Patachitra: Transforming An Ordinary Piece Of Cloth Into Something Exquisite

Posted on April 23, 2013

By Swadha Bharpilania:

Patachitra, also known as scroll painting, is a highly extensive art form of Bengal and Orissa adopted by artists to depict mythological, and in recent times, modern scenes from inspirational stories.

Patachitra is usually done on tasar silk cloth or even on a material made by gluing bits of cotton using a concoction containing tamarind. The history revolving around this exquisite form of art dates back to over two thousand years, the artist’s inspiration found expression through this art form. These paintings depicted everything that the artists thought was necessary for providing depth to the story they wanted to convey. The paintings also depicted scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The colour scheme is commodious, containing almost every shade one can imagine. The common colours, however, are red, ochre, indigo, various shades of green and the usual monochromic shades. These colours are obtained from natural sources like Hingula, Ramraja, haritala, lamp black and shells. The brushes are made out of animal hair such as that obtained from the tails of rats or maybe even squirrels.


The painting is crafted step by step. First, an outline is made using red or yellow as base colour and then the artists slowly proceed to filling in this outline and bringing the character to life. The base colour for the entire painting is red, which is filled prior to the other colours, after the colouring is done the entire painting is given a lacquer coating to give it a varnished feel. The artist also adds rice powder to give the canvas a stiffer structure.

The entire process is highly time consuming and this is one of the main reasons that this extremely beautiful and polished form of art is gradually receding in importance. The cloth on which a traditional Patachitra is made is highly expensive causing the demand for these paintings to go down.

Despite all the drawbacks, this is one form of art that is captivating. The brightness, though overwhelming at first gradually mesmerizes you and then it binds you to its beauty, leaving you to marvel at its flawlessness. The art form depicts mythology in most cases thereby being very informative regarding Hindu culture. The art form presents to us deities like Shiva, Ram, Chandni and Manasa in all their greatness, bathed in glory.

So, this figment of some incredibly talented person’s imagination transports you to a different era all together, illustrating, sometimes love, sometimes war and sometimes feelings that the human mind is often unable to fathom. My choice from amongst the array of art forms in Bengal is the Patachitra, what’s yours?

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