Kalighat painting is a style of art that originated in the Kalighat area of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), India, in the 19th century.

It is a unique form of art that combines Indian artistic traditions with influences from colonialism and urbanization.

It is famous folk painting of India.

Kalighat paintings were typically created on paper or cloth using watercolors or natural dyes.

The subject matter of these paintings primarily revolved around Hindu gods and goddesses, mythological stories, religious rituals, and everyday life in the city.

The artists often depicted deities like Kali, Durga, and Krishna, as well as scenes from Hindu epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

What distinguishes Kalighat paintings is their distinct style by bold brushwork, vibrant colors, and minimalistic compositions.

The artists aimed to capture the essence of their subjects using simple lines and forms.

The paintings often have facial expressions and gestures, adding a touch of humor and satire to the artwork.

Originally, Kalighat paintings as religious souvenirs and were as offerings to visitors of the famous Kalighat Temple in Kolkata.

However, as the style gained popularity, artists began exploring other themes and incorporating social commentary into their works.

Kalighat painting

They started portraying contemporary subjects like British colonial officials, zamindars (landlords), and societal issues such as child marriage, sati (a practice where widows self-immolated on their husband’s funeral pyre), and women’s rights.

The Kalighat painting style flourished during the 19th and early 20th centuries but experienced a decline in the mid-20th century due to various factors such as the advent of photography and the decline of patronage.

However, it remains an important part of India’s artistic heritage and has influenced subsequent art movements in the country.

Today, Kalighat paintings are cherished as valuable works of art and are displayed in museums and private collections.

There are also efforts to revive and promote the art form, with contemporary artists adapting the style to depict modern themes and issues.


History and Origin of Kalighat Painting

The history and origin of Kalighat paintings can be traced back to the mid-19th century in the Kalighat area of Kolkata, India.

Kalighat is named after the famous Kali Temple located there, which is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali.

During the 19th century, there was a significant influx of pilgrims and visitors to the Kalighat Temple.

Many of these visitors were British colonial officials, traders, and artists who were fascinated by the religious and cultural aspects of the region.

This led to the emergence of a new form of art known as Kalighat paintings.

Initially, Kalighat paintings were created as simple souvenirs and mementos for the pilgrims visiting the temple.

The paintings were sold by local artists and itinerant painters who set up stalls near the temple complex.

These artists belonged to a group called “patios,” who were traditional scroll painters and narrative storytellers.

The early Kalighat paintings were primarily made on inexpensive materials like cloth or cheap paper using watercolors or natural dyes.


The artists used bold brushwork and vibrant colors to capture the attention of the buyers.

The subjects of the paintings mainly focused on religious and mythological themes, depicting Hindu gods and goddesses, scenes from epics, and religious rituals.

As the popularity of Kalighat paintings grew, artists started to experiment with new themes and subjects.

They began depicting scenes from everyday life in the city, such as social gatherings, street scenes, and portraits of common people.

These depictions of contemporary life added a touch of realism and social commentary to the art form.

The artists also incorporated satirical elements into their paintings, using exaggerated facial expressions and gestures to convey humor and irony. This satirical approach allowed them to comment on social issues, including the influence of the British colonizers, the changing social dynamics, and the oppressive practices prevailing in society.

The peak period of Kalighat paintings was from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. However, by the mid-20th century, the popularity of Kalighat paintings began to decline due to various factors. The introduction of photography, the decline in patronage, and the changing tastes of art collectors all contributed to the fading prominence of the art form.

Despite the decline, Kalighat paintings remain an important part of India’s artistic heritage.

They are treasursing as historical artifacts and artistic expressions of a particular time and place.

Efforts have been to preserve and revive this art form, with contemporary artists adapting the style and incorporating modern themes into their works.

Today, Kalighat paintings can be in museums, art galleries, and private collections, showcasing the unique history and cultural significance of this art form.


Themes of Kalighat painting

Kalighat paintings a wide range of themes, reflecting the social, cultural, and religious milieu of the time. While initially focused on religious and mythological subjects, the art form expanded to depict everyday life, social issues, and satire. Here are some of the prominent themes in Kalighat paintings:

Hindu Mythology and Deities -Kalighat painting

Many Kalighat paintings depicted Hindu gods and goddesses, such as Kali, Durga, Shiva, Krishna, and Radha. These paintings often depicted episodes from Hindu epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Religious Rituals and Festivals-Kalighat painting

Kalighat paintings captured the essence of religious rituals and festivals, showcasing scenes of devotion, worship, and celebrations associated with Hindu traditions.


Kalighat artists were skill in portraying human figures and faces. They created portraits of both common people and notable personalities, including mythological characters, historical figures, and British colonial officials.

Satire and Social Commentary

One of the unique features of Kalighat paintings was their satirical nature. Artists used humor and irony to comment on social issues, political events, and the impact of British colonialism. They often depicted British officials, zamindars (landlords), and societal customs to critique prevalent social norms.

Everyday Life and Urban Scenes

Kalighat paintings also depicted scenes from daily life, showcasing aspects of urban living in Kolkata. They portrayed street scenes, marketplaces, occupations, and social gatherings, providing glimpses into the lives of common people.

Women’s Issues and Empowerment-Kalighat painting

Kalighat paintings sometimes tackled issues related to women’s rights and societal expectations. They depicted subjects like child marriage, sati (self-immolation of widows), and the empowerment of women.

Social Issues and Reform

Artists used Kalighat paintings as a medium to address social issues prevalent at the time. They portrayed topics like poverty, caste discrimination, superstitions, and the impact of Westernization on Indian society.

Natural World

Some Kalighat paintings showcased the beauty of nature, featuring landscapes, flora, fauna, and birds.

It’s important to note that while these themes were prevalent in Kalighat paintings, there was also room for individual artistic expression. Artists explored different subjects, experimented with techniques, and personalized their works, adding diversity to the art form.


Method of Kalighat painting

The method of creating Kalighat paintings involved a combination of traditional Indian artistic techniques and the use of watercolors or natural dyes. Here are the general steps in the creation of Kalighat paintings:

Preparation-Kalighat painting

The artists would start by preparing the surface on which the painting. They would typically use paper or cloth as the base material. The paper was often locally made and of lower quality, while cloth like cotton or muslin was commonly used.

Outlining-Kalighat painting

The next step was to outline the basic composition and figures of the painting.

The artists use a brush or a reed pen dip in black ink to create bold and expressive lines. The outlines help define the shapes and forms of the figures and elements in the painting.

Application of Colors-Kalighat painting

Once the outlines, the artists began applying colors to the painting.

They use watercolors or natural dyes from plant sources. The colors were usually vibrant and bold, enhancing the visual impact of the artwork.

Layering and Shading-Kalighat painting

To create depth and dimension, artists would apply multiple layers of colors. They used techniques like shading and blending to achieve variations in tones and create the illusion of light and shadow. This added a sense of volume and realism to the figures and objects depicted.

Facial Expressions and Details

The facial expressions and details played a significant role in Kalighat paintings. Artists used exaggerated facial features, gestures, and expressions to convey emotions, humor, and satire. They paid careful attention to intricate details like jewelry, clothing, and accessories, adding richness and intricacy to the artwork.

Minimalistic Background-Kalighat painting

Kalighat paintings often featured a minimalistic background, with the focus primarily on the main subject or figures. The background was usually left plain or filled with simple patterns or textures, allowing the subjects to stand out.

Finishing Touches-Kalighat painting

Once the main painting was completed, artists would add final touches and details to enhance the overall composition. This included refining lines, adding highlights, and making any necessary adjustments to achieve the desired aesthetic effect.

It’s important to note that while these steps provide a general overview, individual artists had their unique techniques and variations in their approach to Kalighat painting. Over time, artists also experimented with new materials and techniques to further develop and refine the art form.


Kalighat paintings in museum collections

Kalighat paintings are highly value artistic expressions and are preserve in various museum collections around the world. Some prominent museums that house notable collections of Kalighat paintings include:

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

The Victoria and Albert Museum holds a significant collection of Kalighat paintings. It includes a wide range of subjects, showcasing the diversity and artistic excellence of the art form.

Indian Museum, Kolkata, India

As one of the oldest and largest museums in India, the Indian Museum in Kolkata houses an extensive collection of Kalighat paintings. The collection offers insights into the historical and cultural significance of the art form.

National Museum, New Delhi, India

The National Museum in New Delhi features a collection of Kalighat paintings that provides a comprehensive overview of the art form’s evolution and themes. The collection showcases the artistic styles, techniques, and social commentary depicted in these paintings.

Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Kolkata, India

Located in Kolkata, the Birla Academy of Art and Culture hosts an impressive collection of Kalighat paintings. The collection exhibits the traditional and contemporary aspects of this art form.

Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art, Kolkata, India

The Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art, affiliated with the University of Calcutta, houses a notable collection of Kalighat paintings. It provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the rich heritage and cultural significance of this art form.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a collection that includes several important Kalighat paintings. These artworks contribute to the museum’s representation of Indian art and cultural traditions.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA

The Philadelphia Museum of Art features a collection of Kalighat paintings that highlight the distinct style and themes of the art form. The collection offers insights into the historical and cultural context of the paintings.

These are just a few examples of museums that have collections of Kalighat paintings. Numerous other museums and art institutions worldwide also have significant holdings of Kalighat art, allowing art enthusiasts to appreciate and study this unique form of Indian art.

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