Jamini Roy Paintings and Imprints of Kalighat Pat

By | Published on Jan 12, 2023 | in

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The Kalighat Pat will, always, be found adjacent to Jamini Roy paintings. Not just you will find its impression in the paintings of Jamini Roy, but a discussion of his paintings is incomplete without Kalighat pat. If the folk art of Bengal has reached almost every household then a tribute to Roy is mandatory for glorifying his efforts on this mission.     

An Introduction to Jamini Roy 

Roy was born in colonial Bengal on 11th April 1887.  Since he was a part of an art-admiring family, they sent him to study at the Government College of Art, Kolkata, when he grew up. When he was receiving his formal training in art under Abanindranath Tagore at the Government College of Art, he drew his inspiration from Western traditions. Later, he found his artistic nudges resting in the folk style of paintings from Bengal. In that, Kalighat was the major source of his inspiration.  

Roy and the Folk Art of Bengal 

Artistic pieces from Bengal are known for their unique style and intricacies. One thing that you would find peculiar in the folk paintings of Bengal is developing a nascent idea into a comprehensive concept. Ideas that were projected through folk paintings were based on the thought process of an individual instead of the influence of multitudes. Kalighat paintings, bearing the core spirit of Bengal’s folk art, were one of the best examples of pouring out this tradition.

Kalighat paintings emerged as a distinguished style in the 19th century. These paintings were made by the patuas (scroll painters) who resided in the neighborhood of Kalighat Temple in Calcutta (now, known as Kolkata). Patta was the medium on which these paintings were made. The early series of paintings were based on the epics of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and images of Goddess Kali and Lord Shiva. In the phase of urbanization, during the colonial era, the paintings were influenced by the sceneries of colonized Bengal. 

Jamini Roy began to discover Kalighat paintings at a later phase of his career when the thought of folk art and going back to the roots struck him. Captured by the spirit of nationalism, Roy emphasized connecting people with their traditional roots in Kalighat, unlike the artisans who shifted to metropolitan areas. While the pats of the urbanized folk artisans pushed up an idea of urban plight, Roy decorated his paintings with rural imagery that somehow was reflective of his sentiment of nationalism.     

Roy’s Encounter with Bengal’s Kalighat 

Jamini Roy is a legendary figure when it comes to traditional Kalighat paintings. Classical nudes were more dominant in his initial style in which he received his formal art training. When Roy developed a natural inclination for his culture, he deviated to a different path and that was toward the folk art of Bengal. Tribal art was his first endeavor on this track. 

In his early work, Santhals were predominant. The Santhals formed the largest tribal group in the states of Jharkhand and West Bengal. Being from a well-off financial and cultural background, the depiction of the Santhal tribe on canvas Roy appeared to be an observation of the upper class. 

Roy chose to depict the tribal culture of Santhals through paintings. Santhal Dance, a tempera-style painting, speaks of Roy’s style of portraying the tribal culture. Silhouettes were drawn using bold and angular lines while the waists were tucked in. Community Life, Blacksmith 1, oil on plywood, was another example that elaborates a unidimensional style of painting. Through his artwork, he threw light on the cultural aspects of the Santhal tribe. Also, the daily activities shared space in the paintings portraying tribal life, by Roy. Instead of choosing something extravagant, he settled for pictures closer to life. 

Soon after that, he started to draw inspiration from Kalighat pat, the folk painting style of Bengal. Roy went off to learn from local patuas in pursuit of learning the authentic style of Kalighat paintings. Under the apprenticeship of local custodians of folk art, Roy changed his regular medium of paintings as well. He incorporated the use of folk colors that included indigo for the blue color, Ganges clay for the gray color, and vermilion for reproducing red. Leaving behind the Western medium, he integrated the use of cloth, handmade paper, mat, and wood. The influence of Kalighat on Roy’s paintings is exemplary as they did not replicate its concept. Instead, he chose to merge every bit of the essence of Kalighat pat into his paintings. 

Roy’s Popular Paintings in Kalighat Style 

Kalighat paintings, since their inception, were based on images from Hinduism. These included prominent epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. At a later stage, the paintings were influenced by the conditions of colonized Bengal. Thus, Kalighat pat started to demonstrate the themes of a colonial era. 

However, Roy’s renowned paintings in Kalighat style enlarged scenes from the daily life of rural Bengal. The bold, sweeping brush strokes of Kalighat by Roy portrayed Europeans in India during imperialism. His depiction of Jesus Christ on the mat was a great example of his folk art embracing the imprints of a different culture. Around the 1940s, his paintings got popular in the British community as well, which led to the popularity of the folk art of India at a global scale, when they were presented in New York and London.   

Contribution of Jamini Roy’s Paintings to Nationalism 

Jamini Roy paintings, thus, can be attributed to being the medium to connect Indian folks with their roots. His paintings can be loosely connected with the discovery of Arthashastra by Rudrapatna Shamashastry in 1905, which became a turning point in the wake of nationalism. When colonialism-stricken folks in India were finding a way to discover a nation of their own, the finding of Arthashastra connected them with their glorious past. 

Similarly, when an artist like Roy chose to reject the Western medium of paintings incorporating traditional paraphernalia with folk paintings, it distributes the importance of one’s connection with their roots. It is utmost for a generation to return to its origin for fighting an alien in their native land. Whether they are Roy’s paintings, the discovery of Arthashastra, or the adoption of Swadesi, they all have their individual role in the spur of the national movement. 

Roy and Kalighat – A Timeless Bond

Jamini Roy’s politically charged folk art earned him prodigious respect among his contemporaries as well as the generations afterward. He was awarded the third highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan, by the Government of India in 1954. He would always be known as the master of modern art who let go of the style of the West to embrace his roots and demonstrated the same through folk Kalighat paintings. 

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