For generations, Patua communities of West Bengal have been painters and singers of stories depicted in scrolls. Recently, a group of women from Naya Village near Kolkata have formed a cooperative to revive this dying art. This website contains interviews with the women painters and shows many of their scrolls and performances with written translations of the stories they depict.

The tradition of painting and singing stories told in scrolls (patas Muslim ascetic, Muslim saint in Bengali) goes back to ancient times in India. For generations, hereditary painter-singers (Patuas or Chitrakars) have been practicing their craft in the Midnapur district of West Bengal. This website introduces the viewer to the village of Naya, 3 hours from Calcutta, where many Chitrakar women have recently taken up the Patua craft.

Patuas are Muslims, and they tell the stories of Muslim saints (pirsMuslim ascetic, Muslim saint and fakirsfrom Arab. faqir, “pauper”, a Muslim ascetic or saint; a wondering wonder-maker or snake-charmer.) as well as Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and offer devotion to saints at Muslim shrines. In the past they used to wander from village to village, receiving rice, vegetables, and coins for their recital.  They would unroll a scroll, a frame at a time, and sing their own compositions. But competition from other media eroded this way of life, and nowadays the Patuas are trying to adapt to changing conditions.


Anthropologists/filmmakers Lina Fruzzetti, Akos Ostor and Aditi Nath Sarkar have directed a film, Singing Pictures, about the artists’ lives and work, and a film Songs of a Sorrowful Man about the charismatic fakir who taught and encouraged the women.

The film follows their daily lives as they paint, sing, cook, tend to their children, and meet with the cooperative. They discuss the problems and rewards of practicing their art, and speak freely about the social, religious, political changes in the village and the world beyond. Their wisdom, artistry, and good humor amidst many difficulties illuminate the lives around them.

The website is built around the protagonists and themes of the film, providing additional materials that cannot be accommodated by cinematic form.