The images presented in this book take us into the heart of the rich folk tradition of India. Of that heritage, the display of paintings accompanied by comments recited or sung has been a part of since very early times, as attested by references and legends in Sanskrit sources, including the Harṣacarita, a 7th century work by Bāṇabhaṭṭa. Known as paṭacitras or paṭas in short, these illustrated narratives on rectangular fabric or paper as well as on scrolls are a type of performed art that reaches out to audiences, mostly rural, conveying the artists’ responses to legends and social themes of common knowledge across a wide range of audiences from varied social and cultural bases. Particularly powerful classes of such paintings that come from the Bengali-speaking region of eastern India comprise the depiction of events from the Rāmāyaṇa in the form of scrolls that are unrolled as the painter displays and explicates them.
The vividly colourful images presented in this book occupy a special niche in the history of Indian art, remarkable because they are not only visual objects but narrative expositions of a text that has been part of vast numbers of the Indian people and often their source of moral guidance. Especially remarkable is that these paṭas by Bengali folk painters diverge so often from the magisterial Rāmāyaṇas of ādikavi “First Poet” Vālmīki, leave out important parts of it and import into the Rāma saga episodes from local narrative caches. Following conventions of both art and storytelling as they do, these portrayals constitute what is now recognized as the tradition of counter-Rāmāyaṇas that embodies alternative alignments of ethical judgment.