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Jadopata (jadupata) is a distinct, centuries old, tradition of folk painting done by a community known variously as Jadopatias, Jadavpatuas or Jadupatuas who are scattered across Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum in West Bengal and the Santal Parganas in Jharkhand. In Purulia, they would also be addressed as Patkars or Patikars. The Jadupatias are traditionally self-taught artists each of whom painted in their own personal style and with the limited resources available to them, narrated in their own individual way the stories they wanted to present. Their style and repertoire has practically remained unchanged from the days of yore. 

Jadopata (jadupata) is a distinct, centuries old, tradition of folk painting done by a community known variously as Jadopatias, Jadavpatuas or Jadupatuas who are scattered across Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum in West Bengal and the Santal Parganas in Jharkhand. In Purulia, they would also be addressed as Patkars or Patikars. The Jadupatias are traditionally self-taught artists each of whom painted in their own personal style and with the limited resources available to them, narrated in their own individual way the stories they wanted to present. Their style and repertoire has practically remained unchanged from the days of yore. 

The origin of this community is not known – some researchers suggest that they may have been adivasis themselves once who later adopted Hinduism. L.S.S O’ Malley in the early 20th century reported in the Birbhum District Gazetteers that by profession, the jadopatias were brass (dhokra) workers, making trinkets, gongs etc, while some were mendicant-scroll painters who exhibited their paintings in return for money or rice. There is no connection between the two sections of the community today, except for their common title.  Moreover, from about the time when the patuas in other districts were officially recognized as Chitrakars in the Census Report of 1951, the jadopatias too probably adopted the same title, in order to be socially accepted. The jadopatias claim to be Hindu. 

The scroll painting jadopatias usually live within accessible distance of Santal villages. This is because the jadopata is intrinsically linked with the rituals and beliefs of the Santals, the largest ethnic group in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha. Mostly living in penury these jadopatias profess to hold communication with the spirits of the dead and paint pictures of those recently dead in a Santal household and present them to the bereaved relatives in exchange for gifts. They see themselves in the role of priests or gurus to the bereaved family and in an earlier time were held in some esteem by the Santals. The Santals call them Jado Baba.

When they are not performing their role as priest of bereaved Santal families, the jadopatias roam around villages, often walking (or sometimes cycling) ten or twenty kilometres from their homes, displaying their scrolls and chanting the corresponding stories, in return for alms. 

The themes of the narrow jadopata scrolls have traditionally been the Karam Binti pata, which illustrates the Santal story of creation and the Jompata which illustrates the ghastly punishments meted out to sinners in the realm of Jomraj (Lord Yama), the god of death. The Karam Binti is their longest scroll, sometimes 15  or 16 feet. Other Santal themes often found in their repertoire are the Baha pata (on their Baha festival) and the Shikar pata (on their annual hunting festival, Disom Sendra). Later, they also began to paint Krishna Leela and Kali patas in the same primitive style. This was probably an attempt to reach out to non-tribal Hindu communities (scheduled castes and other backward classes) in the vicinity.  In some Jompata scrolls, it is not Jomraj, but Marang Buru, the guardian deity of the Santals who is shown as the dispenser of harsh punishments to a man after his death for his sins. Probably, Marang Buru of earlier scrolls was replaced by Jomraj as a result of Hindu influence. 

The jadopatas stand out for their stark simplicity – the drawings and composition are minimalistic and primitive, while the colours are limited and simple. The colours used are natural earth pigments such as geru pathar (for saffron), banak or harital (for yellow) and other ochres and clays. Leaves of the broadbean plant (sheem) for green and other seeds and plants are also used. Black is obtained from lamp-black soot. The colours obtained from these minerals and plants are generally saffron, yellow and green. Base colours are mixed to yield more colours. The coloured stones, either procured from a hillside or river bank or bought from the marketplace, are rubbed hard on a flat surface and the fine powder thus obtained is thoroughly mixed with neem glue and water. Painting brushes are traditionally shaped out of thin twigs and hair from a cow’s or goat’s tail, or sometimes, bought from the market. Colours like blue, if used, are bought.

Some jadopatias in Purulia make an annual visit to the Baghmundi hills to collect stones for their annual requirement. The Shyamsundarpur jadopatias told us that they had, a while back, converted to store bought colours, but people from Kolkata and Medinipur (probably patuas who bought from them to resell at melas) persuaded them to switch back to natural colours. But store bought colours continue to be used by some jadopatias, probably depending upon the subject. For instance, a younger generation jadopatia told us that a Krishna Leela pata demands the use of bright colours for it to be attractive for the buyer. The Majramura artists have in recent years, begun to use a variety of other plant material - seeds, barks, roots and leaves for a wider range 
of colours. 

In the days of yore, they would paint on sal leaves, not paper. Jadupatua scrolls are typically narrow, painted on inexpensive sheets of paper, sometimes even used sheets, that have been glued or sewn together and attached at each end to slim bamboo sticks. Today, some of the jadopatias who are being promoted, have upgraded to better quality paper, catering to the new found urban interest in their work. 

While the jadopatias in West Bengal all speak Bengali, the older jadopatias would speak the Santali dialect of their patrons with varying degrees of fluency, but their numbers have dwindled. Most jadopatias claim to have a knowledge of Santal mythology, or at least enough to recite their version of the Karam Binti. Some however, just recite the words by rote (as learnt from their fathers) and are unable to explain the meaning of their recitation, while others claim to know the story and paint the Karam Binti, but do not visit Santal villages because they are unfamiliar with the Santali language; they only visit the Bengali communities in and around the vicinity. The jadopatias we met at Hansapathor and Ramkanali in Purulia were not really able to tell us the stories in their scrolls. The Jadopatias we met do not visit Muslim habitats, though this may not have been the case forty or fifty years ago (mentioned in Hans Hadders` thesis on Jadupatias). 

Earlier Jadopatia women would go to Santal villages to pierce ears of Santal children – an activity known as Lutur (ear in Santal) pati; now only the men do this, but only if the Santali household wishes it.  

The jadopatia’s modus operandi is as follows: On receiving news of a bereavement in a Santal village, he hastens to the village, armed with a stock of small drawings on cheap paper, each of which contains a simple painting of a man, woman or child in profile, accompanied by small line drawings of some household utensils, a chicken or goat etc, according to the jadopatia’s assessment of the family’s wealth or what he hopes to demand. The unique aspect of these small paintings is that the eye in each of the profiles is always left incomplete – with the iris missing. The painting is known as the Chokkhudan pata.

Some of the older jadopatias interviewed told us how they receive news of a death,  They place a bowl of turmeric water containing grains of rice and a few stalks of durva grass (Cynodon Dactylon) next to their heads when they go to sleep every night. They claim that when a Santal dies, he (or she) appears before one of them in a dream. The spirit of the deceased apparently supplies the artist-guru with his name and describes to him, his family and the possessions that he had. The spirit requests the jadopatia to take his or her picture to the family and conduct the ritual. The jadopatia immediately wakes up, lights a lamp and quickly draws, on a small sheet of paper, a likeness of the deceased that is reflected on the water in the bowl. He also includes drawings of the belongings that the deceased had possessed (claiming that this information was conveyed to him by the spirit). In the morning, he completes the painting and armed with his chokkhudan pata, sets off for the village, the address of which too has apparently been transmitted to him via the dream. Another jadopatia stated that in the old days, the jado babas were all devoted Kali worshippers and would receive a sign of a Santal death when a pair of skulls kept at hand would rattle. They would then, at the break of dawn, look for a reflection in the turmeric water placed near their heads. However, he continued, this practice died out and today they make their visits based on some half- truths. The truth more likely is that they get news of a death and then make an appearance in the relevant village. If they are sure about the age and sex of the deceased, they carry only a single painting. Thus, the timing of the jadopatia’s visit is never fixed. 

When news of a death reaches them, the jadopatias in the village decide among themselves who will visit the village in question. (Only a jadopatia who speaks the language may go). They claim however that only one of them is visited by the dead person’s spirit. In actual fact, they divide neighbouring villages among themselves. No one is allowed to trespass into another’s territory and the distribution is passed from father to son. Thus, there is always a specific jadopatia associated with a particular village.

The jadopatia arrives at the door and calls out the name of the head of the family and tells them that he has dreamt that someone in the family has died and the spirit of the deceased is not at peace. Having ascertained the sex and age of the deceased person, the jadopatia offers a suitable drawing to the relatives. He tells the family that the drawing is a pictorial representation of the deceased who is wandering about blindly and restlessly in the afterworld and would continue to do so until they send gifts in cash or kind indicated in the picture to him through the jadopatia. The jadopatia claims that the spirit of the departed one has revealed to him his need for these items. 

The family welcomes him in, and the jadopatia then begins a mortuary ritual, known as Chokkhudaan, which in Bengali literally means the gift of the eye.  Chanting invocations over a metal bowl filled with turmeric water, some grains of rice and durva grass, and performing some rituals, he ceremoniously paints a dot, representing the iris, thus completing the eye of the figure in the painting. More rituals and chants follow. This bestowal of eyesight, according to the jadopatia ensures safe passage of the spirit of the deceased to join his ancestors, the Hapramko.  Outsiders are forbidden to observe the ceremony. The Chokkhudan ritual however is not a part of Santal funerary rituals.  

The grieving relatives are then asked to donate the items painted on the Chokkhudan pata, including any items of jewellery (usually silver) that may have been painted on the figure’s body. The family donates whatever it can afford – which could include a chicken, or goat as well. The jadopatias we interviewed said that they usually do not receive more than a few hundred rupees, or some rice, perhaps some vegetables and the bowl used for the ritual, a far cry from what their forefathers would receive. This was confirmed by the Santals we met at Bhurkunda village, Purulia. Part of the reason lies with the changing times, where stainless steel utensils have replaced the more valuable bronze (kansha) utensils commonly used in rural households. 

Sometimes, a sketch of an evil spirit is included in the drawing. This, according to one Jadopatia from Bharatpur, indicates that the person had died an unnatural death and thus it is his duty to mediate and release him. Nandalal Chitrakar from Hansapathor, Purulia however said that this represented Jomraj, the king of death, with his tongue out, to whose kingdom the dead man must now go.  

The Majramura jadopatias, of whom only two of the senior artists know Santali,  say they even visit Bengali Brahmin households after a death in the family, and are given alms, but not allowed to perform the Chokkhudan ritual. A Bauri family we spoke to in Purulia told us that the jadopatias come to their doorstep too when someone dies in the family. 

The jadopatia sometimes carries a Karam Binti pata, a scroll depicting images of the Karam Binti, which he will recite to the family, if requested, as an auspicious act, before the chokkhudan ceremony starts. His recitation of course would be a mini version of the actual Karam Binti that is recited over a duration of at least six or more hours by the Santal Karam Gurus at various Santal life-cycle rituals.  The Majramura jadopatia, Baul Chitrakar however insisted that reciting the Karam Binti at the time of Chokkhudan is never practiced. Because they recite the Karam Binti for the Santals (on other occasions), Baul claimed that they too were Karam gurus. But the Santals probably do not accept this. 

Traditionally, the ashes of the cremated Santal are supposed to be immersed in the sacred Damodar River. This, however, is often not possible for the family. Art historian, Mildred Archer (1911-2005), who spent a decade in Bihar in the 1930s with her ethnographer husband, W G Archer of the Indian Civil Service, had observed that the Santals sometimes paid the jadopatias to go to the Damodar or to a nearby waterbody and make a symbolic immersion of the bones by consigning the completed chokkhudaan drawing to the water. For his services, he would be paid an additional sum of money. The jadopatias today accompany the family to the immersion ritual if requested. Their charges, according to Babudhan Chitrakar of Birbhum, is usually a bottle of liquor (hanhria). 

Though Santals of previous generations believed in the power of the Jadopatias and the chokkhudan paintings, or at least indulged the jadupatia, many did feel exploited and looked upon the jadupatia with cyniscism, especially if the jado baba did not arrive soon after the death. The Santals we spoke to have also expressed similar feelings. But, in their grief-stricken state, they did not and still do not turn the jadupatia away. However reluctant, they treat him with respect. 

According to Gurusaday Dutt, it is perhaps from this semi-magical practice that the Jadu Patua derives his name (Jadu = magic; Patua = painter). However, the Santals and Jadopatias themselves use the word Jadopatia, Jadobaba or simply Jado – unrelated to magic or Jadu.

When the jadopatia visits a Santal village just to display his scrolls of Karam Binti scroll usually followed by a Jom Pata, the Santals refer to these scrolls as “Dorson” However, the jadopatias of Shyamsundarpur, Purulia display the jompatas only to a non-tribal audience. Generally speaking, the Chokkhudan pata, the Karam Binti and the Jom pata are shown to Santali audiences, while the Jom pata, Krishna Leela, Kali and Manasha patas are shown to non-tribal Bengali (Bauris, Bhumij, Kurmi Mahatos etc) audiences, with separate songs/chants that accompany them. The Shyamsundarpur jadopatias of Purulia also paint Madan Mohan and Daata Karno patas.  A senior jadopatia from Majramura, Baul Chitrakar

The Karam Binti story presented is often an amalgam of Santal and Hindu imagery blurring into one another. For instance, Marang Buru, their great god, is often represented by a figure of Shiva. When presented to non-tribal communities, the three prime gods usually featured in the first frame of the Karam Binti, Jaher Era (sister of Marang Buru) flanked by Marang Buru and Sin Chando (Sun god), (some versions have Nida Chando (Moon god) or Gosain Era substituting Marang Buru), are reinterpreted for the Bengali audience and become Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra of the Krishna Leela. The language of communication becomes Bengali or Hindi (in Jharkhand). In recent years, the Santals too are shown the Manasha and Krishna Leela patas. According to Baul Chitrakar of Majramura, they are addressed as Patikar by a non-tribal audience and that there is no difference between their paintings and that of the Paitkars of Jharkhand.  

In times past, according to Suhrid Bhowmik, the jadopatias would also paint a mara haja patachitra.  If a santal did not return from the annual hunting festival, and was presumed lost by his relatives, a jadopatia would be summoned. He would then, with the divine intervention of Marang Buru, draw the picture of the man and his environs. This would help ascertain the whereabouts of the lost man – or so it was believed. However, none of the jadopatias we met knew of this type of painting and were unfamiliar with the term even. The Bharatpur jadopatias however opined that the chokkhudan and mara haja were one and the same. 

At present, some jadopatias of the younger generation have left their ancestral profession and have resorted to manual labour on a daily wage basis. In Bharatpur, Bankura for instance, only the elderly (of which there remains only three or four) visit Santal villages, continuing their traditional practice.  But among the more evolved groups (villages which have received public attention like Bharatpur in Bankura and Majramura in Purulia) even the daily wagers paint whenever they can, not as part of their traditional practice but for a gradually increasing market. This development began about fifteen to twenty years ago according to Anil Chitrakar, a jadopatia from Bharatpur. The pictures they paint are scenes extracted from their traditional Karam Binti or Krishna Lila patas in smaller sizes on a square or rectangular panel. These paintings are usually far more ornate than the traditional scrolls, probably with an eye on sales and the quality of the paper is much better. The painters do not roam around with these, but paint for customers. 

A similar development in Majramura, Purulia is of more recent vintage. The Majramura artists have also benefited from workshops and promotional activities organized by banglanatak.com, including a training programme under the guidance of a Kolkata based artist to improve their drawing skills. They are better able to sustain themselves than their counterparts elsewhere and participate in fairs and festivals around the country. The younger artists here also augment their income with daily wage earning. But for the rest, who remain in the traditional mode, as self-styled funerary priests for the Santal, and depending on bhikkha (alms) that they are given for performing their picture scrolls, continuing their work amongst modern educated Santals, with a growing sense of their own cultural identity, has become increasingly difficult. When these jadopatias do manage a sale in the villages, it is always a Hindu theme to a Bengali buyer- never the adivasis. Some of the Santals we spoke to question the role of the jadopatia and wonder how, with all the Hindu imagery used, he came to be associated with the Santal way of life at all. 

We visited Jadopatias in several villages across Purulia and Birbhum during the course of numerous field trips and met another from Bankura. We did not visit Bharatpur in Bankura, because the elder jadopatias here refused to let us document them: they had, not so long ago, been exploited by visitors from Kolkata who had promised them many things but had not delivered. Of the artists we met, the Hansapathor artists, most of whom are illiterate, seemed to be the most poverty stricken. They too work as daily labourers when they are not showing their scrolls in exchange for bhikkha (alms). Not everybody in the village paints. 

Of the jadopatas we saw, the Majra mura ones seemed to be the most ornate, neatly drawn on good quality paper, well composed, nicely finished and with pretty borders. Anil Chitrakar, the artist from Bharatpur, whom we met at the Gurusaday Museum mela in 2020 , also displayed a similar finish. Artists from both villages have evidently benefited from training and promotional programmes, making their art more “saleable”. It is some of the artists from these villages who are focusing more on the art rather than the jadopatia tradition of artist-priest. 

For the last several decades, patuas from Medinipur have also visited Jadopatias and bought their scrolls to sell at urban spaces melas for a sizeable profit, sometimes even cutting up long scrolls to create smaller paintings. They eventually began copying this style to create their own version of Santal patas, now very popular.