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Kalighat Painting

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

Do you know that the Victoria & Albert Museum in London houses the world's biggest collection of Kalighat paintings? Kalighat painting is one of the ancient forms of art which is still known because of its ideas and motifs. In today’s blog, we will discuss more why you need to know about this art form. If you want to learn more about such art or how you can create such ancient paintings you can always visit the Children's art museum of India to share and understand more about it. You can submit your paintings as well.

Kalighat painting emerged as a distinct type of Indian art in 19th-century Kolkata (previously Calcutta), West Bengal, and is characterized by vivid colors and sharp outlines. These paintings evolved through time from depictions of gods and other mythological beings to reflect a variety of subjects. Kalighat's 'patuas' (painters) created these low-cost pieces of art to make a living by selling to the general public.

What is Kalighat Painting?

Kalighat paintings are thought to have started in the neighborhood of Kolkata's famed Kalighat Kali Temple and are generally painted on mill-made paper with flowing brushwork and vibrant dyes (sometimes handmade). The works were sold to guests looking for reminders to take home from the holy sanctuary of the time. Hindu gods and mythological characters were virtually always featured in the art, as well as occurrences, themes, and personalities from everyday life.

Indian art exhibitions or anywhere in the world show that Kalighat paintings were frequently the result of a collaboration between a group of artists, usually from the same family. So, while some members ground components to make homemade dyes, others sketched the figures' outlines, filled in the hues, or added the finishing touches like motifs and backdrop patterns. These were usually carried to the city to be sold.

In today's India, online art exhibits are there if you want to showcase your talent by online art submission because this style of painting continues to influence and share its magic with artists and art enthusiasts. Some of the most well-known artists who have been affected by the particular style include the late artist Jamini Roy. Kalighat paintings can now be seen in museums and galleries all over the world, from Kolkata's Victoria Memorial Hall to Prague's Naprstek Museum.

Themes or Influence in Kalighat paintings

1. Religious works of art

As these paintings were intended to be sacred keepsakes, the topics shown in them were frequently an extension of the original pattachitras and related to Hindu gods and goddesses. Scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, or Krishna's life were painted in various shapes, as were deities such as Shiva, Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Sita, and Kartikeya. To delight their Muslim clientele, the artists frequently depicted Islamic figures such as Imam Husain's horse. The 'Oriental school of Kalighat Paintings' was named for these religious and mythical paintings.

2. Contemporary Art

It wasn't until they started painting Kalighat paintings that they moved on to urban settings and started painting scenes from everyday life. These paintings reflected the social and political climate of nineteenth-century Bengal and were frequently satirical depictions of the 'babu' lifestyle that the painters loathed. These paintings reflected the painters' perception of current life, given that they had moved from rural areas to a relatively new metropolitan setting. Scenes of crimes, women, and men feeding their pet cats, birds, and animals, men riding elephants, a barber cleaning the ear of a courtesan, and other scenes were drawn by artists. Not only were they making high-quality paintings, but their traditional paintings of Rani Lakshmibai and Tipu Sultan were also spreading the ideology of independence. The 'Occidental school of Kalighat Painting' was named from the depiction of civil life in Kalighat pat art.

Making of Kalighat Paintings

Kalighat paintings were painted using natural dyes and on readily available materials such as cloth and scrolls due to the era in which they were created. What makes Kalighat painting so unique? The part that the entire family would be involved in their creation. Based on sex and age, each family member had a specific role to play in the creation process. In terms of economics, this equated to one of West Bengal's largest cottage industries at the time.

The family's ladies and children are in charge of grinding the colours and making the dyes. Other responsibilities included pencilling in the outline and creating all of the painting's preparations.

The initial artist would just duplicate the outline of the sketch from the model sketch onto the canvas.

The contours of the figures, which were usually human, would subsequently be drawn and colored by a second artist. Muscles would be shown in a lighter color than flesh.

The last artist would fill in the motif's surrounding colors as well as the backdrop, as well as the final outline in black.

Colors and Tools

Although a drawing, outline, and then filling of the motif would have been employed initially, it is fascinating to read about the unusual tools utilized to create these paintings.

The brush used for sketch drawings was made from squirrel and goat hair. Soot created by burning an oil lamp under a pot was utilized to make the black ink for this project. The additional brilliant colors used to fill the artwork were mostly homemade, including vegetable dyes or powdered stone bits of various colors. To make paint suitable for use on paper and textiles, the dry colors would be combined with either gum or water.

However, with the advent of the industrial revolution in India, the colors utilized, as well as the canvas, were both industrially created.

The portrayal of women in Kalighat paintings

Trees are frequently shown as women in Hindu art, as they represent shelter, fertility, development, and opportunity. Because Kalighat painting began near the goddess Kali's temple, female subjects are frequently depicted as strong in her honor. Shakti was embodied by Kali.


Today, the technique of Kalighat painting is still practiced in Bengali villages, where the patuas proudly carry on the rich traditions that have been passed down through the decades.

This is unquestionably a cause for celebration, and a partnership is required to bring Bengal's illustrious past back to life.

Art is a part of our history, culture, and tradition. Ancient art not only captures the essence of bygone eras but also allows us to understand more about contemporary art. Children’s art museum of India allows your child or you to express your talent and emotions through art. We believe that mastering new art techniques can boost your creativity. You can join us today to study and share your work with the world, or if you want to learn more about different art forms, you can read about them here.

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