Kalighat Paintings

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Kalighat painting emerged in 19th century Kolkata (then Calcutta). It takes its name from the neighbourhood surrounding the famous Kalighat Kali Temple. The artists, known as ‘patuas’, were originally traditional scroll painters specialising in religious themes.

The themes of Kalighat paintings range from the day-to-day life of common men and women in Kolkata to the full iconography of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. These paintings have been influenced by performing arts like ‘jatra’, ‘swang’, ‘padavali’, and ‘kirtan’.

While the initial themes were religious, depicting Hindu deities like Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, and Krishna, the repertoire soon expanded to include secular and contemporary social themes, often reflecting societal changes and satirising politics.

Kalighat painters typically start with a quick sketch done in charcoal or pencil and then fill it in with homemade watercolours. The fluidity and transparency of watercolours allowed for both brightness and rapid execution, which was crucial given the commercial nature of this art form. Details were then added using a fine brush to define features, and borders were often painted to frame the scenes.

Kalighat paintings stand as a unique example of blending traditional folk art with contemporary influences during colonial times. They serve as a visual commentary on 19th-century Kolkata and provide insight into the social and cultural changes of the time.

 

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