The patuas of Medinipur have for many generations painted scrolls designed to be unrolled while the story accompanying the pictures is sung. The patas are sheets of paper of equal or different sizes sewn together and painted.
Historically the scrolls told religious stories but in the 20th century the artists have added historical events, ecological disasters such as storms and floods, and commentary on social issues. The patua ekes out a meager income by going from village to village and house to house with his bag of scrolls. In return for money or food, he unrolls a pata and tells or sings the story. While most of the patuas are men, there are now a few women artists.
The patuas of Medinipur are an endogamous caste whose religion and customs lie between Hinduism and Islam. While they follow Muslim custom for life-marking ceremonies, they paint more Hindu stories than Muslim, and observe a number of Hindu rituals.
The following patas were purchased between 1980 and 1999 during various trips to West Bengal. The text accompanying each frame is a brief summary of the artist’s song. In real life, the patua would slowly unroll the scroll and sing the story in Bangla.
Rama heard the news from a bird and became sad and sat under a tree. His parents are home in their country and his wife has been stolen. Rama laments and his brother Lakshman is with him.
The monkeys in Hanuman’s army brought stones and trees and made a bridge.
Sugriva said, “What are you waiting for? We can start a war.”
Ravana said, ” I am only afraid of one person, the one who burnt my Lanka. I am worried that he will come again. Ravana was thinking about this when Angada came. The gatekeeper didn’t let him in but Angada broke the door. Ravana was sitting on a high seat. Seeing this, Angada had an idea. He curled his tail and sat on it [so he could be higher] and said to Indrajit, Ravana’s son, “Listen, there are so many Ravanas, are they all your father? You brought Sita here through trickery, now how will you be able to keep your kingdom of Lanka? “Talking like this he slapped Ravana and took his crown.
He took the crown to Rama.
Rama and Ravana fought a war in Lanka. Ravana shot 100 arrows. They shot arrows at each other. Then Rama recited a mantra and his arrow became two arrows. Ravana lies down in pain and Brahma, Shiva, and the other gods are in the sky. Ravana had one lakh of sons and thousands of grandchildren and no one was left alive to carry on the family.