Home > Visual Art > Pater Durga
Pater Durga

Pater Durga or paintings of Durga in patachitra form have been worshipped for centuries in certain regions of West Bengal, primarily Rarh Bengal. These Patas were worshiped as a substitute for a three-dimensional idol of the goddess during her festival. The practice continues to this day and can still be seen in some villages in the Birbhum, Bankura, Bardhaman and West Medinipur districts of West Bengal. 

Pater Durga or paintings of Durga in patachitra form have been worshipped for centuries in certain regions of West Bengal, primarily Rarh Bengal. These Patas were worshiped as a substitute for a three-dimensional idol of the goddess during her festival. The practice continues to this day and can still be seen in some villages in the Birbhum, Bankura, Bardhaman and West Medinipur districts of West Bengal. 

In Bankura, the history of these paintings goes back to the Malla kings of yore, who ruled over Mallabhum (encompassing primarily present day Bankura), which was an independent kingdom, also referred to as the Bishnupur kingdom. It is claimed that the Mrinmoyee temple, the oldest temple of Bishnupur was established by the 19th Malla king, Jagat Malla in 994 or 997 AD. According to local legends, the goddess appeared before the king while on a hunting trip and ordered him to shift his capital from Laugram to Bishnupur and establish her worship at the very spot he stood on, so that all his subjects may worship her.  The king complied, a temple was built and the worship of Goddess Durga or Mrinmoyee, as the family deity of the Mallas, has prevailed here ever since.  

Nobody can say for sure when the pater Durga tradition started at the Mrinmoyee temple. At any rate, it is recorded that under Bir Hambir’s reign, a Kartik Fouzdar, a traditional Sutradhar who was a soldier in the king’s army, was tasked with responsibility of crafting the famed dashabatar cards admired by the king. Fouzdar also painted three pater Durgas for Mrinmoyee’s temple on the king’s request and this tradition continues to this day. Thus, we can safely say that the pater Durga tradition in Bishnupur is at least four centuries old. 

By the end of the 18th century, as a result of family struggles between the ruling Raja, Chaitanya Singh, and his kinsmen, the royal family had branched out to different regions within Bankura but continued to maintain this unique form of worship in their shrines.  Some made Jamkuri their new home, bringing with them artists and artisans from Bishnupur who were loyal to them. The descendants of Chaitanya Singh are found in the ancestral home at Bishnupur and also at Indas and Kuchiakol. Even now, they retain a stronghold on the affection of the people, and it is not forgotten that their ancestors were the rulers of the land.

The pater Durga paintings that are created every year are for the royal descendants are housed at their temples at Bishnupur, Kuchiakol and Jamkuri. Descendants of some old Brahmin families in Bishnupur, including descendants to priests of the royal household also continue to worship pater Durga in their temples. There are three paintings required for the Mrinmoyee temple at Bishnupur and for the Rajrajeswari temple at Jamkuri.  These are the Baro (eldest) Thakurani pata, Mejo (middle) Thakurani pata and Chhoto (youngest) Thakurani pata. As the three Thakuranis are painted on cloth, they are also called Pateswari. The descendants of the Kuchiakol rajbari (palace) and the zamindar households require only one pater Durga each. 

Each pater Durga for the royal households features Durga with Mahishasur, her four children and on the top panel, Shiva with his companions, Nandi and Bhringi. The top side panels for Bishnupur and Jamkuri do not have any figures painted.  These corners are, in fact, folded back or cut away. The three paintings have only minor differences : In Bishnupur, the Baro Thakurani (the term thakurani is abbreviated to thakrun in Bishnupur) is painted wearing a sari with motifs on stripes of yellow and white on a red background; this is called a Lokkhibilas sari; Mejo Thakurani wears an orange sari, while Chhoto Thakurani wears a red sari. The unusual feature of these pateshwari paintings is that Durga and all the other gods and goddesses on the painting are shown in profile. Further, while in the Baro Thakurani and Mejo Thakurani patas, Durga and Shiva face opposite directions, the Chhoto Thakurani pata has them facing the same direction. The artists could not tell us why, but have been faithfully reproducing the patas in this manner, year after year. 

Sometime in mid 20th century, members of the Kuchiakol rajbari requested that their pater Durga should be distinguishable from the Bishnupur ones and thus the Kuchiakol depiction was changed to Durga and her children facing forward, though Shiva and his companions remained facing sideways. Figures of Ram and Lakshman were added to the top right and left panel here. Durga wears a red sari. Sital Fouzdar tells us that it was his late uncle and guru, Bhaskar Fouzdar who had made this change.  The Kuchiakol rajbari take only a single pata. Their pata measures 54” x 38” while thakurani patas of Bishnupur measure approximately 27” x 35”, with the Baro Thakurani pata being 28” x 36”.  

The pater Durgas for the other Brahmin households who require a single pata, have Durga in a red sari and have Dakini and Jogini, goddess Kali’s demoness-attendants, on the two top side panels – to distinguish them from the royal patas. The sizes vary according to their personal requirements. 

In an earlier time, the duty of collecting these painted Durgas from the artist’s home would be conducted with great fanfare by the representatives from the palace or zamindar households. A large procession would weave down the lanes to the Fouzdar home accompanied by drummers and musicians and the painter, after blowing a conch shell and offering a reverential farewell pranam to his representation of the goddess, would ceremoniously hand over the painting. Except for the Mahapatra and Chakraborty households who still continue the tradition, colourful processions from the residences of the royal descendants are a thing of the past. 

In Bishnupur, the Baro Thakurani pata is brought to the palace on the day of Jita Ashtami, fifteen days before Durga Puja in the month of Ashwin. Cannons are fired to announce her arrival. The Baro Thakurani is set up in the temple, under an arch, after having been welcomed with all the relevant rites and worshipped every day, till the end of the festival. 

The Mejo Thakurani pata and the Chhoto Thakurani pata are brought to the palace on the fourth day after Mahalaya (Chaturthi) or the next day, the day prior to Shoshti.  Special rites are performed for both sisters on the day of Shoshti, the first day of the festival, amid much rejoicing and ceremony. They are eventually placed under arches, with pomp and ceremony within the temple near the main, permanent idol of Mrinmoyee. All the rituals of Durga Puja follow, the goddess is invoked and the ritual of life-giving to each of the representations of the goddess, conducted. Each major day of the puja has its own special rituals along with daily rituals. The puja in recent years has been abbreviated however, and some of the rites are no longer performed. Sital Fouzdar informed us that Baro Thakurani represents the shakti of goddess Kali, Mejo Thakurani, Sarawati and Chhoto Thakurani, the centre of all focus during the days of the puja – Lakshmi. 

Not all the pater Durgas are immersed. Some are retained while others are immersed only in the following year, before the rituals with the new pater Durgas commence.   The royal pater Durgas are not immersed and are preserved in the palace; they are merely sprinkled with water as a token, while the clay pots in which they were invoked, are immersed. 

Of the Fouzdar family whose responsibility it was to paint these patas for the royal family, there remains only Sital Fouzdar today. Sital, whose guru and uncle was Bhaskar Fouzdar,  now makes a total of 12 pater Durgas every year, including the three for the Bishnupur rajbari and the one for Kuchiakol. The artist starts work on the patas soon after rathayatra in July, since he would also get busy with sculpting clay idols for Durga puja. Five layers of new dhotis are glued together to form a thin canvas. This is the medium over which diluted khori mati is applied thickly as the base coat. The colours he uses are a mix of natural and commercially bought. The yellow, black, green and white, he prepares from turmeric, lamp soot, leaves and chalky clay (khori mati); the rest are bought. It takes about 10 days to make each pata. 

The remuneration the artist(s) get for their work is a mere token and the paintings are made more out of deference to a centuries-old tradition than a means to earn an income. However, Sital, as did others before him, does paint copies of the Pateshwaris for sale to the public; care is taken that these are never exact copies of the ritual paintings for the rajbaris.  This is ensured by painting the top left-hand and right-hand panels of the pata with figures of the demonesses, Dakini and Jogini, similar to the ones sold to the zamindar households. 

There are other artists too who make pater Durga for families who practise the tradition outside of Bishnupur. Of them, Kripamoyee Karmakar has taken on the mantle of painting pater Durga, after the demise of her father-in-law, Nitai Karmakar in 2001. Nitai’s ancestors would paint the Durgapata for the presiding deity of the Jamkuri offshoot of the Bishnupur royals – goddess Rajrajeswari, another manifestation of Durga. Another patron is the Chakraborti household in Kripamoyee’s village, who have maintained this tradition for two hundred years. The responsibility of painting the four pater Durgas required in Jamkuri would be divided among the male members of the family. In Nitai’s generation, Nitai and three of his cousins would paint a pata each and the remuneration they received would be divided among the four cousins. The cousins subsequently gave up the tradition and only Nitai continued. Now there is only Kripamoyee. Her son will continue after her. 

Kripamoyee claims that the first artist to paint the pater Durgas of Jamkuri and craft the original Rajrajeswari idol was Gunadhar Karmakar. As desired by the Jamkuri rajbari, and following the Bishnupur tradition, three paintings were (and continue to be) made.  Here too, the paintings are identical, with the exception of the Chhoto Thakurani pata, where again, Shiva and Durga face the same direction. 

The patas are about three feet by two feet. Two layers of newly bought cloth are glued together and then pasted on 2 layers of newspaper to form the canvas. These are dried in the sun and a base coat of khori mati (a kind of chalky clay) is then applied on the cloth side of the canvas. The surface is then rubbed with stone to make it smooth and only then are the colours applied. From pasting to smoothening the surface takes two days. The colours were originally extracted from leaves, flowers, indigo, coloured clay and stone (red and yellow ochres) and were mixed with tamarind or wood apple glue. They were often combined to form newer colours. Now she uses “natural” powder colours bought from a particular local shop; she claims these are not chemical colours. 

Kripamoyee follows a particular order when painting the temple patas. She begins with Ganesh on the bottom left, then Laksmi above him, then Shiva on top, followed by Durga (Rajrajeswari), then on the right, Saraswati and Kartik, and finally, Durga’s mount and Mahisasur. The mounts for Lakshmi and Saraswati, the owl and swan are added on later, along with other detailing, like weapons and ornamentation in white and a final black outline around the figures. Durga’s mount here is not the lion, but a mule. 

No procession arrives from the rajbari at Kripamoyee’s doorstep; in the past, someone would come on foot from Jamkuri royal household, about forty minutes away, to collect the pata. Now, they come on a cycle or motorbike. Kripamoyee is paid barely enough to cover her costs, but she does not wish to discontinue this centuries-old tradition.  Kripamoyee makes similar patas for the public as well, though often using acrylic colours.

Other than Sital and Kripamoyee, there are other artists who paint pater Durgas in Bankura – but they are very few in number. Between them, pater Durga in Bankura may be seen in less than 10 villages. 

Pater Durga is also found in villages scattered across West Medinipur, Jhargram  and Bardhaman as well, the more well-known one being the pater Durga of the Bardhaman Rajbari. Some of these came into existence as a result of stressed financial conditions in the family, and some, in adherence to over hundred year old traditions.

Pater Durgas in Birbhum are stylistically very different from the Bankura paintings. There are over 10 villages in Birbhum that have been worshipping pater Durga  - some for at least 200 years. Hatserandi is one such village, possibly the best known in Birbhum. In an earlier time, all the representations of Durga that were worshipped in the village were in a patachitra form. The practice however is on the wane as the remuneration the artists receive is low in comparison to what idol makers receive. Today there are only a handful of pater durga pujas that remain. Ramkrishna Sutradhar is one of the younger artists upholding the tradition. He is a seventh-generation artist - his grandfather, Kalipada Sutradhar and father Adorgopal, were renowned in their time. A documentary film was made on Kalipada Sutradhar by Purnendu Patri. The seniormost  artist, Manik Sutradhar, who learnt from Adorgopal and a much younger Ratnakar Mete of Gandhpur are two other artists who continue the tradition for Hatserandi. 

The Hatserandi pater durga is painted on a cloth stretched across a bamboo surface coated with clay. A layer of loamy clay (entel mati) goes on first; it is smoothened and then finished with sandy clay (beley mati). A wet cloth is stretched across this frame and when dry, is coated with khori mati several times to form the canvas for the painting. 

Other villages in the district where the tradition continues are to be found in Bolpur, Labpur and Siuri blocks. Some families claim that the tradition in their household has existed for over 300 years. The style and size is about the same as Hatserandi.  The pater Durgas of Birbhum are not available commercially. 

There used to be a pata Durga painter in Lokepur, the one-handed Noni Gopal Das, who would paint for the Dey household. Since his passing some years ago, his student now crafts wooden idols for the Deys. 

The patas of Birbhum are massive, usually on a five to six feet high arched frame. The artists here use a combination of earth and store bought colours that are dissolved in gum and water, though chemical colours are gradually becoming the norm. As in Bankura, the background is blue. When the painting is completed, some ornamentation is added with tinsel paper and paste jewellery as well. 

The work is laborious and time consuming, with little recompense. Catering to client demand, changing values and the race towards urbanization today, it is hardly surprising then, that there is a dilution in the art and the traditions followed, in tandem with a growing absence of a discerning audience.