Reviving a vanishing folk art form in Bengal-Prelims 2017

  • The traditional Bengal art of alpana, invoking Gods with finger-painted motifs, is now all but lost.
  • Handed down through generations of women, this Bengal folk art, where the finger is the brush and a paste comprising mainly rice powder is the paint, once adorned the walls and floors of houses. The motifs are ritualistic images from mythology and scriptures.

Joint effort

  • Sadly, either brush strokes of acrylic paint or, worse still, printed plastic stickers of the traditional art have taken its place in most of the houses and the myriad community puja-mandaps in and around the city.
  • Now an effort has been mounted to save this art from slipping into oblivion. INTACH, under its cultural heritage programme, has joined hands with the Daricha Foundation, which also works to revive tribal and folk arts, to give alpana a fresh lease of life.
  • INTACH is now exploring whether it can be made into a source of revenue for girls from underprivileged sections.
  • Interestingly, also involved in this revival effort is artist Rabi Biswas, who was fascinated by this art form at a young age and learnt it from his grandmother and village elders. Today, he gives gives lecture demonstrations (lec-dem) and is regarded as an authority in this art form. He is also the pivot around which many revival efforts are woven.
  • Although there is little awareness about alpana among the youth of West Bengal, it has generated interest among people across the seas who see in it a unique art form.
  • Ian Beed, a religious studies scholar from Florida State University, told The Hindu after attending a lec-dem that he was fascinated by the way alpana provided women a vehicle for expression, irrespective of their caste or creed.
  • Alpana is intrinsically linked with religious austerity (called brotos or vrat) practised by women of mostly rural West Bengal for the well-being of the family.
  • Urban women until recently also observed such pujas, whose ‘closure’ would always be marked by a special puja and alpana drawing with special motifs. So if it is to propitiate Goddess of wealth Lakshmi, it would involve her carrier, the owl, a granary, a conch shell and lotus flower motifs.
  • Young girls and married women alike would draw these designs on walls and floors of their mud houses using rice powder paste.

Source: The Hindu

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