Painted on paper, mounted on cotton, patua-scrolls such as these were used as visual props in storytelling performances in India approximately around 1800 AD. Handprinted in Murshidabad, this scroll is around 13 meters in length, with 54 frames which narrate the story of Gazi and Manik – two Muslim saints or pirs. Patua scroll artists use natural colours borrowed from leaves and fruits to create art work.
The Gazi scroll: What is the story?
Through scrolls, legends have been recorded of a ‘pir’, sometimes called Gazi, although this seems to be no more than a generic name for ‘warrior-saint’ or similar. This ‘pir’ not only brought the new faith to the virgin forests of Sunderbans but also settled new converts in these remote areas, cutting down the impenetrable jungle and taming the wild animals, above all the tiger as depicted in the painting above. Due to this ability, he is worshipped in the Sundarbans as a protector against any attack from tigers.
The scroll goes on to narrate the story of Manik who is another ‘pir’, much of which can be identified in the scroll, such as the scene when the young fakir is bound and thrown into a wooden box, which is then set alight. Manik also has connections with the cow-herding communities and specifically with the brothers Kinu and Kanu who lived successfully as sellers of dairy products. One day the ‘pir’ solicited alms at the house but was abused by the old mother of the two brothers. When upbraided by the holy man, she tauntingly told him that he could have any amount of milk from one cow that she indicated. She knew that it was barren, but miraculously the ‘pir’ caused it to produce milk by touching its nipples. The feud between the old woman and the ‘pir’ continued, and to avenge himself, he has a cobra bite one of the two brothers, who consequently falls down dead. Later, when the family is still not united in devotion to the ‘pir’, he causes all their cattle and property to be destroyed in a fire.
WHERE IS IT?
The scroll is part of the collection at The British Museum, and has been widely exhibited at University of Iowa Museum of Art, Smart Museum (Chicago), Santa Barbara Museum of Art, ‘From the Ocean of Painting’, Oct 1994
2006-2007 14 Sep-7 Jan, BM, G91, Myths of Bengal
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar. ‘Beyond Boundaries’. 22 Nov 2008- 22 Feb 2009.
Resource Credit : The British Museum