The singing pictures of Naya (India)

Discover the incredible stories written and sung by women who are trying to revive this ancient art

Lufta - Naya scroll singer (2017)Museum of Ethnology & Museum of Popular Art

Scroll singers of Naya

The ancient Indian tradition of singing songs from long scrolls as they unravel, was an artform mostly dominated by men amongst the Patua community. Recently, a group of women from the village of Naya near Calcutta gave new life to this tradition. It is their unique artistic vision we share here. Giving us insights into these women’s world views, some scrolls raise awareness about key issues affecting women in Indian society, such as the subordination of women to men, female infanticide and HIV prevention. Others, reflect on world-affairs such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Manimala - Naya scroll singer (2017)Museum of Ethnology & Museum of Popular Art

To illustrate the powerful messages these rolls convey, we've matched the images of three scrolls with their lyrics.

Tsunami (2005) by Snehalata ChitrakarMuseum of Ethnology & Museum of Popular Art

This scroll is entitled Tsunami by the artist Snehalata Chitrakar about the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the lyrics go:

"Oh mother of the ocean, Mother of Ganga, why did you take so many lives (forcibly). Oh, brother, the sea water cane in a great rush, with trees and leaves floating in it. So many men are killed. My heart weeps for them."

"Mothers are bereft of children; children lose their mothers, wives are husbandless. What pain; Oh Dayal (merciful one) of my heart; how my heart weeps."

"The sky weeps, the wind cries, the unlucky mother weeps for her lost kids."

"It is hard to understand your play (Lila, khela). How you make some cry and others smile."

"The army came when they got the news. They rescue people, shedding tears."

"Sri Lanka, Thailand, Andaman—people from 12 countries died untimely deaths."

Bin Laden - September 11 (2004/2005) by Mayna ChitrakarMuseum of Ethnology & Museum of Popular Art

This scroll by the artist Mayna Chitrakar is entitled Bin Laden – 11 September (11th September, the story of American Center’s destruction), the lyrics go:

"O, the strange story of the plane attack in America. (repeat)

Everybody was shocked, saying — we haven’t heard something like this ever.

A fighter plane came and hit a 110 story building and destroyed it. All who were there perished, burning alive none of them survived."

"O the strange story of the plane attack in America.

Many people worked in the building. They were killed in the fire, with god’s name on their lips. What sins had they committed o god, you tell us."

"Mothers cry, as sons, birds and beasts. You have taken away everything o merciful one; you have left us nothing. Laden had thought to himself—let George Bush fight with me. Who can save them? No trace will be found. But the army came, took photos. They braved themselves to say—how can the thousands of people be saved!"

"But the army came, took photos. They braved themselves to say — how can the thousands of people be saved!

George Bush told them at the meeting — Laden is responsible. Find him."

"He releases thousands of soldiers, telling them Laden is in Afghanistan. Kill him. Continue the war.

O, the strange story of the plane attack in America."

"Thousands of soldiers lost their lives, but Laden couldn’t be found. The rascal George Bush couldn’t even find a trace of Laden."

"O, the strange story of the plane attack in America."

HIV (2004/2005) by Swarna ChitrakarMuseum of Ethnology & Museum of Popular Art

This scroll by the artist Swarna Chitrakar is entitled HIV / AIDS.
by the artist

The scroll raises awareness about HIV, and its transmission, the lyrics go:

"Listen, everyone, pay attention. I would like to talk about HIV AIDS.
HIV came from the West and has infected hundreds in India."

"It is not an infectious disease. It spreads from 4 things:
Using the same syringe for addiction, using the same syringe for injection; from pregnant HIV carrier women. Or having unprotected sex with 'infected' women."

"In case these four things are taken care of, HIV will not occur. That is why I request the Doctors; the syringes for injection should be changed.

n case of blood transfusion, the blood has to be checked first."

If a pregnant mother carries a baby, it can be born infected.

"I appeal to all Indians to use Nirodh condoms."

"If anybody has AIDS, don’t keep it secret. Get admitted to the district hospital. You can test your blood in confidence paying Rs 10 in VCTC center."

Jamuna - Naya scroll singer (2017)Museum of Ethnology & Museum of Popular Art

If you would like to see the women singing painters of Naya in action, why not have a look at the documentary film Singing Pictures: Women Painters of Naya (2005) previewed in this video.

Credits: Story

Coordination: Paulo Costa (Director, National Museum of Ethnology, Portugal)

Content & video:
Ákos Östör, Professor of Anthropology & Film Studies, Wesleyan University
Lina Fruzzetti, Professor of Anthropology, Brown University
Project Management – Dan Schnaidt
Video Editing – Zack Vose
Media Digitization / Video Production — Allynn Wilkinson
Videography – Ákos Östör
Sound Recording – Lina Fruzzett

Digital producation: Luis Ramos Pinto(Direção-Geral do Património Cultural - DGPC)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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