Tradition at the Threshold of Modernity. Women in Kalighat Painting

  • Dorota Kamińska (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The term Kalighat is defined as paintings created in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Calcutta, produced mainly for pilgrims visiting the local temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. Religious representations were dominant while secular subjects were given a minor role. Given the extent of such topics, however, it is much more interesting. Within this group of works women are unquestionably the dominating force. Given the iconography, these images can be divided into two main groups - traditional and innovative. Traditional depictions might include a mother and child, a woman during her toilet, or with an instrument, a flower, a water pipe or a bird. The second group consists primarily of paintings representing contemporary mores and events (eg the murder of Elokeshi). The first group is dominated by independent representations, while the second – more developed presentations. Sometimes it is hard work but the data clearly falls into one of these types. Often an image showing a woman in a traditional manner at the same time carries with it a new message. These images reflect the social life of Calcutta, which at the time was changing rapidly under the influence of British social mores. Women were divided on the one hand between traditional norms and, on the other, the new European reality. This division is visible in the art of Kalighat. Artists often preceived the changing mores in the lives of women as a threat to traditional law and order. Stylistically, the images of women originate from earlier paintings depicting these goddesses and similarly they are less diversified and undifferentiated.