Very few performers of this tradition are available today in Maharashtra. Shri Parashuram Vishram Gangawane in a village called Pinguli near Kudal in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra is notable for his chithrakathi performance. The pictures they have in bundle is called as a Pothi and every story is bundled in a pothi comprising of 50 to 60 pictures. The pictures used as visual support resembles the string puppets of the region.
A few sets of paintings were brought into the custody of the Raja Dinakar Kelkar Musem in Pune http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJsm60v_nco from Paithan. These paintings of chithrakathi have a great variation from what is available in Pinguli. These paintings resemble the images of leather puppets of the northern Karanataka and Maharashtra.
The remarkable structure of these paintings tempted the study of the same and consecutively around twenty persons were taught the same in two workshops, one in 2008 and the other in 2012. The lessons went on as making replicas. Further to this, with seven participants from the workshop, plans were made to work on something more.
The Bharatha-k-koothu, a vibrant and popular theatre in the Northern parts of Tamilnadu is a tradition very much attracting the viewers. During the months of Chithirai and Vaikasi the Draupoadi Amman temple celebrates its elaborate festival for around 20 days. The festival starts with flag hoisting and goes on with pomp and gaiety all over the village. The ‘Mahabharatha prasangam’ goes on during a part of the day time with many rituals in the temple of which some relate to the practices of war communities during the past. The ‘Bharatha Prasangam’ not only elaborates the main Mahabharatha but also has many stories and snippets of local versions attached to the land and people of the region. On the seventh or eigth day the ceremonial ‘avatharam’ of the goddess Drapadi is performed as a ritual in the temple and the Baratha-k-koothu is performed all nights on a stage, facing the temple usually, and as a community theatre all around the village involving the whole village bringing the epic alive.
The people of the place live along with Mahabharatha throughout the entire festival becoming a part of the great epic listening to the story during the day and seeing the characters come alive during the night and interacting with them. Mahabharatha is divided into many episodes and enacted as Arakku Maligai, Bagasura vadham, Vil Valaippu, Subhadra Kalyanam, Rajasuyuam, Pagadai Thugil, Arjunan Tabasu, Draupadi Kuravanji, Keechaka vadham, Maadu pidi sandai, Krishnan Thoodhu, Aravan Kala Bali, Abimannan kadhai, Karna moksham, Padhinettam por,etc. The entire festival comes to an end with the Duryodhanan Padukalam where a huge mud effigy of the great kaurava is made and the final episode of Mahabharatha is enacted where Bhima slays Duryodhana and Krishna helps Draupadi tie her hair after she applies the blood of the Kaurava hero. On the evening of that day the fire walk – ‘Theemidhi’ or ‘Akkinivasantha vizha’ as it is called, takes place followed by the ‘Karumadhi’ for the deceased and the Dharmaraja Pattabhishekam on the consecutive days.
It is not new for an artist to get inspired by this vibrant and spectacular tradition. Strokes of the great masters of our place such as Thiru Adimoolam’s stands testimony for the spell cast by these folk theatres. Having decided to venture painting the same in the chithrakathi style the artist participants started exploring the details. They were told to read the books of Alfred Hiltebitel on the ‘Cult of Draupadi’, Thiru Mu Ramasamy’s books on ‘Theru-k-koothu’, Thiru S Ramakrishnan’s ‘UpaPandavam’, Thiru Na Muthusamy’s ‘Padukalam’, Dr. Hanne M De Bruin’s ‘Karna Mokaham’ etc. Thiru M.D.Muthukumaraswamy , Director, National Folklore Support Centre was kind enough to expose the artists to various documentations done by the centre on this subjects. Thiru Sashikanth’s documentaries ‘Kelai Draupadai’ and ‘Ninaivin Nagaram’ helped the artists to know more about the subject.
Having done the homeworks the artists were requested to go on field trips to the centers of happening around the northern parts of Tamilnadu to experience the vibes of the tradition. The subject was vast and they were requested to choose any part of it which inspired them to make the story for their painting. After visiting various places such as Nemili, Kannal, Thiruporur, Salavakkam, Paranur, Koovagam, Pondichery, etc, each artist settled with their stories. Indira Seshadri chose the story of Karna, Meenakshi Madan was inspired by the ‘Padukalam’, Rajashri Manikandan the ‘Pagadai Thugil’ episode, Shanmugha Priya was fascinated by the ‘Panchala Kuravanji’, Shobha Rajagopalan’s admiration was the ‘Arjunan Tabasu’ , Suresh decided to paint the story of Aravan and Vaishnavi Srikanth’s option was the ‘Abimannan Kadhai’.
The Chithrakathi paintings of Paithan resemble the structures of the leather shadow puppets and were done using natural pigments. However we opted to go in for the market available watercolour or gouache paints. The Chithrakathi paintings were done on handmade or mill made paper of dimension approximate 22cms x 42cms to cater the need of storytelling to a small audience of around 20 to 30 people. But the real demand of the style being extinct we chose to stretch our canvass a little further to a dimension of 53 cms x 73 cms and all the artists worked on their stories displaying them in six to eight paintings each. Being an experimental project the fragments of the stories were done.
The ‘Chithrakathi’ is a picture storytelling tradition and as a complimentary to the visual, narration and singing goes on to elaborate the story to give a complete form. Even after the pictures were painted the narration part of the tradition had to be completed for which we approached Thiru Shankararamasubramaniuan, poet, and requested him to embellish our visuals with his words. Under great pressure of time, the fabulous work of Shankararamasubramanian has created a new dimension to the works of the artists giving it the wholesome ‘Chithrakathi’ flavour.