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Change in the Style of Painting by the Kalighat Painter

  • Initially the Kalighat painters painted pictures that were flat and not realistic. They were traditional.

  • Under the influence of the Imperial artists their painting slow became more realistic with a 3-dimentional effect.

  • Soon the Kalighat painters started paintings on social and political themes.

Kalighat Painting originated in the 19th century Bengal, in the vicinity of Kalighat temple of Kolkata, India. The paintings developed as a distinct school of Indian painting. From the depiction of Hindu gods, goddesses, and other mythological characters, the Kalighat paintings developed to reflect a variety of themes.



The Kalighat Paintings are watercolour paintings done on mill-made paper. The styles of these paintings were characterized by broad sweeping brush lines, bold colours and simple forms. These paintings were sold to the devotees who visited the Kalighat temple.

  • Indian artists moved to Calcutta with the breakdown of the Mughal patronage and miniature painters from places such as Patna and Murshidabad were settling in the city and making pictures for the British.

  • The painters painted on subjects that were of interest to the rulers. They included subjects as Indian occupations, costumes, methods of transport, religious ceremonies, deities, birds, animals and flowers. The painters focused on the `picturesque` qualities of life around them.

In addition to the Mughal painters, Indian artists belonging to different traditions also migrated to Calcutta. The painters lived outside the city. They wandered from village to village, singing songs and showing their work.

  • They painted on scrolls illustrating pictures from the popular stories of the Ramayana and the Krishna Lila.

  • The Kalighat painters included alien themes in their paintings as an Englishman on an elephant shooting a tiger and jockeys engaged in horseracing.

  • They also painted pictures of snakes, fishes, prawns, cats, mice and jackals. The commonest subjects they painted were Hindu gods and goddesses.

  • These paintings were in strong demand for the Hindu pilgrims and were in great demand in during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Later there were modifications in these paintings. The orthodox devotees blamed European influences. They disliked `the new Babu` or westernized man-about-town with his foppish dress, English shoes and curling hair-style. They were against the idea of emancipation of women.

Respecting the orthodox sentiments, the Kalighat painters responded and gradually new subjects entered their paintings. Besides painting courtesans, the painters drew pictures of married women and of enraged husbands beating their wives.

The Kalighat painters portrayed day-to-day themes in their paintings. The day-to-day happenings of society provided with rich themes in their painting.


Many of these Kalighat pictures were printed in large numbers and sold in the market. By the late-nineteenth century, mechanical printing presses were set up in different parts of India, which allowed prints to be produced in even larger numbers. These prints were sold in the market for a very low price.

  • One of the most successful of these presses was the Calcutta Art Studio.

  • Popular pictures were printed and circulated in other parts of India

Bharat Mata

With the spread of nationalism, popular pictures were that of Bharat Mata appearing as a goddess carrying the national flag, or nationalist heroes sacrificing their head to the Mata, and gods and goddesses slaughtering the British.


A Print from Calcutta Art Studio, Early 20th Century

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