village of Naya, in Pingla block in West Midnapore district, for a 3 day festival (2 days left from Saturday, the day when we left) to celebrate the success of local artists in reviving the village heritage, for a mix of art and music in a rural setting.
We took the special West Bengal Tourism bus on November 27, 2010 starting from Menoka hall at 8.20 am. On reaching the bus I met our old friend and internationally famous photographer Mr. Debidas Bannerjee, his son-in-law Abhijitda and their gang of photographers!
How to get there?
By car: Pingla is 125 kilometers, a three hour drive from Kolkata. Take the NH6 to Debra, then turn left to Balichak, drive towards Mundamari crossing and reach Pingla.
By train: Alternatively, take the local train from Howrah (in Kolkata) to Balichak, which is located near Panskura, then 20 minutes by road to Pingla.
By bus: Reach Debra (towardsKharagpur). Then Naya, Pingla towards Mayna.
We reached Pingla at around 12 pm. We stayed in the tent.
A local decorator has been appointed to make additional arrangements for visitors to sleep at night on rooftops. On reaching we were handed over a map of the village and family tree of 53 Potuas with minute details. They have painted their houses with potochitra motifs.
A new resource centre, which has come up with the support of Banglanatak dot com. Celebrating the global success of this form of rural art, Banglanatok.com founder Amitava Bhattacharya, kicked off 'Pot Maya', supported by the European Union. Till recently, pot artists were struggling to make ends meet, dropping out of their inherited vocation to turn labourers. Not anymore.
They are looking at revenue generation for these artists and turning Naya into a sustainable tourism hub. The artist who made Rs 400-Rs 500 in 2004 now earns between Rs 1,800- Rs 18,000. They(Banglanatak.com) got medical insurance for 3,200 artistes and are eyeing more hubs similar to this one at Gorbhanga at Nadia (baul-fakir), Khatraat Bankura (jhumur), Malda(folk theatre) and Purulia (chhou).
Even Michelle Obama picked up a potchitra during the US President's visit earlier this month,theartists had made a mark in countries as diverse as the UK and China.
Among the guests of honour was Crafts Council of West Bengal's executive director, Ruby Pal Chowdhury. During 1987-88, the situation was unbearable. Gurupada Chitrakar, 35, went with Pal Chowdhury to Scotland for a storytelling session in October. There were picture-stories on UK greats Ronald Ross, David Hare, Daniel Hamilton (whose work for the uplift of Sunderbans made him an icon) and others. He sang in Bengali, which was translate into English by Ruby Pal Chowdhury.
We started walking through the village. We were joined by Gita Narrayani, Keralite, PR professional with perfect Bengali accent! We saw lot of Police officers there. The real reason behind that was the presence British High Commissioner Mr. Sanjay Wadhwani !!
All these Purana experts are Muslims! "Don't they feel odd going for namaz and returning to finish painting the faces of Radha and the gopis? "Not at all, it's in our blood. There's no clash, said one of the artists"
Then we saw Putul Nach (puppet show) near Gurupada Chitrakar’s house with social messages.
After having our lunch, we sat for the workshop. The Potuas (Sanwar Chitrakar and her mother) demonstrated us how they make natural colours from leaves, flowers, and even soot. We only heard about it for so long. We got to know that Bel is used as a glue for all colours. Otherwise the colours would fade. We were given leaves, from which we extracted colour.From Lotkon leaves we got saffron colour, from aparajita flower we extracted blue, from Segun/Teak we extracted brown, from Ghusum Mati we extracted white,from turmeric we extracted yellow, from burnt rice we extracted black, from Seem we extracted green. This one is painted by me from vegetable colour.
Our class/workshop was made more interesting by Ashisda, because before Sanwar said anything Ashisda will explain to us about the colour to be derived from the leaves!!
Sanwar Chitrakar ( 98003 14 398) conducting the workshop
In the evening artists from Nadia performed Baul-Fakiri-Qawali, artists from Purulia performed Chhau .
'Moner Manush' (movie) actor and bhatiyali singer Saurav Mandal sang with bauls and fakirs.
We met Mr Sasim Barai (he was BDO at Sabang block, which is just beside Pingla), of our office, who came for the festival and stayed at a site house nearby.
In the morning the Bauls started their journey through the village singing, followed by me!
In the morning we saw US consulate General Beth Payne listening to 'Poter gaan'. We saw numerous armed Police there and seemd to me it has become a battlefield! The artists were showcasing pata scrolls to her and singing in unison. Then she went for a stroll around the village and said all security gurads and 'guides' to leave her alone, so that she can be on her own!!
We again went around the village and met Robin Chitrakar, only graduate of the village. We met Anwar, who won the President’s award in 2006. We found his drawing the best of the lot.
Anwar Chitrakar (97337 00769) and his paintings below
We also saw Swarna and Dukhushyam, well known to many in the artists’ circle in Calcutta. Another famous potua, Monimala, is in London.
Swarna in action
Dukhu in action
Song on Rabindranath Tagore
One visible change is in the selection of topics for pot. In Orissa, deities Jagannath and Krishna are traditionally the theme of a pot. Here, the artists have added bits of modernity to this two thousand-year-old art form.Some of them paint not just the divine mischiefs of Krishna, but also green issues and even 21st century nightmares like 9/11, 26/11 and the Jnaneswari train carnage.
A little secluded is the home of 55-year-old veteran artist Nanigopal's home, three pots on Jesus Christ hang around his place. Here, pictures depicting tales from Ramayana hang alongside colourful scrolls with hard-hitting social messages like human trafficking. He was showing us (Ashisda , Seemadi, Rajesh and I) the scroll painting of his grandfather which is 120 years old! Suddenly we saw Beth Payne coming to his home alone!!
I explained to her about the 120 year old painting. She said it is true these vegetable colours last a very long time. Then I gave a brochure of Nannigopal to her. She took some photos. We bought some pictures.
We left for Kolkata at 2.30 pm after having our lunch.
See my article in http://www.chitrolekha.com/V1/n3/03_Patachitra_Bengal_Naya_Pingla.pdf
(Acknowledgement: Times of India and Telegraph for some input)
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