Of religion and social satire
The artists adopted this style of painting to produce works for devotees. An exhibition celebrating the folk art is on from May 24 to June 24 at Arts of the Earth, Lado Serai.
Kalighat paintings originated with the patua artists as a local tradition. The golden age of Kalighat art spans from the mid-nineteenth century up until the 1920s.
Talking about the art with Metrolife, Meena Verma, director, Arts of the Earth, says, “Many scroll painters and potters who had settled around Kalighat Temple after migrating from rural Bengal, contributed to this form of painting. The most appealing part of Kalighat paintings are the wonderful gestures, flawless rhythmic strokes and superior quality brushwork. Kalighat painting became quite popular because of its strong social themes. Like most other Indian art forms, Kalighat paintings started on a religious note.”
Hindu deities and their incarnations - the common themes were painted as souvenirs for visiting pilgrims. With the passage of time, social themes took center stage. The painters are keen observers of life, with a grim sense of humour. They painted scenes of contemporary life in Bengal, often satirical (like the Europeanised Babu and his mistress, trying very hard not to be too Indian), proverbs and tales (like the cat with the lobster signifying the fat cat priest), and also current newspaper scandals and stories.
The zamindars ravishing wine and women, babus spending their days and nights at ill reputed places, a Vaishnav Guru living with unchaste women – these are some subjects that did not escape the eyes of these artists. The intention was to moralise and the caricatures were meant to deter ordinary people from indulging in such activities.
Meena added, “The brushes used for these paintings are made from squirrel and calf hair and cheap colour pigments are applied in transparent tones. The drawings are bold and attractive and at the same time, the techniques are different and simple.”