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  • Writer's pictureMeenakshi Raje

Patna Qalam -The colors Of Mughal Style and Shades of the British Style

In Indian history the city Patna is known by its various names and reasons.The detail of its ancient existence can be found in Brahmakand from Bhavishya Purana.It is also culturally and artistically rich city.

Art by -Sultan Muzaffar Azad

It is widely known fact that during Mughal era,painting art was at its pinnacle,but,duringthe time of Aurangzeb,painting art was was worst affectedas he spent most of his time in wars.

After the end of kingship,the Royal Musabirs and Paintershad to flee Delhi in search of livelihood.

One group of painters moved towards the eastern hills of Basohi,Kangra,Chambal etc.and other reached Udaipur,U.P and Murshidabad in Bengal.

Mir Jafar,Nawab of Bengal was a great patron of Arts

The Artists were naturally attracted and reached there.The nawab settled these artists in Baluchak on the Banks of river Ganga,where they prospered under the patronage of fine arts.

Over the period of time,the political scenario changed.Nawab Mir Jafar placed his son Miran on the throne who was totally uninterested towards arts and paintings.This was the time when artists were disheartened and they had to face the issue of relocation once again.

Patna was prosperous city during that time.It was the centre of business commodities like cotton garments,sugar,indigo etc

The artists from Murshidabad found it to be perfect place for settlement.They settled in localities like Machharhatta,Lodi Katra Chowk and Diwan Mohalla in Patna.They began creating portraits according to the taste of local kings,Nawabs,LandlordsSoldiers and Businessmen as well.

The Patna Qalam art form is an Amalgamation of Persian,Mughal and British style of Art.This Art not only grew and prospered on this land ,but,achieved worldwide fame by the name of Patna Qalam.

In the world of Paintings,the word Qalam essentially referes to a distinct style and form of art.The colors of Mughal style and shades of the company British style could be clearly seen in these portraits.

The artists practicing this particular style also started creating portraits with a business point of view.Therefore, some art enthusiasts recognized them as Firka and Market style paintings.

The British used their art as a form of rememorance.It was the first time in the history of fine arts when the Patna Qalam showcased the life of commons instead of the royals prospered and reached its pinnacle.

This form of art came into being in 1760 for the first time and it is believed that it started from Murshidabad.An easy estimation of the then prevailing environment,the clothing ,the livelihood, festivals and fauna can be easily done throughthe medium of paintings from apatna Qalam.

The depiction of a blacksmith working up his furnace,kite maker,a fish seller,a Bhisti carrying water, coppersmith,weddings, festival,Haat markets distinguish this style out from the other styles.

Patna Qalam was somewhere an articulation of Masses.It was an art of the commoners.The artists were the common people without any royal patronage and the caricature depicted in the paintings were common people as well.

The background of most of the portraits from the style of art was kept white so that the enthusiasts could stay focused on the subject.

This form of art can be mainly found on paper,mica,tusk,silk and taant.

The paper used was made from bamboo shoots are brought from Nepal.The blue stones were pasted over one another and were polished using the cornelian stones.

The artists of this style used to create their own brushes.They used Squirrel or horse's hairs boiled in water ,tied to Eagle or Pigeon's feather thereby creating brushes of the required thicknes.Sometimes they used just a single hair for strokes in their creations.

Creating Colors

Artists even create their own colors to paint.Mostly mineral and natural mediums were used.The juices acquired from the colored flowers,fruits and barks of the tree trunks.

●Yellow color was prepared by rubbing Hartal stones.

●Blue from Blue stones

●Red color was obtained from red soils.

●Black color was prepared from the wick of an oil lamp.

●White was obtained by burning the white shells.

●For a bright Yellow color,the cows were fed turmeric.The urine thereafter was preserved for several days that caused the turmeric to settle down which was then filtered through muslin cloth mixed with glue from Acacia tree to create the final color.

Paper filing of gold and silver were mixed.The vocabulary used in Patna Qalam is similar to the Mughal and completely different from European.

Season Specific

The artists mostly worked behind creating colors in the monsoon.The main reason that was to avoid the dust.During the summers,the paintings were sprayed with goat's milk,dried and preserved.The application of colors on the paintings was done during winters.

Artists used cardamom seeds and slanting brush strokes to create the effects of light and shadow.In this way,artists of Patna Qalam were dedicatedly involved with continuous process of creation.

Patna Qalam worldwide

In 1861,the English businessman and a high level enthusiast *Mr.Charle D Aisle*established a litho press in Gulzarbagh that started printing the copies of Patna Qalam.This was the first lithopress in Bihar.As a result the huge demand of these paintings in foreign was being fulfilled seamlessly.

In this form of art ,along with Sewak Ram, Hulas Lall, Shiv Lal, Shiva Dayal, Mahadeo Lal, and Ishwari Prasad Verma ,the works of some female painters have also been discussed.Sonabibi and Dachchobibi amongst them are well known for their prominent works.

Towards an end

The end of the style of art was evident from the fact that the paintings were recreated quickly and technical growth was stopped.The increasing number of lithopress affected the artists a lot.The invention of photographic cameras also had an adverse effect on the artists.The prospering Patna Qalam finally died with the demise of the last artist of its era, Ishwari Prasad Verma.After him ,some artists practices this style but failed to make an established name for them.


The elements used in Patna Qalam are the main attraction of this style.The contemporary artists should pick elements used are from Patna Qalam.This will not only boost the image of its primitive style but will help also to introduce this form in our contemporary art.

This art can be seen still in the Patna Museum(Patna),Jalan Museum (Patna city),Khuda Baksh Library( Patna) ,National Museum (Kolkata) and Victoria Albert Museum in London as well

Patna Qalam achieved a lot of appreciation.It is however unfortunate that this art was failed to be recognized in the Indian history of art

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