Genuine Kalighat Paintings & Famous Kalighat Artworks
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A traditional Indian art form from the heart of West Bengal, Kalighat Paintings originated in 19th century Calcutta and were primitively used as religious souvenirs for temple visitors. Traditionally hand-painted on cloth, these were art pieces produced by the patuas (village artists). An elegant and bold art form, Kalighat art started out with religious themes and depiction of gods, goddesses, and mythological characters but later with the changing colonial atmosphere in Calcutta, the Kalighat artists started painting scenes of daily lives which was their understanding of the contemporary change in people’s life. This shift from religious to encompassing socio-political themes made Kalighat paintings stand out in a sea of other paintings.
Kalighat patachitra was a form of story-telling, where folk artists travelled from village to village and put-up stellar shows for its audience. They carried Bengal patachitras as long as 20 feet and would sing stories one pat at a time as depicted in it. These very patuas soon shifted their base from places like 24 Paraganas and Midnapore to Calcutta, which was growing and developing with the British presence. It had a booming economy providing opportunities for artists and craftsperson. Kalighat Temple was a popular destination for people and pilgrims, hence, an important place for business too. These very artists started setting up stalls outside the temple in the hope of selling Kalighat patachitras to pilgrims. But patachitras were tiringly long and not convenient for sale, hence Kalighat patua paintings started to be produced in single pats, where artists would paint simple religious figures on a piece of cloth. This made it easy for the temple visitors to carry it and easy for the patuas to paint as well. Kalighat art owes its name to Kalighat temple, where it originated.
Kalighat pat paintings stood out because of their simplicity and bold use of colors. Kalighat paintings have backgrounds that are untouched and plain, this was primarily done to save time and dish out more paintings in less time. These kalam patua paintings got immensely famously amongst people for their uniqueness of storytelling and flawless representation of religious art. One of the most traditional forms of Indian art, Kalighat paintings has always been an ode to Hindu deities. A pleasant reminder for each devotee in the form of souvenir painting, but with the colonial uprising, this painting soon shifted its base from being classically based religious art to being influenced by the socio-political atmosphere and producing contemporary art.
Kalighat paintings also known as kalam patua paintings reinvented themselves by making paintings that focused on the civil life of colonial Calcutta. These paintings were a part of the Occidental school of Kalighat paintings while the painting with religious and mythological themes was under the Oriental school of Kalighat painting. The Occidental school produced paintings that depicted social and political situations brewing in the 19th century- scenes of crimes, women or men feeding their pet cats, birds, and animals, men traveling by elephants, barber cleaning the ear of a courtesan, etc. Not only were they producing high-quality paintings, but they were also propagating the idea of independence through their traditional paintings of Rani Lakshmibai and Tipu Sultan. This urban lifestyle was under constant scrutiny by the artists which intrigued them equally.
One would be amused to find scenes of daily lives drawn on Kalighat art – these were sarcastic, humorous, and almost reflecting the meanness and lavish lifestyle of a typical aristocratic Bengali. The upper-class Bengalis who appeased the Britishers to lead a fancy life were refuted by the artists; they were often painted with courtesans, with a hookah in their hand, drinking or having paan. Kalighat artists had an estranged relationship with the British and the elite Bengalis, almost disdaining their lifestyle which was rightly reflected in their paintings – shown as religiously hypocritical people. For them, it was a breakdown of their traditional values and a move to a more modern way of life, which the rural artists did not appreciate. This was a way for the Kalighat artists to showcase the ordinary people the wrongdoings of the ‘babus’. What makes Kalighat paintings stand out is their interest in subjects of society. One such incident which has been recreated in Kalighat patachitra innumerable times is the famous Tarakeswar case which is among the most famous Kalighat paintings. The Tarakeswar case was one of the biggest scandals to take place in 1873 wherein Elokeshi, was murdered by her own husband, a government employee, Nabinchandra Chaterji. It was believed then, Nabin, had come across rumours of his wife having an affair with the chief priest, the mahant, of the Shiva temple in Tarakeshwar. Enraged, Nabin slit his wife’s throat and decapacitated her head with a fish knife. This particular event has been recreated in several plays, kalighat pata paintings, and art forms and is engraved within the Bengali culture.
These paintings might look like easy kalighat paintings but it was a combined effort of an entire clan of Kalighat patuas. The entire process of making a Kalighat pata painting relied solely on the efficiency and impressive skills of the patuas. The paintings were produced through a production line and mostly within the setting of family members. One would start with copying the figures from an original sketch with pencil, this was then passed to the other member who would give life to the painting by adding the base color to flesh and muscles wherever necessary, further the other family member filled in different colors in various parts of the body and the background. The last member, mostly the master artist, would add the final touches with lamp black. The background was kept untouched or plain which eliminated all non-essentials elements and saved time as well. Such was the finesse of their skills that a family of four to five members could easily dish out hundreds of Kalighat paintings in a day. Kalighat paintings were made by using organic colors before they shifted to factory-made colors. These natural water-based colors were made out of burnt carbon for black, aparajita flower and indigo for blue, sem and its leaves for green, peepal tree’s bark for red, turmeric for yellow, and rice powder for white. While the colors were made out of natural elements, the paint brushes were also made out of goat’s hair and squirrel hair.
Our exquisite collection of Kalighat paintings emphasize the diversity of Kalighat artists and their flawless talent. Consisting of paintings like Radha Krishna Kalighat Painting, Nitai and Gaur Kalighat Painting, Kartikeya Kalighat Painting, Man Riding an Elephant Kalighat Painting, Balarama and Krishna Kalighat Painting, A Barber Cleaning the Ear of a Courtesan Kalighat Painting, Yashoda Holding Krishna and Radha, Lakshmi and Saraswati Kalighat Painting, Rai Raja Kalighat Painting, Dusmanta Garlanding Shakumtala Kalighat Painting, Krishna Stroking Radha’s Feet Kalighat Painting, Pravira Kneeling at the Feet of Jana Kalighat Painting, Worship of the Infant Krishna Kalighat Painting, Seven Heroes or Warriors Killing Aabhimanya, Son of Arjuna Kalighat Painting, English Babu Kalighat Painting, and Mohini Carrying Amrit Kalighat Painting.