The eastern state of Bihar is well-known for its highly stylized Mithila and Madhubani painting traditions, which are found throughout the region. However, very few people are aware of an equally popular folk-based school of painting – the “Patna Kalam” – that has been in existence in the region for more than 200 years and is equally popular today. Patna Kalam is an Indian painting technique that is distinct and tedious.
It was inspired by three distinct schools of painting: Persian, Mughal, and British. The primary aspect of Patna Kalam that distinguishes it from other art forms is that, rather than royal paintings, this art form focuses on everyday life. This includes paintings of regular men, women, children, farmers, carpenters, iron-smiths, and so on. It owes its richness and distinctiveness to the influences it received from the above-mentioned creative styles.
Patna Kalam was created by Mughal artists who relocated from Murshidabad to Patna in the 18th century, fleeing the horrors of Aurangzeb. The British were the primary purchasers of such artworks, and they purchased them in large quantities. They used to purchase this artwork from Patna as a souvenir. These paintings would acquaint British visitors with the way of life in this country.
But still, Patna Kalam is different from Mughal paintings because it doesn’t have any landscape, foreground, or background. Another thing to look for was how the shading of solid shapes changed over time. Patna Kalam paintings are painted right away with the brush without first marking the picture with a pencil. The process of painting is called “Kajli Seahi.”
Some of the famous painters of Patna Kalam were:
Sewak Ram (1770–1830).
Hulas Lal (1785–1855)
Musavvir, Shiva Lal-Shah (1817-1887)
Shiva Dayal Lal (1820-1880)
Bani Lal (1850–1901)
Ishwari Prasad (1870–1949)
Patna Kalam’s Demise – The invention of photography was a major factor in the collapse. Everyone was fascinated by the new technology, and reproductions of “Indian life” became faster and more reliable. It got even worse after Shiva Lal and Shiva Dayal Lal’s deaths in the final decade of the 19th century. Ishwari Prasad, too, relocated to Calcutta in 1904 to teach Fine Arts and Indian Painting at the School of Art. The Patna Kalam ceased to exist after his death in the early years of India’s independence. Only three collections of Patna Kalam paintings exist in Bihar: one at the Patna Museum, the others at Khuda Baksh library, Patna, and Patna University’s College of Arts and Crafts.
Disappeared art forms such as the Patna Kalam serve as a reminder of the need for sustainable and basic techniques. This style successfully combined elements of Mughal and British painting styles, earning it the nickname Firangee Kalam (the White Man’s Art). Due to the neglect of our own people and state government, it has devolved into something that only foreign galleries display and foreign researchers study.