Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
In Bengal, in the olden days, in order to disseminate the holy stories, folk legends adn perhaps even news of major events, Pattua scrolls were used.
Women first painted out the story on a long vertical scroll that could be hand carried and went from door to door announcing their arrival. If invited to do so, they would stop and sing out the whole story before the family, exposing just one scene of the pattua scroll as they sang the verse pertaining to that scene.
In return, they received some money.
Today the function of spreading the news is redundant as 24/7 media channels have invaded and captured every home. And though for legends and folk tales this function might have still been of use, the interest of the people has waned and moved to other areas. Earlier this was one of the few forms of entertainment available – today sadly, this is among the least preferred forms. The number of practitioners of this trade has also therefore dwindled.
I had acquired one vintage pattua a few years ago – but did not know what it was.
Then, on for a talk on a cruise ship, I had taken it along as an example of folk paintings and had come across an inspiring elderly couple from Kolkatta (A physicist and a famous health care practitioner). They explained the pattua to me how it was used – what was the significance etc – and also the particular legend that was the subject of mine.
My guess was that if I wished to see such a performance today, I would have to go to some village in Bengal and wait it out until someone came by.
But serendipity thought otherwise.
And so, on one visit to an exhibition I witnessed the actual singing …..
I was at a sari shop studying, selecting and getting besotted by various pieces and getting quite tortured with the idea of having to choose one and let go of the others… when I heard the soulful singing emanate from a corner. Eventually after a few futile attempts to block out the sweet singing I couldn’t bear the attraction any more and left the saris and went in search of the singer.
I saw her holding up her scroll and instantly I knew what this was – a Pattua singer.
What brilliant luck!
Here she is:
The subject is the recent Tsunami.
Note the way she points out to the subjects she is singing about. And also how she rolls up the upper end of the scroll and opens up the lower end.
Unfortunately due to memory constraints my phone captured only a few minutes of her amazing voice and and lovely singing.
Let us pray that this folk art has a long long life!