Storytelling meets visual expression

Storytelling meets visual expression

Dying art

Sabhi suno re, bhai...bandhujan...Angad na kehe paya jo aaj kahenge hum...’ sang a group of young students. Two amongst them stood beside the singing group, holding an eight feet long scroll with 12 paintings (illustrations) of a boy named Angad. The 12 stanzas of the song corresponded to these paintings, each narrating Angad’s story who decided to abandon his family because he thought they would never accept him for his homosexuality. 

This art of storytelling where a tale is told through visuals and songs is known as ‘patua’(scroll songs) which originates from West Bengal, and is losing significance. As a part of Happy Hands Foundation’s (HHF) 

‘The Storytellers Collective’, students from under-resourced schools in Delhi, came together to perform this story during a workshop titled ‘Folk Fables’ which was held at the Crafts Museum recently.  

“It has been an eight-month long programme where we selected educators to teach these students the art of patua. We taught them how to make a story, what are the technicalities involved, how is the plot of the story made, the setting, how to make a coherent role, what is story-boarding and how to illustrate in patua and then narrate it all in a song format,” says Rachita Gupta, programmes director, HHF. 

Historically, artisans, craftsmen and craftswomen (in West Bengal) used to create scrolls with stories from epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana and the myths that existed in the society. They would then take these scrolls to different villages and narrate stories by singing songs. They were were paid for the storytelling.

However, with time, patua as an art form is being practiced in the form of scrolls, with illustrations incorporated on t-shirts and dupattas; but, the singing part of it is rarely being done, points out Prakhar Jain, advisory board member, HHF. 

“The singing part stopped primarily because there was no audience for it in villages. Given the linguistic element of patua (Bengali songs), not many people wanted to go for it,” says Jain, adding that they have thus helped these children learn the art by singing songs in Hindi. By learning distinctive tunes of different emotions like happiness, sadness, positivity these children put their own lyrics to the songs. 

“An artist like Jamini Roy used to call himself a ‘pat’. He was inspired by patua as an art form. But what we’re showing here is very basic patua. To make it more accessible, we taught children to make it into a comic strip. The experience of storytelling becomes different when combined with these paintings,” says Jain.
 When it comes to storytelling, we also have other art forms like ‘daastangoi’, and ‘katha’  to name a few. 

However, each art form stands distinct in their form at, the accompaniment of visual content is exclusive to patua. 

“One can imagine a lot more with visuals and that’s where the whole essence of patua lies. Also, the art form is more performance-based, since there are no instruments. There are no actions and its just voice that one has to work on,” founder Medhavi Gandhi tells Metrolife. 

According to Gandhi, people don’t even know what patua is and there is a need to have more practitioners of the art form. 

“Right now we’re at a stage where people instantly recognise Madhubani art.

They might not know the nuances of it, but they at least recognise what Madhubani looks like. So as a storytelling art form, patua still needs to be recognised,” says Gandhi. 

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