History of Patna Kalam

History of Patna Kalam

In the 18th century when India was ruled by the three major schools of art i.e; Mughal, Anglo-Indian and Pahari, a lesser known but world’s first independent school of painting, “Patna Kalam” wooed the connoisseurs with its minimal yet bold approach towards it subject and style. Almost 200 years old now, Patna school of painting or Company school or Patna Kalam yearns for the much deserved acknowledgement and acceptance in the regions where it once flourished.

Patna Kalam came into existence during the era of Aurangzeb, however the caste discrimination and hostile behaviour forced the artists to take refuge in Murshidabad until they finally settled in Patna and Purnea (parts of Bihar) and began practicing the Company paintings. Unlike other art forms that showcased gods and goddesses or kings and queens, artists of Patna Kalam painted subjects with water colours focusing the “ordinary local lives of people and their daily chores”. The daily chores depicted in the paintings included hawkers, bangle sellers, washer-men, fish sellers, peddlers, local festivals and other caste occupations.

The paintings had an “organic rhythm” to its “realistic figures” with “minimal” backgrounds, anchored and “minutely detailed” subject with exceptional finishing touches. The paintings were mostly done on ivory, mica, vellum, glass and recycled paper in the winters while the procedure to make paints and base were done in the summers. The paints used in those days were natural colours made from haldi, milk, plant barks and rust. The amalgamation of Indian subjects, grace of Mughal style and British colour palette not only unfolded it as a distinctive style but also made its way to the elite markets of London. However Patna Kalam suffered a rapid decline due to lack of its demand after the end of British rule. Advancement in time led to devaluation of patronage from the government and evolution of cameras and lithographs. But, in the golden pages of history, Patna Kalam did revolutionise the fact that streets can be a strong subject of art. The difference is that in this process of accepting the subject, people forgot to credit its the birth giver, the artists of Patna Kalam.

One such artist was my grandfather, Tarak Nath Bareria. From being a school kid who faced problems in differentiating b-d to becoming one of the only practicing artists of Patna Kalam in the country, he truly mastered all the odds. The daily one hour calligraphy practice taught him patience while reading art books sculpted his basics . As a self taught artist, he always seeked opportunities to nurture his skills and experiment with styles that could help me grow. It was a turning point in his life when he got a call letter from Sir JJ school of fine arts but was sadly turned down by his father.

As a warm blooded 20 years young fellow, his dreams were cut, tied and bound to an extent that he burnt his paintings and never touched his paint brushes for the next 20 years. It was after 20 years that he first met his mentor for life, Sir Damodar Prasad ambisht who not only restored his passion for art, but also made him enter the beautiful realm of Patna Kalam. Since then, there was no going back and he started off by merely practicing the basics of Patna Kalam, its characteristics and advanced use of water color. Today when I look back and recall, my grandfather always encouraged me to paint with water colors and now I know why!

Written by Tanya Bareria, The India Craft Project
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