Kalighat’s paintings were developed in the 19th century around the Kali temple, Kalighat, in Calcutta. The painting originated as a souvenir item associated with the Kali temple of Kalighat.Initially the paintings portrayed Goddess Kali and her tales of defeating the demons. Later, the paintings evolved and included other Gods and Goddesses and their tales. And much later the paintings went onto depict the daily life of the common people but the style of the painting remained the same.
According to the legend, Lord Shiva, the god of dance and destruction, got the news of the death of his wife, Sati, an avatar of the goddess Kali. Lord Shiva was unable to bear the loss of his wife and wandered for days with the body draped across his shoulders and with this inconsolable grief he threatened to ruin the earth. Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, was called upon to intervene. To relieve Shiva’s burden, he shattered Sati’s body into 51 pieces. The toe of her right foot is said to have fallen at the site of the Kalighat Temple, associating it with Goddess Kali- the ferocious form of Sati.
The artists of the Kalighat paintings were traditionally known as patuas. They started settling around the temple area as Kolkata was an economic and religious centre.
These paintings were often a joint effort by a group of artists – usually from the same family. So some members worked on creating homemade dyes, others drew outlines of the figures, filled in the hues, or added the final touches in the form of motifs and background designs.
The distinct feature of these paintings are the big eyes of the main figures and the colors used are prominently the primary colors like red,yellow and blue. However with time other colors were also used
The paintings reached its peak between 1850 and 1890 with representations of varied styles, compositions, and colors.
As the paintings evolved two kinds of Kalighat Paintings started
1. Oriental- The Oriental Kalighat Paintings These paintings depict the Gods and Goddesses and their stories. These include Ram and Sita, Krishna and Radha, Lakshmi, Durga, Shiv-Parvati and many more.
2. Occidental- The Occidental Kalighat Paintings These paintings depict the day-to-day chores and lives of people, the stories of the warriors and fighters during the Independence like that of Rani Lakshmi Bai.
The practice of Kalighat painting began to die out during the early decades of the 20th century following the increase in demand for cheaper, commercially produced images. Many patua families found themselves facing no option but to leave the city and head back to the rural districts where their ancestors had come from, or to look for other forms of employment.