From the Sanskrit patta meaning ‘canvas’ and chitra ‘picture’, a west Bengali (India) art form, whereby Hindu and Muslim religious histories and mythologies are illustrated on cloth scrolls that are unfurled as a storyteller sings out the narrative. This tradition was passed down from father to son (and each father would hope for at least one child with a good voice and memory), the thousands of lyrics sung from village to village as part of devotional practices, in return for vegetables and rice.

With the changing pace of modern life and advent of technology, this inheritance has been augmented: instead of solely predominantly religious iconographic subject matter, and male peripatetic storytellers, contemporary pattachitra can also be composed and sung by women, who devise vignettes on national and international themes: education, birth control, poverty, religious tolerance, current events, etc., which are often commissioned by villages. A fascinating example of this are the women from Naya village, near Calcutta, who run a scroll painters’ collaborative, grinding roots, making their own natural dyes and painting as they tend for their children, singing as they cook. These women effectively draw upon their lives for their art, telling their own stories of who and where they are, where they have come from and where they want to be. Through their inherited vehicle of pattachitra, they tell a new story for a new time: a story told on textile in the colours of their land.

And they have taken the figure of Satya Pir, one revered by Hindus and muslims alike, to demonstrate how their communities will continue to live in harmony, just as they have done for hundreds of years already.

*The story of the Naya women has been documented in a film by Liza Fruzzetti, The scroll singers of Naya,


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