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Sarai Independent Fellow Archana Jha on Folk Forms: msg#00062


Subject: Sarai Independent Fellow Archana Jha on Folk Forms

Painted Folklore- Tradition of Chitrakatha

India has a very old tradition of 'gatha gayatri' and in some areas it still exists. Story-tellers used to go to distant places, roam around from village to village, and tell stories. This factor has played an important role not only in the development of the folk art of India, but also helped in spreading various local folk forms from one area to the other.

While Court art forms were patronised by State and the kings, the ruling class never determined the character of local folk forms. Folk forms preserved their elements in changing social environment for quite long periods. However, with time, the character and style changed in folk forms due to social and economical factors or because of some outside influences.

The tradition of 'chirtra katha' in India dates back to the time of Patanjali. In his writings, there is a reference of 'Chitra Katha' style when story-tellers spread moral and religious doctrines among the people with the help of pictorial illustrations. In Bihar and Bengal, the storytellers were called 'Jadu Patua'. They moved with their scroll made of clothes, beautifully painted in different colours. The main character in these paintings was always 'Krishna'. The pictures provided a vivid account of events from the famous epics. In Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in central India, Chitra Katha, particularly the 'paithans', was very popular. They moved village to village to entertain people with their paithan style paintings, which told stories from Ramayana. Pot Painting of Orissa and Rajasthan have also came from Chitrakatha tradition.

The storytellers from South India, particularly from Tamilnadu, used a painted wooden cabinet that could be unfolded to depict a kind of altars to display illustrations of Vishnu legends. In Kerala, people used leather puppets for this purpose and in Andhra Pradesh (Tirupati), people painited in Kalamkari style. The storytellers went to distant places to entertain and in that process they influenced locals with their particular style of painting and singing.

One can find same kind of motifs in folk paintings of different areas. For instance, 'Ramgoli' in Maharastra, 'Alpana' in Bengal, 'Aripan' in Bihar, 'Kolama in South India, 'Mandana' in Rajasthan are some motifs influences by these stories and styles.

With passing of time and the changes in societies’ modes of existence, changes also come in the art forms. The 'Patuas' of Bengal, who used to paint the colourful pictorial scroll, adopted a new style. By then they had migrated to urban areas for survival. And hence, the urban requirements and sensibilities forced them to change their age old style. In city (Calcutta), they started producing art for mass market, mainly the pilgrims. There articles were cheap, but did not have much artistic value. The intention was that it should be within the reach of everyone, because in religious places, people came from all kinds of social and economic backgrounds. The important factor is that now the character of these paintings was not only religious; a number of themes were also taken from daily life of common people and contemporary local events.

The kalamkari and paithani style of painting still exists but few people can afford to purchase them. But printed cloth materials with kalamkari style motifs are easily available for mass consumption.

In India even the metros and big cities still contain some local elements. One, in the shape of communities coming from same region and state living in the same localities try to retain some of the common art and folk forms in various manners. Two, a growing demand for cloth and other materials with folk motifs has been generated in recent years, and it helps in their survival in some form or the other. Therefore, one can easily see an association with the strong tradition of story telling and art motifs in various forms even now.

Archana Jha
(Independent Fellow)

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