Features of Patna Kalam Painting

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Patna Kalam is a unique an monotonous painting style in India. It was influenced with three different school of painting i.e. Persian school, Mughal art and British style of painting. The main characteristic of Patna Kalam, which makes it unique is that instead of royal paintings, in this art form paintings are mainly done on daily life which includes paintings on common man, women, children, farmers, carpenter, iron-smith and son on. It got this kind of diversity and uniqueness because of influences it got from various art forms mentioned above.

Different Art Forms of Bihar

History and Evolution of Patna Kalam

It is a well known fact that art and craft got most of its popularity and patronage during Mughal period and specially during the rule of Jahangir and Shahjahan. But after Aurangzeb come to the throne, the patronage of art and craft lost the significance fro Mughal rulers. It happened because rise in orthodoxy and fundamentalism which restricted them to do so. After artist felt dejected they moved out of the court of Mughals and went towards three parts the country. One group of painters went to Northern Hill region (now Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand) Basohli, Kangra, Mandi, Kullu, Garhwal etc. While  the second group of painters went to Western plains mainly to Udaypur and nearby areas. And the thrid and last group of painters went to Eastern Plains (mainly to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West bengal) such as Varanasi, Mathura, Murshidabad and other parts.

Evolution of Patna Kalam

Movement of Painters from Mughal Court

The group which went to Murshidabad got the patronage of Mir Zafar, Nawab of Bengal (a great patron of art and craft). One of those painters who went their was Manohar, who took shelter under the patronage of Nawab of Murshidabad. Here these painters came into contact with European traders and made paintings for them. In Murshidabad they got almost same respect and recognition as they received earlier in the Courts of Mughal.

But ater the death of Mir Zafar, his son Miran acceded on the throne. Miran was not interested in art and craft at all. Hence these painters again faced the wrath of migration again. 

These painters migrated to Patna, and settled in Machharhatta, Lodhikatra, Chowk and Diwan Mohalla of the city around 1760. The main reason behind shifting of these painters to Patna from Murshidabad was the presence large scale of trade activities in the region.

These painters started painting for local rulers, Zamindars, traders, British officers and soldiers according to their demand. 

Features of Patna Kalam

Influences On Patna Kalam

Patna Kalam was influenced by three different art forms:-

  1. Mughal Painting
  2. British Painting

Influence of Mughal Painting

Since the early painters of Patna Kalam were migrated from the court of Mughals, hence Patna Kalam painting had great influence of Mughal Painting, which is mix of Persian Art forms and Indian traditional Art forms.

The colours and lines used in Patna Kalam were inspired from Mughal Painting. In Patna Kalam, bright colours were used and lines were almost identical to Mughal art forms. 

But there was a great difference between Mughal Painting and Patna Kalam. In Mughal paintings, background and borders were equally important as subject, but in Patna Kalam paintings background and borders were not much significant. 

In Patna Kalam paintings subject was used to be most important. In this painting style background and border were used to be either white or plain, while in Mughal paintings, coloured background and stylish borders were used.

Influence of British School of Painting

Patna Kalam got the British influence due to high level of trade activities in the region. British officials, traders and soldiers, used to come to these painters and demand for painting according to their choices. By this way Patna Kalam got the features of British style of painting.

The most important influence of British Painting style on Patna Kalam, which is not seen in other Indian art forms was the excellent use of shadow and lighting in the paintings.


Although Patna Kalam got slight patronage from local rulers and Zamindars but they generally lacked any kind of special patronage from rulers, hence it can be said that it was a popular art form rather than being royal art form.

It can be easily seen in the paintings of Patna Kalam that they were generally based on daily life imageries instead of the paintings of kings, queens, rulers etc. which are generally found in royal paintings.

Materials used in Painting

1. Colours Used

Colours used in paintings of Patna Kalam were generally obtained from natural sources like minerals, fruits and flowers.

For example yellow colour was used to be obtained from feeding cow with turmeric and then cow's urine was collected and was let the color to settle down, then colour was filtered and dried. This dried powder was used as yellow colour in Patna Kalam paintings.

Important colours used in paintings were Indian Red, Zink white, Gamboge white, Yellow, Golden Yellow, Golden leaf, Grey, Yellow leaf, Bronze, Purple, Green, Gold Powder, Silver leaf, Mica powder.

2. Canvas

Paintings of Patna Kalam was usually done on paper, mica, elephant teeth and cotton clothes (Tent).

Papers used in Patna Kalam paintings were generally imported from Nepal.

Process of Painting in the Patna Kalam

The whole process of a piece of painting involved three stages, i.e.  

  1. Preparation of colors 
  2. Sketching  
  3. Filling of colors.

1. Preparation of Colours

Colours were used to be prepared during the rainy season. It used to be done so because of increased moisture during rainy season reduces pollution in atmosphere, hence the colour obtained was used to be of good quality and without any dust and dirt.

2. Sketching 

Although insteads of drawing sketches, pictures were directly painted using brush and colours. But some paintings were done by sketching also. In such paintings sketching was used to be done during summer.

3. Filling of colours in the sketches 

Colour was used to be filled during winter season, because in winter humidity is very low which results into good bonding of colour with the Canvas. It also helps in creating shadow in paintings.

Causes of Decline of Patna Kalam

  1. In 1861, a British art lover Charlie D. Alley established a litho press at Gulzarbagh in Patna which started printing paintings of Patna Kala to satisfy high demand of those paintings in European countries. Number of such litho press subsequently increased which resulted into decline in the demand of hand made paintings also decreased. 
  2. As large number of consumers of these paintings were traders hence with the decrease in trade activities in and around Patna resulted into decrease in  the demand for Patna Kalam paintings.
  3. Photocopying of paintings also lead to decline in the Patna Kalam paintings. 
  4. With the invention of camera in later period of time, also declined the demand of Patna Kalam paintings.

Important Artists of Patna Kalam

  • The first painters name, which come into mind is of Sevakram, who used to do Patna Kalam painting during the period between 1770-1830.
  • Some other important painters were Hulas Lal, Dallu Lal and Chhagan Lal, who were used to be part of the court of the king of Benaras, Ishwari Narayan Singh.
  • Jayram Das, Shivdayal Lal etc. were also important painters of Patna Kalam.
  • Sona Biwi and Daksho Biwi were important woman painters of Patna Kalam.
  • Patna Kalam style of Painting was started during 1760s and lasted upto 1950, the last renowned painter of Patna Kalam was Ishwari Prasad Verma.


  • About 175 paintings of Patna Kalam is archived in various museums of Patna and Kolkata, Victoria Palace (Kolkata). 
  • Besides above many other paintings are also available in the collection of the families of the rulers at that time.
  • Despite its uniqueness and monotonous character it did not get the desired recognition which it deserves.