Alpona- Bengal’s floor painting art

Nurturing creativity through tradition

Culture

October 4, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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The street alpona welcoming Durga Puja in 2017

‘Tis the season of festivity and everyone is gearing up to celebrate it with grandeur and pomp. From shopping to cleaning and decoration, every household seems to be in a festive furore. Amongst all these madness lays the traditions and rituals which connect us to our culture. One such tradition is painting colourful sacred motifs on floor, locally known in the east-Indian state of West Bengal as Alpona.

With the preparations of Durga Puja at the Chandi mandap (temple porch) going on with full force, the women-folk of Gokna, a village in Basirhat, West Bengal have divided their works accordingly. While most of them are put to make arrangements for the puja (prayers), others are on the duty of peeling and cutting fruits for prasad (offertory),  the most artistic ones are assigned to the task of making the main alpona (colourful motifs) at the centre of the mandap.

“We don’t have enough financial strength to organise the puja individually. So we have made this arrangement with 10-12 families coming together to celebrate it. But we follow all rituals and traditions and alpona is one of them,” Shikha Das, one of the women involved in the arrangement told Media India Group. “We involve everyone in the process by making the children draw the motifs at the entrance and other places while the centre piece is done by someone elder,” she added

Art with rice flour paste

Alpona at home (Source: iveuntil16/ Flickr)

Alpona at home (Source: iveuntil16/ Flickr)

A traditional art form, alpona refers to the ritual of finger-painting beautiful motifs mainly with a paste of rice flour on auspicious occasions in West Bengal. The etymology of the word is the Sanskrit alimpana which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’. Considered to be a folk art in Bengal, it is believed that these beautiful motifs keep homes, neighbourhoods and villages safe and prosperous.

In Bengal, alpona is traditionally made using a paste of uncooked rice kernel of paddy called aatop chaal in water diluted to a thick consistency. A cotton ball is then dipped in the mixture and used to draw the various geometrical designs and motifs of flowers, animals, birds, trees and humans.

Being made of rice paste they are mostly white in colour but with changing times the women have included colours in them and some even use fabric colours to make them last long. The fact that it is drawn using rice flour, earlier it was considered to be bhutayajna, an offering to the ants and other insects as a good deed of the day!

“I learnt the art as a child when my mother would let me draw the alpona at the doors, since then I have always drawn them during all the festivals as well as weddings in the family,” recounts Prativa Das, an octogenarian with a smile to Media India Group. “With age it has become difficult for me to give the labour required and so last year I got my grand niece to draw the alpona with fabric colours, so that it will stay for much longer,” she added.

Alpona was originally performed in villages by the girls to decorate the door-fronts, floors and the places before the idols of deities. Initially, alpona saw the use of motifs of paddy leaf, feet of Goddess Lakshmi, lotus and other images which are meant for welcoming wealth into the house. But now it experiments with a large variety of designs which are growing out of its intrinsic aesthetic properties,” said Rabi Biswas, a practitioner and researcher on the art form.

While two years ago Kolkata welcomed Durga Puja with a kilometre long colourful street alpona, this year it celebrated the first anniversary of the reading down of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). An “Alpona Ceremony” was organised by Adi Ballygunge Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity, a Durga puja committee of Kolkata in a joint initiative with a 14-year old organisation that works for the marginalised youth. The club, celebrating its 70th year of Puja has made the theme of their Durga Puja ‘Puja with Pride’.

This art form is practiced all over India in one or other forms and is known by different names. In Bengal and Assam, it is known as Alpona, people  in Bihar call it Aripana, while in Odisha it is known as Jinnuti, Rangoli in Maharashtra and many other states, Pakhamba in Manipur, Kolam in Tamil Nadu and Apna in Almora and Nainital.

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