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Bengal Pattachitra and the Art of Patua Scroll Painting

Patua Scroll Painting and the Pattachitra Paintings of Odisha

The word ‘patta’ means cloth, and pattachitra means ‘pictures on cloth’. Pattachitra is practised in Orissa and West Bengal. However, there are marked differences between the two. The Pattachitra of Bengal has a distinct and easily recognisable style that has continued to captivate the hearts of art lovers. Let’s take a look at Bengal Pattachitra and the art of Patua Scroll painting.

What is Patua Scroll Painting?

patua scroll painting
Pattachitra scroll (image source:

Bengal Patua Scroll paintings were traditionally made from palm leaves, and as technology advanced, the medium of choice changed to cloth and subsequently handmade paper. Today, many Patua artists use a scroll prepared by attaching four sheets of mass-produced paper to a piece of cloth, usually fabric scraps from old sarees. A scroll was typically made up of ten pictures, with the first and last panels being slightly bigger in size.

The Patuas used bamboo and goat hair to create paintbrushes and prepared natural colours from organic and mineral elements. They used broken coconut shells to store the colours. They mix the pigments with gum or tamarind paste (a practise also used in Tanjore painting) to create the right consistency. Nowadays, patua artists use poster colours or other synthetic alternatives.

Who Are the Patuas?

patua scroll painting
A Patua working at the International Kolkata Book Fair 2013. (image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Patuas are a community originally from the state of West Bengal. They are also present in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, and certain parts of Bangladesh. The name ‘Patua’ is a variation of the Bengali ‘Pota’, which means engraver. The primarily Muslim community contains a small percentage of Hindus and Buddhists. The Patuas were wandering minstrels who travelled from village to village and narrated tales of mythology for entertainment. In this way, they are similar to the travelling storytellers of Phad painting.

Religious Beliefs of the Patua Community

The Patuas of Bengal have an ambiguous religious identity. They were traditionally Hindus who later became Muslims. They were not particularly religious; instead, a large part of their identity centred around patronage. The Patua community is a part of the lower castes of Hinduism and has occupied a marginalised status for a long time. The downtrodden community adopted Islam many centuries ago, but it did little to affect their social status.

They are stuck in the middle, as either community refuses to accept them. They live as outcasts in the villages of Bengal. The upper-caste Hindus look down on them, whereas Muslims are shocked that they paint and sing about Hindu gods and goddesses. The Patuas practise the Islamic ritual of circumcision, and a kaji attends social functions. They also practise the Samskaras and observe the Hindu wedding practises of Vadhuvarana and Astamangala. Most of the Patuas have two names: one Hindu and one Muslim.

The Traditional Patua Performance

patua scroll painting
Gurupada Chitrakar sings the story of the September 11, 2001 attacks – Santa Fe, 2006 (image source:

Patua refers to the art as well as the artist. The Patua community would earn a living by travelling from village to village and telling stories with scroll paintings. They would create a song for each painting and use it as a narrative element. The unfolding of the scroll was known as pat khelano and the song was known as paater gaan. This was a popular means of entertainment in ancient times.

Later, the Patua art form became less focused on the performance aspect. Instead, ‘Patua Scroll Painting’ came to be associated with a specific style of painting. The switch from performing to visual arts meant that the community could capitalise on their art more easily than before.

Themes and Styles Of Patua Scroll Paintings

patua scroll painting
Indian Ocean Tsunami, Gurupada Chitrakar (image source:

Bengal Pat painting references stories from religious texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Magalakavyas, etc. The resurrection of Chaitanya and the Krishna Leela were popular themes.

Lakhinder, Behula, Radha, and Krishna were popular characters. In modern times, Patua paintings embody contemporary themes and social issues such as dowry, global warming, family planning, literacy, terrorism, etc. They also portray international news and politics through satirical and insightful narratives.

These paintings contain flat, solid colours and black outlines. The Kalighat painters of Kolkatta popularised the cat with a prawn motif, where the cat stood for the high-caste Brahmin who still enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh. This motif became even more popular when it featured in a painting by the modern artist Jamini Roy.

Variations of Bengal Patua Paintings

patua scroll painting
Bengali artist Gurupada Chitrakar sings the story of September 11th, 2001, in Santa Fe, July, 2006 (Image source:

The styles of Pattachitra painting were influenced by the communities that practised them. The Satyapir Pata merges the stories and traditions associated with several different faiths to create a cohesive narrative. The Santhali Pata is associated with the beliefs of the Santhal indigenous community and is commonly called Jadu Patua. 

The Manasa Pata prominently features Manasa, the Bengali goddess of snakes. The Kalighat Pata emerged when a group of Patua artists settled around the Kalighat temple. Jama Patas show different variations of the god of death, Yama, and his servants doling out punishments in hell.

Jadu Patua

The members of the Patua community who live in close proximity to the Santhal tribal community create Santhali Pats, or Jadu Patuas. It is associated with the rural belief of Chakshudan. The style is different, less fluid, and monochrome, with a dull, sepia-toned colour palette. Jadu Patua is so different from Pattachitra that it is classified as a completely separate art form.


(image source:

Some members of the Medinipur Patua community settled near the Kalighat temple in Calcutta and sold Patua paintings to the pilgrims and tourists who visited the area. They usually painted satirical commentary on social issues and religious imagery on square or rectangle canvases. The paintings they created were certainly unique, and the style came to be known as the Kalighat style.

The difference between Odisha and Bengal Pattachitra

The art of Pattachitra is practised in Odisha as well as Bengal, with certain variations. The Pattachitra paintings of Odisha often depict religious subject matter, whereas the Bengal Pattachitra focuses on social narratives, cultural aspects, folklore, etc. Unlike Odisha’s Pattachitra art, Bengal pat paintings do not portray elements realistically but in an exaggerated and stylised manner. This created a style that was highly recognisable. Emotion, narration, and drama are the driving forces behind Bengal pat painting, and they are usually meant to be accompanied by a song that narrates the story.

The Popularisation of Patua Scroll Paintings

A display at the Pot Maya festival in Naya village
(image source: The Better India)

In order to uplift the community, the district magistrate of Birbhum, Gurusaday Dutt, wrote that the Patuas were ancestors of the highly acclaimed Chitrakar caste. In 1951, they were officially recognised as Chitrakars, which improved their social standing to a great extent. Gurusaday was instrumental in the organisation of their first public exhibition at the Indian Society of Oriental Art as well as the second one, which was held at Shantiniketan. This led to Patua paintings becoming recognised as visual art rather than performance art.

The modern artist Jamini Roy and the Kalighat painter Kalam Patua drew inspiration from Bengal Pattachitra paintings. Interestingly, this was only possible due to the work of Gurusaday Datt, who not only worked for the upliftment of the Bengal Pattachitra but also collected it extensively. His collection of approximately 2,500 art pieces was posthumously converted into the Gurusaday Museum in Kolkatta. With a collection of Pattachitra and Kalighat paintings as well as art objects from Bengal, it is a must-visit for folk art lovers.

The Survival of Patua Scroll Painting Today

 Patua artist at the International Kolkata Book Fair. Photo by Biswarup Ganguly
(image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Patua performance art is not a lucrative career today and may not have been so in the past as well. The Patuas have instead adapted to the demands of the current market. They experiment with popular social issues and modern themes and also paint on a variety of different mediums, such as wood, clay, cloth, etc. They also create clay idols, toys, and all sorts of decorative handicraft items.

The village of Naya is to Bengal Pattachitra what Raghurajpur is to Odisha. Over 250 Patuas in Naya practise Pattachitra as their only means of livelihood. The government and various other NGOs have provided the Patuas with the ability to display their art to the public. Many Patuas in Naya have won the President’s Award and displayed their work in national and international exhibitions and art galleries. Nowadays, the Patuas prefer to paint rectangular or square canvases rather than the traditional scroll format.

Interested in learning Pattachitra art? Or would you rather try out Kalighat painting? You can learn both by downloading the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store and enrolling in a Maestro Course. Stay tuned to Rooftop blogs and follow us on Instagram @rooftop_app!

By Melissa D’Mello

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