“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Remembering the quote of Leonardo da Vinci when I visited the exhibition at Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH), Kolkata to see collection of “Kalighat Paintings” from Victoria & Albert (V & A) Museum, London and VMH in the year 2011 and wondered how some simple brush strokes of water colour have given birth to these master pieces, the elegant Bengali folk arts. I have visited several museums after that to get the inherent taste of this gracious art and found a great zeal to write a review with the knowledge that I have gathered these days.
Kalighat Paintings refer to the class of paintings and drawings on hand-made or more usually on machine-made paper produced by a group of artists called ‘Patuas’ in the neighbourhood of the famous Kali temple at Kalighat in between 19th and earlier 20th Century.
A N Sarkar & C Mackay1 remarked that “The Kalighat school of painting is perhaps the first school of painting in India that is truly modern as well as popular. With their bold simplifications, strong lines, vibrant colours and visual rhythm, these paintings have a surprising affinity to modern art”.
One of the earliest pieces of description on Kalighat paintings by Ajit Ghose2 is also worth to be mentioned here. He said: “The drawing is made with one long bold sweep of the brush in which not the faintest suspicion of even a momentary indecision, not the slightest tremor, can be detected. Often the line takes in the whole figure in such a way that it defies you to say where the artist’s brush first touched the paper or where it finished its work…”
Dr. Lopamudra Maitra, Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC- UG), Pune
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As the torrential rain gushes down the plastic and tarpaulin sheets of the narrow alleys in Kumartuli, covering the half-made clay idols, the smell of wet earth emanates, reverberates, encircles and rises up to announce the arrival of the auspicious occasion— Durga Puja. Finally, as the dawn of Mahalaya announces the arrival of the Devipaksha and the last ablutions are offered to seek blessings from one’s forefathers on the banks of the sacred river Ganga, the artisans of Kumartuli pronounce the occasion through invoking the powers of the female goddess by painting the eyes of the idols of Durga, famously known as Chokkhudaan or bestowing of the eyes. A popular and annual sight in the region every year, this relatively small, yet largely famous and well-renowned region of Kumartuli stands tucked within the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Sovabazar area of the northern region of the present city of Kolkata (West Bengal, India) and the relatively recent construction of the underground metro-railway station of the same name. A busy place for idol-makers, the kumbhars, their small and narrow workshops, aligned against their crowded tenements, hum with the buzz of activities at most times of the year, especially during the time of the Durga puja. Over the years, the region has experienced a surge and witnessed changes in the style of the clay idols, their expression and depictions, especially the ones made for Durga puja. Carrying forth a string of history within itself, as these depictions represent a strain of continuity of the famous worship of female deities of the region, the changes and alterations in visual depictions of the idols made in Kumartuli also help to reflect new ideas and ideologies in the age of new-media, forming an important part of Visual Anthropology. Based on an extensive fieldwork in the region of Kumartuli and various parts of Kolkata throughout the month of Aswina (September-October) between 2011-2012, this paper tries to look into the significant aspects of the representations of the idol-making formats of Kumartuli, their changing presentations and new reflections and how the local history, oral traditions and lores still manifest themselves through these changing representations.
Art of Bengal, which was mainly religious in nature, was expressed through the medium of temples. Brick temples of Bengal (built between 16th and 19th century) forms one of the most distinctive groups of sacred monuments in India. Due to multiple artistic influences acting upon the region during this period the Brick temples of Bengal show wide range of forms and techniques of construction. Hence the temples constitute a coherent series in their architecture and sculpture, characteristically expressed in brick and terracotta. The chronological span also significant coinciding with the emergence of the new Bengali culture. “In fact, the Bengali temples may be viewed as one of the most important manifestations of this regions culture, closely associated with contemporary movements in religion, literature and the arts as well as with broader political, social and economic developments.”[i] Due to the political unification and consequent independence of Bengal; a unique Bengali style of monumental architecture was created which was also an expression of the local idioms. “Another important result of this change was the combination of Hindu and Muslim elements as intrinsic part of Bengali culture: thus, Muslim rulers and monumental Islamic architecture, but Hindu revivalism and religious poetry.”[ii]
In the middle of the nineteenth century land surveyors stumbled upon a towering brick structure in the midst of the Sundarban. The structure was surrounded with dense forest and was itself covered with thick vegetation. So who constructed the temple in the heart of one of the densest forest in the world? What was the purpose of construction? When was it constructed? Was this part of a remarkable civilization that once flourished in Southern Bengal? Although historians are unable to come up with any concrete conclusion, they have shared their opinions.
In Bengal school of temple architecture Deul style has its own place. Divided mainly between Bongiyo deul and Oriya deul this particular shape of temple or place of worship are few in this part of Bengal but each of them are unique and enrich. Deul temples are tower like structure with expansion on the either side. It is simple but majestic in presence. Jatar deul of South 24 Parganas and Bahulara deul of Onda village in Bankura are two most famous deul structure temple in Bengal. With this we have another lesser known deul temple in a small village near Burdawan and Birbhum border. This one known as Echai Ghosher deul holds an equal importance in the study of Bengal temple.