Left: Madhusudan Chitrakar showing a
scroll in the front room of his house. Above:
Ganesh’s Life Story by Gurupada Chitrakar.
Art in India often represents religious ideas. Patua artists illustrate
and sing stories about Hindu gods
and goddesses that originate in
ancient texts, as well as stories
about Muslim saints, tribal beliefs,
and contemporary religious figures
such as Mother Theresa.
Secular stories comprise much of
the patua’s repertoire. Singers perform Bengali folktales, sing about
British colonialism, make social
commentary about modernity and
urban life, relate accounts of international, national, and local histories, current events, popular culture,
and convey information about public health and social services.
Making a Scroll
To make a scroll, the patua begins
with the paper. Artists use commercial poster paper, using one piece
per frame of the scroll, sewing the
pieces together. Once the pieces
of paper have been assembled, the
artist rolls the paper to make it conform to the proper shape. Most patuas use pencil to outline the forms
of the characters and images. The
individual frames are demarcated
with decorative borders which disguise the seams between frames.
After the imagery and borders
have been laid out, the painting
begins. The scroll painters use available plants and minerals to make
pigments for the paintings. The gum
of the bel (wood apple) fruit acts as a
fixative and as a binder. Some of the
colors and their sources are:
• white—lime powder
• black—lampblack or crushed,
• red—pomegranate juice or
• green—broad bean leaves.
Some artists purchase commercial paints to use in their work. Similarly, many artists use brushes that
they make out of goat and squirrel
hair while others purchase ready-made brushes. Usually, the dark
outlines are added at the end of the
painting process. Cloth is adhered
to the back to strengthen the seams.
Old saris are often used as the backing and the patterns of the fabric add
visual depth to the patua’s presentation.
The patuas’ official caste designation (or hereditary occupation)
is “Chitrakar” or picture maker.
The terms patua and Chitrakar are
interchangeable, though the artists generally use Chitrakar as their
surname even though they are not
related to one another.
Traditionally, patuas were men.
Women have always assisted with
the preparation of materials, but
now they are also recognized as talented artists and performers in their
own right. Female patuas play an
important role in sharing information with women about issues that
might be regarded as inappropriate
topics of discussion between women
Aurelia Gomez is director of education
at the Museum of International Folk Art
in Santa Fe, New Mexico and an advisory
board member for SchoolArts.
Students understand that there are
various purposes for creating works
Photographs courtesy of the
Museum of International Folk Art,
DCA by Paul Smutko
See a lesson plan on making
narrative scrolls online!