whilst Chitrakar singers are referred to as Chitrakars. Although the terms Paitkar and Chitrakar can be used interchangeably, most artists go by the last name Chitrakar, even if they are unrelated. According to the Brahmavaivarta Purana (old legendary literature), the Chitrakars, who were originally members of the Nava Shaka (group of nine castes), were degraded because they disobeyed the norms for deities’ representation.
Tradition of Pata Painting
One can consider Pata painting to be a subset of Paitkar painting. Pata painting, also spelt patachitra, refers to long scroll paintings. This scroll artwork has a vertical format. Jadopatiya paintings from Jharkhand, Patachitra from West Bengal, and Pattachitra from Odisha are examples of further pata painting styles. One of India’s oldest traditional paintings is the pata. The Patua are the Patachitra painting communities of West Bengal. In Jharkhand, they are also known by the names Patidar, Patekar, and Paitkar. Ptekar is the root of the word “paitkar.” The origin of Patachitra is Padya. The poem Padya or Pada has two lines and rhymes. The narrative scroll style of Paitkar painting is based on Pandulipi, a natural scroll that was historically employed by kings to communicate with other rulers.
Materials used in Pata Painting
For painting their scrolls, Paitkar artists used a water-based pigment derived from natural sources. Only a few hues make up Chitrakar’s colour scheme. They only collect pure fundamental hues found in nature. Combining the fundamental core colours of red, yellow, and blue allows the artists to create new hues. Secondary colours are made by combining these basic hues. Older Paitkar paintings were predominantly black, deep brown, and olive green. Later, different hues including indigo, ochre yellow, and others were employed to produce the change. In religious and mythical art, the colour red is frequently utilised. Instead of painting their paper white, painters will occasionally leave it “paper white” or “blank” to designate the shade of white.
Several popular hues and their sources:
- Orange – Palash Flowers
- Green – Bean Leaves (Seem Patta)
- Yellow – Yellow Ochre stone (Haldi Patthar), Turmeric (Haldi)
- Red – Heamatite (Gerua Patthar)
- Brown – Brown Stone
- Black – Lamp Soot (Carbon Black)
- Blue – Indigo
Religious and mythological artworks frequently feature the colour red. Paintings that are meant to be white are occasionally left as “paper white” or “blank” instead of using white paint to achieve that colour.
Technique of painting
The riverside is covered in mud and coloured stones, but finding them might be challenging. In order to create the hues, painters first made a paste out of the leaves or flowers and then squeezed the mixture to release the liquid. After that, the juice is heated until the right consistency is achieved. To make the paint adhere to paper, it is combined with natural gums harvested from babool trees. Additionally, the gum lends the paint a sheen. To preserve the hues created, coconut shells are used. Brushes were once made by Paitkar artisans by twisting goat and squirrel hairs with thread on a bamboo pole. They now make use of brushes that can be bought commercially. Palm tree leaves have been replaced as a sketching medium by handmade paper and canvas. To create a scroll, several pieces of paper are arranged in a row and held together by fabric. Oftentimes, the Paitkar’s presentation is accompanied by vintage saris, and the patterns of the fabric add visual richness to the performance.
To define the shapes of the characters, the bulk of Paitkar painters use pencils. Ornate borders that represent a certain scene from the storey divide the individual frames. Dark outlines are typically added after the painting is complete. Males have typically been the Paitkar artists. Traditionally, women assisted with colour preparation, but more recently, they started painting themselves.
Different forms of Paitkar paintings
It has a thick contour line and is a rather simple form. Human characters take up the lion’s share of the painted area. Both profile and semi-profile versions of these characters are common. An essential element of Indian art is the expanded eyes. Before the middle of the 20th century, there was no painted face. Anatomical details are not clearly defined, and Paitkars’ spontaneous lines have an angular appearance. Strong sensuality can be seen in Paitkar’s image. Simple contours and realistic lines are preferred by Paitkar painters. The painters emphasise simple colours and bulk to reduce shadowing. Thick lines are employed to emphasise the form. The painting’s sensory composition hides perspective, despite the Chitrakars’ ignorance of it. On occasion, the metaphorical picture frames are combined to advance the plot.
Subjects or substance of Paitkar paintings typically include:
- Hindu epics (such the Ramayana and the Mahabharata), as well as popular legends and folklore.
- The Santhals’ fairs and festivals, mythology, and social life.
- Flora and Fauna.
The socio-religious life of Jharkhand is largely reflected in the Paitkar family. Social gatherings and holidays including Baha’i, Dansai, and Karam Puja are among the most well-liked subjects. The majority of Chitrakars’ former clients were Santhal, hence their paintings primarily depict the Santhal holiday spirit, folklore, and religious beliefs. As well as being shown are mythology from Santhal like Pilsuram and Pilsuburi.
As well as indigenous deities like Manasa, the snake goddess, they recount tales about Hindu gods and goddesses like Durga and Shiva. Snakes like to reside in the area of Jharkhand’s wide emptiness. Therefore, painters looking for dye and natural colour are hesitant to take it outside amid the soils and stones. The snake deity Manasa is credited with defending the household against snakebite injuries and bringing prosperity to the neighbourhood. For this reason, the snake goddess Manasa is revered, and Paitkar depicts her life story. Due to public demand, certain Paitkar painters have started to reflect contemporary modern themes. There are other examples, including as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the biography of Birsa Munda, a liberation fighter. Because of this, Paitkar art has been characterised as dynamic or changing in response to the demands and preferences of the audience.
Musical Performance by Paitkar painters
In the past, Paitkar artists have made their living mostly via storytelling. The majority of the performers were found in tribal communities, where they sang the story and displayed their scrolls in exchange for offerings like rice and other small items. The Ektara (a one-string instrument) and Dotara (a two-string instrument), which were used to accompany the Bengali tunes, were both string instruments.
To provide their audience a selection of stories, Paitkar performers typically carry a huge number of scrolls. Two of Paitkar’s recurrent themes are the Santhal tale and the Mangala Kavyas (welfare books). Based on their intended audience, the artists choose their artwork for performance. They sang legendary tales and beliefs in Santhal communities as well as Mangala Kavyas in Hindu areas. This was done to persuade the audience to give the performer a gift, or daan. The majority of artists in today’s world only create paintings, and the singing storytelling tradition is in danger of dying out.
Current condition of Paitkars
It is demoralising to witness the hardships Paitkar practitioners face every day. Their ability to live a stable and better life is hindered by the lack of patrons for their artwork. It also stops future generations from carrying on this tradition. As a result, unlike their predecessors, modern artists don’t only follow the rules. Even though the majority of people in Amadubi are aware of the art, only 7–8 artists currently work as painters. Because it could no longer be maintained financially, the majority of the Amadubi villages gave up the custom. They have experience in many different occupations, such as carpentry, idol-making, tailoring, agricultural labour, and repair work.
In 2013, in collaboration with Jharcraft and the Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation (JTDC), the Jharkhand government classified Amadubi village as a rural tourism destination due to its cultural importance. The then-tourism minister also established a training facility to instruct others, mainly kids, in the art form. These paintings, which cost between Rs 300 and Rs 20,000 each, are difficult for Paitkar painters to sell because this training facility is temporarily closed. The problem has gotten worse due to the ongoing Covid-19 dilemma.
Gloomy future of Paitkars
The outlook for Paitkar art is dim and uncertain. Even worse than the lack of attempts by state governments and private entities, the prolonged Covid-19 problem has made matters worse. It’s difficult to predict how many of the remaining active practising artists will be able to continue their careers through Covid-19.
Government, corporate entities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and individuals must move swiftly to preserve this painting.
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