kalighat pat (Painting)

About this object

History of use

During the 18th and 19th centuries the function of these paintings was as a souvenir of the religious pilgrimages to Kalighat. As such, they generally depicted religious themes. Pressure from imported and Indian mass produced lithographs caused change not only in style, but also influenced the subject matter. Style developed toward fluid, energetic, simplistic line drawing without background decoration. Subject matter added caricature and satire or a moralizing idiom to the genre which already included the illustration of folk tales, proverbs, popular wisdoms, and items of topical interest.


Kalighat painting originated in the late 18th or early 19th century. It is thought to have been a transformation of the scroll painting of the itinerant artist minstrels of Bengal which depicted mainly stories from the Ramayana and Krishna Lila. Kalighat painting all but died out in the 1930's.

Iconographic meaning

During his boyhood in Vrindaban, Krishna encountered many demons, a number of whom were sent to kill him. Among them was Bakasura, the crane demon, an emissary from Kansa, the tyrant king of Mathura and a demon in human form. Kansa had been warned the 8th child born to his sister, Devaki, would kill him. He dispatched her first 7 children but the 8th, Krishna, killed him. Decoration on Krishna's head is a peacock feather, symbol of life in the forest and of his own magnetic beauty.

Physical description

Painting on rectangular white pulp paper using poster paint. Painting was first sketched in light yellow. Image is Krishna standing in open mouth of a large, white crane-like bird. Krishna is adorned with jewelry which is shown in traditional white jewelry about the throat, arms and ankles. Peacock feather headdress is worn with light yellow garment and pink cape. Crane wing is outlined in shell-like pattern with straight black line drawings. Background is light blue. Signature in black pen on the reverse in Bengali.