Originating in the 19th century West Bengal this style of painting developed in and around the Kali Temple in Calcutta, modern day Kolkata. Traditionally painted on cloth, known as pata painting this was the only school of painting thriving at that time. The artists were known as patuas. The paintings were mostly of the Hindu deities, Kali being the favourite. This was the time when the British had taken over the Indian sub-continent and were propagating the European style of academics. As also the method of painting on paper. The patuas were quick to develop the style suited to paper. A powerful ‘Indo-English’ style evolved rapidly around the pilgrimage place of Kalighat. These unemployed scroll painters soon settled around the temple precincts to earn their living. Besides depicting the religious themes, the patuas even began to depict the contemporary life of the Calcutta society. A notable achievement of these painters was that they made simple, easy to make drawings and these in turn could be reproduced as lithographs. This trend continued till the early part of the 20th century. Today a large section of these lithographs are in museums and private collections. Such was the charm of the style that modern artists like the late Jamini Roy’s style was greatly influenced by it.
Squirrel or goat’s hair were used to create brushes. Vegetable and mineral dyes filled in the colors. The color schemes were often very striking, looking very much like contemporary modern art. Entire households pitched in to produce the paintings. The graceful lampblack outlines and the sophisticated color palette of Kalighat captured everything from the sacred to the profane, bringing worship and satire together in one art form. Tin was used to add shiny detail to jewels. The artists also took to cheaper manufactured paints when these became available. These painting could easily be reproduced by lithograph and then painted in by hand. This has been one of the greatest reasons for the decline of this art form. Today it survives in some of Bengal’s villages and is being revived with the persistent efforts of art lovers across the world.