Alpona : a Prayer and Painting for New Year!

Just like the Japanese cherry blossoms, the art of Alpana (Alpona in bengali) is created only to fade away with time / blow away with the wind – just like those fleeting moments of life. As a practice, alpana-making is believed to have originated in agrarian societies. 

Here are some things to know about Bengal’s “Alpona (alpana)”

  • The artist Abanindranath Tagore is regarded as the first person to make an academic study of the alpana. 
  • There are different Alpana designs and motifs for each season, based on fasting rituals that women in the communities observe!  For instance, in the image above (the Mukul Day print), the design corresponds to the month of Agrahayana, i.e, November / December. The patterns are dedicated to the Senjuti broto (bengali for ‘vrat’ – meaning, a fast). This is basically the “observance of the evening lamp”. In this Alpana design, the Mynah bird is a recurrent motif. Fun fact: the Senjuti-fast is to keep the co-wives at bay! 
  • There were primarily three types of alpanas: the circular one used as a pedestal for the gods, the geometric forms to decorate floors, walls and objects, and the panels — by far the most elaborate ones — that illustrated the brotos dedicated to major and minor gods. 
As times move ahead, stickers have replaced creative designs. Alpana though continues to be part of the Fine Arts curriculum for undergraduates at Shantiniketan. Well, our hope for the new year, is to have the arts integrated with education. 

Take a look at these paintings from Bengal featuring the Alpona tradition

Alpona / Tempera on paper pasted on cardboard by Nandalal Bose
Apana (1953) / Water colour and ink on paper by Benode Behari Mukherjee /DAG Silver Series auction October 2020


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