Research, Conceptualization & Written by Kaavya Lakshman

Jambili Athon, the pride and cultural identity of the Krabi tribe, is an exquisite craft made solely from Bengwoi ke-er wood. Constructed within the strict realm of legend, it has no parallel with any craft or symbols of other tribes of Northeast India. The first Jambili Athon was exhibited at the socio-religious cultural festival Chomkan, which honors the life of the deceased, and has become a continuing tradition ever since. The privilege of practicing the craft lies in the hands of skilled craftsmen known as Baroi. The delight of Jambili Athon has seeped into all spheres of society- apart from from being displayed at Chomkan festival, it stands as a sacred regalia during the crowning ceremony of the social chief Lindokpo, it is presented as honorary gifts to people of high social standing, it is used in logos of many prestigious institutes of the region and also finds its way into textiles and homes of the Krabi people.

Like every other tribe, the people of Krabi hold their culture and beliefs dear. The physical representation of this ideology is transmitted into the woodcraft of Jambili Athon . The central shaft has the local bird Vorale residing at the apex, while the four to five branchlets host smaller birds. Another local bird, Voleng cherat is perched on the main axis, just below each lateral branch. According to the legend binding the form of the craft, the Krabis regard the Vojaru as the king of birds who is always followed by other birds, traditionally referred to as atoi-ani . The Vojaru is the Krabi king who protects his people symbolized by smaller birds, who are compared to faithful ministers and soldiers, and together they enjoy peaceful co-existence. The Vojaru is visualized as a true leader as he is well versed in the language of all the birds and can foretell danger. The Voleng cherat does not leave his master even in the symbolic form, as it is believed that they collect food for the king. The Jambili Athon is heavily ornamented with intricate carvings and beautiful beads.

To represent ethnicity in an institutionalized setting two parks in Diphu town of Assam, namely Recreation Park and Samson Sing Engti Park have Jambili Athon installed. The woodcraft reflects the social pattern of the community of the Krabi tribe- the symbolic assemblage of different birds depicts the iron-clad unity of the tribe and the closeness to nature is seen through the choice of specialized wood. While majority of the tribal culture has been lost in the chaos of modernity, Jambili Athon serves as a repository of information of the Krabi tribe. The essence of the people is captured within the space of the wood and firmly fixed in the ground, for future generations to not only see, but learn from.

 


Content research and written by Prasanna Balakrishna

Image Source: tamilnadu.com

Bommalattam, the puppet show or puppet dance, is one of the oldest art forms in India, being especially popular in South India. Bommalattam originated in Tamil Nadu, a state that has a reputation for being the birthplace of various arts, entertainments, and dances. Performed with puppets in temples during various festivals, the performances may last for a week or ten days, usually continuing overnight.

Bommalattam was also used during the freedom struggle to promote nationalistic zeal.

BEAUTY AND TASTE

Bommalattam puppets may be made of cloth, wood, leather, or other materials. The puppets are controlled through strings or wires suspended from above and tied to the hands and legs of the puppets. Highly skilled and experienced players stand behind a screen, unseen by the audience, and move the puppets.

A Bommalattam troupe consists five to eight members, but a single puppeteer presents the whole show. An assistant hands the artist the right puppet and musicians repeat the songs after their leader.

The shows begin with the homage to God and continue with humorous stories. The buffoon is an extremely hilarious character displaying fun and frolic.

Bommalattam performances are closely associated with religious and ceremonial events such as temple festivals. The shows were also sponsored by individuals for the fulfillment of vows, thanksgiving for marriages and childbirth, or the welfare of the community, among other purposes. In earlier days, Bommalattam was used to tell religious stories, especially ethical stories . People used to believe that it was auspicious to host a puppet show, as this could shrug off evil spirits from their villages.

POPULARITY

Bommalattam is very famous for its traditional tales such as Valli Kalyanam (Valli’s marriage), Sita Kalyanam (Sita’s wedding), Harichandra, Lava Kusa, Nallatangal Kathai and Markandeyan Kathai (Markandeyan’s story). The traditional puppet show has also been used these days to spread modern messages, such as creating awareness for family planning and AIDS.

Some puppeteers perform in a tent and charge a fee; but the art is facing extinction because of lack of patronage.

HISTORY

Great performers,Epic reciters, storytellers, picture-showman, and clowns had become popular since the 10th century A.D. after the breakdown of classical tradition. Since puppets were used to portray gods and heroes, Bommalattam was very popular during India’s medieval period. Large crowds would gather and fill the streets to watch the performances. The puppeteers,  were always present in village markets and fairs on the occasions of civic and religious functions, and also for important household events.

There are two forms of traditional puppet shows practiced in Tamil Nadu: Bommalattam (string puppet shows) and Thol Bommalattam (shadow puppet show).

Bommalattam combines the techniques of both rod puppets and string puppets. The strings for manipulation are tied to an iron ring which the puppeteer wears like a crown on his head. A few puppets have jointed arms and hands that are manipulated by rods. The wooden Bommalattam puppets are the largest, heaviest, and most articulate of all traditional Indian marionettes. A puppet may be as big as 4.5 feet in height and weigh up to ten kilograms.

The leather shadow puppets used in Thol Bommalattam are flat figures that are pressed against the screen with a strong light shining from behind. The puppets create silhouettes or colorful shadows for the viewers in front of the screen.

SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES

Apart from the individual puppeteers, there are also many institutions involved in the promotion of Bommalattam. Some of them follow:

The Tamil Nadu Traditional, Cultural & Educational Charitable Trust endeavors to popularize the art of Tamil Nadu among students and youth. Tamil Nadu folk arts such Mayil Attam, BommalattamKummi, Kai Silambu Attam, and others are especially valued and protected.

The Government of India offers the Scheme for Scholarships to Young Artistes in Different Cultural Fields, which includes Tholu Bommalattam of Tamil Nadu.

Mahatma Gandhi University offers core courses on the folk and ritual traditions of Tamil Nadu.

The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training conducts a variety of training programs for school teachers, teacher trainers, and educational administrators so that students may know the importance of the culture of our country.

Modern students are interested in learning the art of Bommalattam and some of them have even performed during their annual day functions. It is hoped that this art will flourish again in the hands of the upcoming generation.


Research, Conceptualization & Written by Kaavya Lakshman

Once the Aryans had made a home out of their conquest, they introduced the animals, practices and entertainment they had brought along with themselves to the indigenous people of India. Koodiyattam- the earliest classical dramatic art form of Kerala– is one such product of this intermingling. An ancient King of Kerala, Kulasekhara Varma Chessman Perumal, took this tradition under his wing and is regarded as the creator of Koodiyattam in its present form. His book ‘Attaprakaram’  is considered to be the most authoritative work on the art form till date.

Koodiyattam took shape as a socio-religious activity in the land of Kerala, engaging the local people in a religious setting. The artists perform under the intricately carved hall of the temple theatre Koothambalam, dedicating the first dance to the divine being watching from above. The evergreen relevance of Koodiyattam in today’s society is attributed to the coexistence of duality of the essence of the dance form being untouched by modernity and yet embracing the inevitable change of passage of time. While Koodiyattam’s sacred Vedic/Sanskrit origins have been preserved, the actors have adapted the art form to suit a wider audience by using local dialects and secular texts.

Koodiyattam Performance

Through the combination of the actors involved in the dance form, two world views of patriarchal and matrilineal are depicted. The male actors, who shoulder the responsibility of chief custodians of the art, are the Chakyars and they share the stage with the Nangyars, women of matrilineal households and their men, the Nambiar drummers. This coming together is also a harmonious fusion between two distinct cultures as the Chakyars are believed to be of Aryan origin and therefore probably carriers of Sanskrit learning, and the Nangyars are the local people.

Koodiyattam is always a long drawn affair, the performance ranging from anywhere between few days to a number of weeks. Each act is divided into three distinct parts- Poorvangam (preamble), Nirvahanam (solo performer) and Koodiyattam (group acting), with every segment last four to five days. The highlight of the performance is the humorous narration of the Vidooshaka or Royal Clown in Malayalam. His role is to rebuke the atrocities of the feudal society.

As the actors step onto the stage, their make up, costumes and theatrical gestures command the attention of the audience. Among the array of colors, red, black and white are predominant, supported by subsidiary colors. The heroic characters are distinguished by the color green and a small curved paper frame on their face. The Vidooshaka has special make-up, small head-gears and costume that vividly display his clownish features. Koodiyattam relies on a highly evolved mime language- stylized facial and eye expressions and a language of mudras or hand gestures. The performance is a visual feast, the audience eats through their eyes and nourish their senses. The magnificent display is accompanied by a musical orchestra, the rhythmic beats guiding the performance of the actors. The major musical instrument used in Koodiyattam is the Mizhavu, which is a big jar made of either clay or copper, with a narrow mouth covered by leather and is played by both hands of the Nambiar.
The eminent artists of Koodiyattam have made tremendous efforts to keep this 2000 year old art form alive. Artists like Padma Shri Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar and Ammannur Madhava Chakyar took Koodiyattam beyond the confined walls of the temples of Kerala, performing all over India as well as internationally. These efforts bore fruit when over a decade ago Koodiyattam was declared as one among the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. This was the first time that the UN body had conferred the heritage status on an art form. Koodiyattam embodies the true essence of Kerala with it being a theatrical dance form engaging people from different cultures in the sacred space of their beloved temples.


Content Research, Conceptualization & Written by Kaavya Lakshman

History

The word Padayani originated from the word ‘Pada’, which means ‘army’ or ‘warrior’.

This is the traditional folk dance of Kerala which is a beautiful amalgamation of music, dance, theatre, satire, facial masks and paintings. It is a Dravidian form of worship that existed before the advent of Brahmanism. The ancient ritual is performed in Bhagavati temples, dedicated to goddess Bhadrakali. The performance takes place from mid December to mid May.

Temples : The Padayani festival takes place in central Travancore, comprising the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala.

Temples which still practice Padayani are Thazhoor Bhagavathy Temple and Kadammanitta Temple.

The Padayani festival at the Palli Bhagavati temple at Neelemperoor in Kottayam district is a spectacular event. Large swan effigies called ‘Annam Kettu’ are taken out, adding more charm to the festival. Fireworks and traditional orchestra are other features of the festival.

Image Source:http://nazariya.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/56751591411b0-3e34cfd690d64113b71746eb9e87d810-860×350-1.jpg

Story / Legend

“According to mythology, this ritualistic dance commemorates the dance performed by Lord Shiva and the other Gods to appease Goddess Durga, whose anger could not be quenched even after annihilating the demon, Darika” (cited from http://www.keralaculture.org/patayani/80)

Origin of Padayani

Earlier this elaborate and expensive event was carried out to heal the illnesses not amenable to medical modalities of intervention. In the form of psychic or spiritual healing, it was solely designed, controlled and performed by a section of the Thinta endogenous group of Kaniyar community (The traditional professional Hindu astrologers of Kerala), as a method of exorcism This folk art has become a divine ritual tradition in association with festival occasions of Bhagavathy (Bhadrakaali) temples of Kerala(cited from http://www.liquisearch.com/padayani/traditions_of_origin)

 

Padayani- The Ritual

In the olden days the Padayani performance lasted for nearly two weeks, but over time it has been shortened to a day. Kolam Tullal is the major portion of the performance. Kolam is the masque prepared by drawing images on the leaves. The Kolams are made of the green of the lath itself (kamukin pacha), kari (carbon), manjalpodi and sindooram. The dancer wears the kolam, and performs the ritual dance expressing his devotion.

The significance of the kolam is the representation of spiritual forces and divine characters. The face masks and headgear of the characters depicted are both spectacular and terrifying, a typical element of Kerala art. The paints used are natural and of vivid colors.

The characters include : Ganapathi Kolam, Yakshi Kolam, Bhairavi Kolam, Gandharvan Kolam, and Mukilan Kolam.

Kolam thullal takes place on the same day as the Kappoli. The main instruments used during the performance are the thappu, chenda and kaimani. Padayani songs are quite simple to understand for those who speak Malayalam, thereby engaging the entire community.

The members participating in the ritual performance undergo rigorous, traditional physical training and discipline. This consists of a special diet regimen for physical and spiritual cleansing.

Popular elements of the dance :

Kalan Kolam : It is the most popular part of the Padayani ritual. This dance form narrates the of a boy begging for his life to Lord Siva when ‘Death’ comes to his sixteenth birthday.

Bhairavi Kolam : It is the dance dedicated to the worship of the goddess Bhairavi. The kolam (masque) used for this performance is the biggest, and is headed by more than one person due to its massive size and heavy weight.

Vinodam : Satire is an essential part of Padayani. This is performed to make fun of the petty vanities of people as well as target areas for social reform.

 

Significance of Padayani in the society : Padayani is not just an art form, it is a community gathering to ensure the physical and mental well being of the entire village. It is a set of rituals that transcends the boundaries of caste and religion, generating a sense of unity.

Image Source: Pathan Amrita News

 


Content Research by Shivanki

The historical blend of both modern and ancient is creative best is best identified with Togalu Gombeyaata,  a puppet show unique to the state of Karnataka, India. ‘ Togalu Gombeyaata’ translates to ‘a play of leather dolls’ in the ancient language of Kannada.

This leather art form has an interesting blend of shadows and music which makes it livable in theatres.  The puppets used in Togalu Gombeyaata are goat hide and deer skin.

It has unique characteristic of transparency that absorbs colours , such as vegetable dyes of red, blue, green and black adding life to this art of storytelling. For puppets representing human and animal figures, the head and limbs are joined in such a way that they can be moved easily.The maximum size of the puppet is 4 x 3 feet and the minimum is 6 x 3 inches.

The puppeteers of the small leather puppet theatre performers use Kannada language and in a box stage manipulator sits behind the screen, raise the puppets held in their hands. During the performance men, women, children, the whole community of the artiste, take part. The puppet shows in this particular art form traces it’s origin to Rashtrakutas, Pallavas, Kadambas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Kothapur kingdoms in south.

In Karnataka there are two major varieties in the leather puppet shows, depending on the size of the puppets.

Chikka Togalu Gombeyaata

The small puppets players have their own mobile stage measures 9 feet and 5 feet.

Leather puppets demonstrating the war between the PandavaArjuna and his son Babruvahana                              

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leather_puppets_of_Karnataka.jpg

Dodda Togalu Gombeyaata

The average dimensions of the leather puppet stage 12 feet in length, 6 feet in width.

An Elephant Puppet

Image Source: http://seltmann.manasvi.eu/images/25300_201007140356b.jpg

A Boar Puppet

Image Source: http://seltmann.manasvi.eu/images/25300_201007140379.jpg

Each variety shows several regional variations in the style of music, craftsmanship, stage technique and manipulation.

The visible portion in front where a white screen tied up. Behind the screen the manipulator sits and manipulates the epic characters from behind the screen. Behind the curtain the hands of the manipulators remain unseen. On front of the stage the puppeteers’ family or associate sits and give chorus and exchange dialogue with drum beater. In the projected light sources the leather puppets shadow appears with beautiful colour.

 

Related image

A still from Ramayana in Togalu Gombeyaata

Image Source: http://indulge.newindianexpress.com/shadow-play-3/section/51889

Even as television, radio and movies remain our first choice to entertainment , this sheer execution of creativity and hard work by puppeteers fulfils one’s connect roots in easiest way possible.

Here is a sample video of spectacular art form :

YouTube Videos:

Togalu Gombeyaata Part 1

Togalu Gombeyaata Part 2

Now that this ancient art form is no longer restricted to Dravidian states alone, do find time to catch hold of amazing performances in nearest festival near you. Follow Nazariya to know about the upcoming performances.


Author: Noah Unathraj

Image Source: http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/dynamic/02510/14TH_KINNERA_2510681e.jpg

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”, quoted the famous French artist Edgar Degas. Yes indeed in my perspective art is something more imaginative, profound and absorbing to the human soul. It frees out mind and body from the busy mauhauul of everyday life and looking up to something which is delightful and engrossing in a heartfelt manner. Art is the involuntary susceptibility that an insaan feels in a warm way. India is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” unity in diversity hence has engulfed emulsions of many art forms and has become the hunting ground for souls of peoples engrossed in art. Today I am to present you something of an art which has lost its prominence 4 centuries ago. Though it has not totally died down precisely, it has almost been on the verge of extinct but has some time ago resurged back to life by none other than Mister Darshanam Mogilaiah the one of the very few survivors of this extricated instrument titled “The Kinnera” (a string instrument).

A  re-known artiste of the Telangana state, in fact the one person in the country playing the 12-step kinnera, hailing from Ayusaolni kunta village of the Mahabubnagar district in Telangana state. He belongs to a low esteemed family where his forefathers have dedicated their lives in an urge to empower and boost up the spirits of the people to take part in freedom struggle against the British by playing the instrument and singing patriot songs in synch. The “Dakkali” tribe has put in their flesh and soul for design and working of the instrument, has actively participated in the freedom movement. “Dakkali” have been a Chenchu race breed and brought up through odds and slavery right from the start by the landlords and the upper caste people in the society and hence in order to revolt against them have invented the device to unite the people of all the lower caste in their society and have struggled for their freedom and fought their way out.   

Kinnera is a stringed instrument like Desi Veena, has 12 steps which is able to produce 12 different tunes with the 2 strings that are mounted on them. The instrument uses bamboo for the neck, dried and hollowed gourds for resonators, human hair or animal nerves for strings and pangolin scales for frets which are fixed using honey-wax. According to Adivasi studies state that the Chenchus have lost the instrument half century ago when the gourd used for resonator became extinct in this region. This has come into lime light while researching about Panduga Sayanna a Telangana fighter. The dakkali singers sang in his praise using “Kinnera”.  It has almost taken 3 years to trail out and explore this history through the help of Dakkali Pochaiah.

Darshanam Mogilaiah

Image Source: http://cdn.deccanchronicle.com/sites/default/files/Moghulayya_0.jpg

Darshanam Mogilaiah aged 65 has been the forerunner of this instrument now. He belongs to “Madiga Mastin” tribe which is a sub-caste of community. He has been a master of this art and 5th generation artiste in the family which has been playing the “Kinnera”. He is skilled at frolicking the 12 step music singing mostly in praise of Meera Saab who according to a legend, lived during the Wanaparthy Samsthan 400 years ago in Mahabubnagar. Meera Saab, a Robinhood-type do-gooder, used to rob the rich and feed the poor. His ancestors constructed the kinnera with 8 steps or more, Mogilaiah is the only one to build up to 12 steps to produce different tunes with the 2 strings. He uses dried fruit, coconuts or dried horns positioned at 12 places on the instrument, helping generate a different type of music. The ‘twelve frets’ of the Kinnera are made of ‘bull horn’, who have been his treasure which are permanent while the others when worn out can be replaced. He speaks “The Chiluka (parrot) is also a very important element of my Kinnera as it starts dancing along with me in many of my rhythmic songs.” He says people must recognize the sacrifice being made to protect the heritage of the local songs and rising voice on social issues through his family tradition.

With times and advent of electronic instruments, it’s on the wane- perhaps extinct. He is perhaps among the few living bards who can play the instrument and perform. This enthralling singing in hand with the instrument is an experience to live up. He just doesn’t want to be recognized as a performer of this wonderful instrument, but preserve the art of it. Through his endeavors he has received a fillip in the form of Dasari Ranga, a research scholar of Osmania University, who is doing a thesis on “Karshaka Geetalu” (folk songs of agricultural workers) has arranged a program to showcase the art resulting in authorities of Telugu University and University oh Hyderabad (UoH) for introducing a course on kinnera folk art for which Mogilaiah could be an instructor.    

Music is the entity which binds a person together irrespective of his caste, creed and color. Even though its origin is from the flock flare it has found out its way through and has been an important criterion in enhancing and encouraging the morale of the people even at hardships, thought dead has risen out now in order to re-mesmerize back the people and showcase its versatility on the world stage and give the while a wider perspective of so many such art forms which are there lying underneath waiting for an opportunity for them to be resurged back to life.    


This article was originally created for, and published on www.gounesco.com, a UNESCO supported umbrella of initiatives that makes heritage fun.
By Somok Roy

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Bhaskar Chitrakar painting a traditional theme. Photo credit: Somok Roy Heritage

Characterized by fluid curves and flat bright colours, Kalighat painting occupies an important place in the history of Indian art. It was the urban and reformed version of the Midnapore school of Patachitra, a scroll painting tradition of Bengal.  Liberating itself from the confines of religious narratives, it went on to comment on the contemporary socio-political phenomena. The rustic folk simplicity was replaced by the emerging complexities of city life.

In the early 19th Century, rural patuas (the community of Patachitra painters traditionally carried the surnames ‘Patua’ and ‘Chitrakar’) from Midnapore migrated and settled around the Kalighat temple, on the banks of Adi Ganga. Kalighat being a major pilgrimage center attracted thousands of devotees round the year.

The devotees wanted to carry something as souvenirs on their way back from this sacred place, and the locally available, cheap paper painting was the only affordable option. In the memoirs and travelogues of the European travelers, these paintings have been called ‘Bazaar paintings,’ a description that carries a sense of inferiority when compared with the Occidental standards of art.

This is primarily because the painters lacked the sense of perspective, and the linear rhythm of human figures miserably failed to impress the lovers of realism. Kalighat painters faced draconian competition from the ever-expanding market of lithographs and cheap oleographs and gradually disappeared by the 1930s.

The Midnapore roots

The medium of scroll painting has a vibrant history in this part of the continent. In an age when the society and economy were primarily agrarian, bards toured from village to village with their painted scrolls, unfolding the world of Puranic epics and folk myths to the curious audience.

These demonstrations were accompanied by narrative songs. The Cherial paintings of Andhra Pradesh, Phadpaintings of Rajasthan, and Patachitras of Bengal and Orissa are part of this vivid and arresting storytelling tradition. Patuas of Midnapore used scrolls known as ‘jorano pat,’ which were executed on cloth and could be rolled easily.

There were divisions within the patua community on the basis of the duration of tours. The ‘Duari patuas’ travelled from door to door throughout the day in nearby villages and returned home by night. The ‘Doori patuas’ travelled long distances, exhibiting their works and narrating stories.  The themes were from folk literature. Episodes from the ‘Mangal kavyas,’ creation myths, magic and cult-rituals, agrarian lives, pantheistic practices such as ‘pahar puja,’ and Hindu epics were painted and sung.

Changing times- Stylised Midnapore paintings, quite different from the traditional style. (Unfolding a Painted World: Revisiting Kalighat Paintings)

Changing times- Stylised Midnapore paintings, quite different from the traditional style.

From Midnapore to the Mecca of arts

Initially, the Kalighat school produced images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, keeping in mind the target audience. The rolling scrolls were replaced by rectangular sheets. Cheap mill made paper was used for painting, but the painters retained the tradition of using natural colours.

The outlines were painted in black using lampblack, which was later filled in with bright flat colours. Turmeric was used for yellow, red chilies for red, indigo for blue and so on… The paintings acquired a semi-classical finesse due to the application of colloidal tin for the purpose of depicting jewellery.

Secular themes entered the painters’ world soon and Kalighat school emerged as a satirical genre, highlighting the inherent hypocrisy of the society. Their detailed observation of an evolving social class helped them to produce symbolisms in art, which could be interpreted as important sources of modern Indian history.

The flamboyant Bengali nouveau riche or the urban elite has been the favorite theme of the Kalighat painters for their ostentatious display and extravagant lifestyle. These paintings unveil the pretentious mannerisms of the nouveau riche by the use of subtle metaphors and visual allegories, which have become an integral part of the Kalighat iconography over time.

Kalighat painting is perhaps one of the best primary sources to reconstruct the social history of the19th Century ‘Babu culture’ which flourished in Calcutta. ‘Babu indulging in sensuous pleasures with courtesans’, ‘Babu sitting on a chair and piping the hookah,’ ‘cat with the marks of a saint eating fish,’ ‘horse-race,’ ‘Elokeshi-Mohanto crime case’ were some popular themes.

kalighatpainting1

Babu with a concubine. Photo credit: banglapedia.org

The painting of a young attractive lady sitting in voluptuous posture with her right hand raised above her head, holding a rose in each hand, titled ‘Golapsundari’ is an evidence of the eternal fact that the essence of Indian aesthetics flows down the ages evermore.

Gopalsundari, or the 'rose beauty'. Photo credit: Nibaran Chandra Ghosh/banglapedia.org Drawing Woman with roses; Kalighat painting by Nibaran Chandra Ghosh of a seated courtesan with roses. Calcutta, ca. 1900. Nibaran Chandra Ghosh Calcutta Ca. 1900 Watercolour on paper

Gopalsundari, or the ‘rose beauty’. Photo credit: banglapedia.org

Similar ‘nayikas’ have been painted earlier by miniature painters of North India. The patuas also painted nationalist heroes like Rani Lakshmi Bai, and scenes from everyday life.

The Ultimate Autumn

The legendary painter, art critic and scholar, Mukul Dey, who collected some priceless works of the Kalighat school ( a major part of it was acquired by art historian W.G Archer during 1930s, and many of these paintings are exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) wrote in 1932 :

These pictures have now entirely vanished. The artist craftsmen are nearly all dead, and their children have taken up other business. In the place of these hand-drawn and hand-painted pictures selling at two or four pice each, garish and evil-smelling lithographs and oleographs – quite appalling in their hideousness – have come. The old art is gone forever – the pictures are now finding their last asylum in museums and art collections as things of beauty which we cannot let die.

Kalighat paintings

A contemporary take on traditional icons. Photo credit: Somok Roy Heritage

One of the last practitioners of this art to have received international recognition and critical acclaim is Kalam Patua. He reinvented the Kalighat style by painting contemporary themes and yet retaining the stylized pattern of the traditional works. His paintings are housed in galleries and museums such as the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The Museum of Sacred Art, Belgium, etc..

The alleys and by-lanes of Kalighat buzz with life from the dawn-break. But practically none of the residents and shop-owners are aware of the rich painting tradition which once flourished here. I accidentally met the only custodian of this great tradition, residing in the vicinity of the temple, Bhaskar Chitrakar, who is arduously trying to revive the art form. His unflagging efforts do not seek beneficial opportunities, but the admiration and appreciation of a true ‘rasik’.


Image 1: the canal harbor of Terracina, photo by Latina Corriere

The canal harbor of Terracina? Photo credit: Latina Corriere

It is no mystery that in today’s consuming society, the act of repairing is becoming a forgotten activity: if something breaks, we replace it.

My grandfather used to say, “We used to build things to make them last as long as possible in my day; today, everything is made for a maximum of two or three years of use.”

And he is right: I can’t remember of something that lasted longer than three years, be it cellphones, appliances, cars, computers, clothing or tools.

So I asked myself: is it the same for traditional craftsmanship and skills?

How do they fit in a society where people do not repair things any longer?

My reflection started when I was walking near the banks of the canal in Terracina, my beloved hometown. The said canal is no longer in use as a transportation link; but is mostly used as a ‘parking’ for small boats and shapes the connection between the areas of the town with modern facilities, and the harbour area.

 

Abandoned-nets

Abandoned storage spaces. Photo credit: Giulia Falovo

In the historic harbour area of ‘la Marina’ (the maritime), the city is split in two: one side has a vibrant nightlife with restaurants, bars and clubs, while the other side has remains of old structures related to the harbor life — storage spaces, canal banks, fishermen’s shops, and a vast area where the repairing material for boats is stored, like the memory of an abandoned past.

Another abandoned space. Photo credit: Guilia

Abandoned nets in the harbour area. Photo credit: Guilia Falovo

For some, the canal banks work as a point of aggregation, where to observe the daily unrolling of the city life, while being connected to its past.

One one can found groups of retired fishermen Enjoying the view while taking advantage of the warm Italian October; selling fish, gossiping or (what attracted me there) repairing nets.

Nets are an important component of a fisherman’s activity: There could be as many as 80 different types, according to the shape, use and type of fish, and they can go up to hundreds of meters. Before mass industrialization, fishing nets were normally made up by the fishermen or their wives.

Fishing nets require constant care and maintenance; so, when I observed Arturo repairing a net in a storage space nearby the harbor, I couldn’t pass up the chance to interview him.

Arturo at work.

Arturo repairs his nets. Photo credit: Sara Ceci

Arturo is a retired fishermen who just can’t put aside the need to work. Fishing has been the way of life for him for over 40 years, he has passed the baton to his son.

“I was lucky that my son wanted to continue the family tradition,” he says. “Not many youths want this profession these days. Everyone is moving to bigger cities so this sector is slowly dying.”

The pride shines through his eyes when he talks to me about his son. He says he is trying to teach him how to repair the nets, alegit with poor results. “He doesn’t like to work in his free time: he prefers to go out with his friends,” he rues.

Fishing nets require high standards of care and maintenance, and not many are willing to learn. But when an undeterred Arturo sits by his storage room, repairing the nets of his boats, a lot of people to observe this priceless craftsmanship.

Arturo doesn’t produce any art, tool, or gastronomic masterpiece. But he is one of the custodians of a timeless activity that has contributed to enrich the city as we see it today.


NAZARIYA