‘Patua scroll painting’ is an art form native to West Bengal.
The paintings are traditionally made from handmade paper, backed with cloth. Scrolls are typically 8 to 15 feet long and contain vibrantly painted scenes of a mythology or history story. Indigenous plants and minerals are still used to create the paint, including turmeric, vermillion, and burnt rice. Sap of the bel (wood-apple) fruit is used as mordant. As the scroll is unrolled frame by frame, the artist narrates mythological and historical stories through song, which typically lasts five to fifteen minutes.
Patua scroll painters wander from village to village singing stories about pictures depicted in their scrolls and make a living. Their stories also depict Hindu saints and Muslim saints. With changing times, the Patuas have crafted their message accordingly. Now they create scrolls reflecting social issues, such as literacy and environment. With globalization, Patuas are responding with stories featuring international issues, but with a local twist.
For example, in artist Manu Chitrakar’s version of the events of 9/11, the son of an affluent Bengali gentleman goes to New York, secures a job in the “Oil Trade House” (i.e., World Trade Center), and tragically dies in the conflagration along with thousands of Americans. This artist also created a sequel to this scroll about the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
With the advent of television and movies, the Patuas are losing their traditional audiences and are now attracting Western tourists. They travel to hotels where they sell their scrolls to tourists as ‘folk art’ – minus the songs.
The ability of the Patuas to adapt to changing times has enabled their indigenous art to survive.