The research concentrated on the socio-cultural history of the folk trend and the identity of the artists, the methodology and stylistic variations of the art forms in West Bengal. The discussions also raised certain questions on the methodology of theorising art.
In sociological studies folk forms represent primarily as material objects. Therefore, to study the use of these materials is to arrive at an assumption of cultural habit which then categorised in various terminologies – folk, tribal, minor or other-cultures. This is further associated in India as the culture of the lower rung people in the village, the untouchables among the Brahmin group. In the process, the information on folk never gathered on written history. Like an accumulated outcome, it has caused alienation between urban-rural communications infecting significantly in our perceptions. As time passed, the meaning of social advancement has become more and more oriented to urban priorities and the rural life seem to have remained a less known, rather remote, but to be exploited with urban needs. If the causes are partly arising from the Western models of social studies, our age old social habits are no less a point. For instance, in the earlier times one of the treaties in Sanskrit literature, known as Shilpa-Sutras (1 to 4 century AD), which elaborated the various aspects of aesthetics and arts, yet did not have any reference to folk trends. As mentioned, in a caste-society, the written culture is about the upper rung group, the rest is peripheral – known to exist. Some of the Scriptures have occasional references which informed that Patachitra being seen and enjoyed among the urban communities. Not many though, yet such short accounts imply the existence of the tradition from the earlier times, nearly two thousand years.
The word Patachitra implies painting-on-cloth, as with the classical varieties. The Sanskrit word pat or patta means cloth and chitra is painting. Painting on cloth has been developed in Indian tradition in different manners and the longer pictures on cloth are kept in scrolls. The folk versions have unique regional trends, and in Bengal these are popularly known as jorano pat, since the pictures in different sizes are rolled up and kept as scrolls. The itinerant painter bards who make these pictures are known as Potuas; they are also referred as Patidar in border areas with other states. Nowadays, the Potuas use the word Chitrakar with their names to signify their title as well as profession. The Bangla Potuas are more in numbers and frequent the villages with a wider range of mythological and contemporary themes. The other group produces a limited range of themes in pictures which are known as Majhi or Santhal pat. This community has branched out from the mainstream community of Potuas and is referred as Santhal Potuas for the reason they are settled in the neighborhood of Santhal villages. With the migration of Santhals, during the British period, as laborers in Tea-gardens, this community of Santhal Potuas has shrunk further in number within Bengal. The themes they have developed are based on the tribal life and myths which are traditionally popular among the Santhals.
Since the unknown past these communities of Potuas have been rendering a wide range of episodes from the epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the legends of Puranic gods and goddesses, besides, many of the local myths and events. The pictures, as well as the songs or gitika in Patachitra signify a variety of folklores, many of which are now simply lost from the societal memory.
The focus on Kalighat pat also re-introduced attention on the mainstream folk tradition of Bengal. The Kalighat pat style was developed as a unique urban trend, and an offshoot of the folk trends of Bengal. From the earlier times, as Potuas from the surrounding villages started to settle around the Kalighat temple in Calcutta, they also brought the folk elements from their villages, like the themes of gods and goddesses, subjects of nature and the methods of making various chowko or rectangular pats. In course of time, the Kalighat Potuas took farther diversion in using new material from the urban environment during the Company period. They also acquired popular themes like the Babu-cultures of Calcutta’s urban life. This could be seen in continuation of their traditional practice of finding many social scandals and events as popular themes. Nevertheless, there is a basic difference that needs to be noted as a departure from the folk trend: the Kalighat pat did not have a gitika or a song as common with the archetypal itinerant painter bards. In course of time, the popularity shifted to commercially produced pictures and the Kalighat trend became extinct by the mid twentieth century. On the other hand, with a sustained pattern of life in the village, Patachitra remained alive within two distinct trends in Bengal – Bangala and Santhal Pat.