Shambhu Acharya: A Patua of Our Time
Shambhu has the responsibility of carrying forward the more than 400 years' old family tradition of 'Patachitra'. Ramgopal Acharya, his son Ramsundar, his son Prankrishna, Sudhir and finally Shambhu are the last five generations of 'patuas' known for their work from mouth to mouth.
'Patachitra' or 'scroll painting', one of the age-old forms of popular art, has existed in Bangladesh since the 12th century. These patas depicted scenes from religious stories and cultural myths and themes from life in rural Bangladesh.
Shambhu Acharya, a 'patachitra' artist from Bikrampur has in recent years received the attention and appreciation from a few art lovers and cultural activists.
Unfortunately this recognition has mostly been confined to only a few connoisseurs of art living in the capital city and some places abroad where he held exhibitions, while most people of his own country know very little about Shambhu Acharya and the thousands of years' old art form that his family has been practising for more than 400 years.
This article attempts to introduce the artist and the man who despite many changes in the society has stuck to the challenge of carrying the family tradition forward.
The history of 'patachitra' or scroll painting in Bengal goes back to more than two thousand years. Rural bards and story-tellers in earlier times would use these scrolls which had pictures depicting various events and themes of the stories they would tell.
The earliest 'patuas' (as the artists of scroll paintings are called) usually took the themes for their paintings from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, various legends, myths and religious stories , and later expanded the range by including many popular and secular stories of the land.
One of the most popular themes of the 'patachitra' was the Gazi's Pat depicting the courageous deeds and conquests of Ismail Gazi, a Muslim general who served the Sultan Barbak in the 15th century.
Patachitra, like many other popular folk art of Bengal such as pottery, the weaving of the Muslin and Jamdani, and jatra, was practised in families through generation after generation. The skills and the commitment to the art form were handed down from fathers to their sons.
Shambhu Acharya, the patua, comes from such a long line of dedicated patuas of Bikrampur. His family has been working in this art form for the last eight generations. But it's only the art of Shambhu, the 9th generation of patuas, which has recently come to the limelight.
Shambhu Acharya was born in 1954. His father was Patua Shudhir Chandra Acharya and mother was Kalpana Bala Acharya who herself was an Alpona painter. His family has been practising patachitra for more than 400 years. The themes of their paintings include stories of Gazir Pata Sree Krishna, Muharram, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manasha Mangal, Rass Leela and also various others themes from our local folk culture.
I had seen some of Shambhu's exhibitions in Dhaka and was impressed by the simplicity of the drawings and the blending of colours -- black, brown, blue, bright red, subdued green and yellow and slight touches of sparkling white on the special kind of cloth canvas. There were the traditional long scrolls of Gazir Pata hanging from a wooden bar, square and oblong canvases with pictures of events from stories of Krishna and Radha as well as scenes from everyday rural life.
Watching Shambhu working at his ancestral home in his own environment was fascinating.
Shambhu Acharya lives in Kalindapara in Mirkadim, Bikrampur with his wife, three daughters and a son.
His wife has followed the footstep of her mother-in-law and is an 'alpana' artist. Shambhu's children are very enthusiastic about their father's profession, now even more so due to the recent recognition of his work by the media.
It was interesting to know how Shambhu prepared the cloth canvas and the colours before starting a piece.
He uses all local materials for his paintings. For the canvas, Shambhu uses 'markin' cloth and the age-old techniques. The cloth is first layered with mud or cowdung and dried, it's then layered again with a paste made from tamarind seeds and powder of brick and chalk. Thus, surfaces of the patachitra canvas which is called 'doli' is prepared. This canvas lasts for ages.
For making his colour he uses black ink made from the smoke of lamp flames, zinc oxide, vermilion, egg yolk, the sticky juice of wood apples, sabu dana and various kinds of earth colour such as gopi mati,tilok mati, dheu mati, ela mati and raja neel (blue).
While working on a 'doli' , Shambhu told me about his childhood and his father. He grew up watching his father and grandfather making 'patachitra'. He was fascinated seeing his mother doing 'alpana'. He recalled fondly how his father used to take pride in saying that Shambhu could draw and paint before he learned the alphabet.
Shambhu Acharya said that he could not remember the last time he was sad. He said that he never allowed himself to be depressed and believed in simple and uncomplicated lifestyle. The fact that he did not have too many expectations from life allowed him to be at peace all the time. Shambhu has recently completed a series of twenty-four 'patachitra' titled 'Mahapuresher Antardhan' which depicts scenes narrating the history from the battle of Palashi to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. The story line of the paintings followed the lyrical drama 'Sahi Shahid Mujibnama' written by Dr. Enamul Huq.
Shambhu mused dreamily, "My daughters can draw and paint too. My eldest daughter, Setu, a college student, often helps me paint some figures. Who knows? May be she would like to become a 'patua'. My two other daughters, Ritu and Srishti, can also draw. My son, Abhisek who is now five years old is constantly drawing on the walls, floors, papers." He smiled with satisfaction and pride and said, " One evening I took my son Abhisek out into an open space and showed him the new scythe-shaped moon in the sky. Abhisek was then only two and a half years old. He looked at the moon and then moving his index figure in the air exclaimed, 'Look Baba! This is the hood on the boat, and here's the boatman.' He was drawing lines with his finger on the moon. I was amazed. I realised that the knack for art is there in his blood. I believe Abhisek will take up the family tradition of patuas from where I leave. The modern urban people of today are striving to find the roots of their traditional culture. Perhaps this well help to establish the art of patachitra once again with all its glory and popularity'.
It is Potua Shambhu Acharya's dream to found a Patachitra Institute in his home town in Bikrampur. This idea is revolutionary since the place he comes from is a completely business orientated area. It is amazing to think how a family has been struggling to practise this art form in a place like Bikrampur for so many generations. There are many artists like Shambhu Acharya about whom very few of us know. It is our responsibility to search for and promote such talents in any field anywhere.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006