“We must preserve the endangered art of Laxmi Puja poster making”
Dipping his brush in yellow paint, Dipesh Chitrakar begins to draw a mandala. He takes green and colors Kuber’s clothes in the background and red to color the shiny saree [of Goddess Laxmi]. He chooses color after color and brings a black and white print to life. Finally, he draws the whole painting in red and lets it dry.
Each October, Chitrakar repeats this process several times. What the 26-year-old does is make posters for Laxmi Puja.
As Tihar, Nepal’s second biggest festival, is here, people are now flocking to the market to get items for five days of celebration. The third day of Tihar is Laxmi Puja, for which people buy colorful posters to stick to their safes and worship hall to welcome Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
But, Dipesh does not sell his art in the market; it is for family, friends and close neighbors. It was only recently, after the Covid-19, that it limited its production, but according to him, there was a drop even before that.
Although there is not enough information within the Chitrakar community of the Kathmandu Valley on how the tradition of painting Laxmi paintings has become their responsibility, a few like Dipesh assume the ancestral duty of these. these days.
When he was about six years old, Dipesh Chitrakar used to accompany his grandfather [Krishna Bahadur Chitrakar] at the market and sell the posters. As a child, with the same excitement, he also participated in the making of posters.
“It was exciting working with Grandpa. He taught me how to color, how to mix them and where to color. The first few times it was just me, kid, putting lines here and dots there. But, it was still exciting.
Today, Dipesh continues to do the same with his younger brother Dipen (17) and his nephew Rijan (13) in a room in his house in Thasikhel of Lalitpur.
This year, the trio is making around fifty posters to offer to their loved ones. But, there was a time when they made and sold around 1,000 pieces every year.
“After Dashain, the family would get together and we would color the posters. Doing around 50 to 100 a day, we would finish just before Tihar and go to Mangalbazaar to sell them, ”Dipesh shares.
“We used a block of wood that the design was carved out of, called a thaasa. There was the goddess Laxmi in the middle flanked by one or two images of Kuber, the god of wealth, and Khyak (the protector of Laxmi) in the background. The goddess depicted would hold Jal Nhyakan (a party utensil worn by Newa women during traditional events, usually associated with Sinamu) and has alah (red color painted on the feet of women during celebratory events) on her feet indicating that her origins are from Nepal or the Newa community . But evidence is still lacking on its origins, ”recalls Ikhalakhu-based artist Sunil Chitrakar.
Explaining the technique, he says, “We used to block print this design on paper of different sizes. We would put on four or five coats of damp rag and use a roller to spread a mixture of black paint that we made at home. Some took mohni (black residue collected from the smoke of the burning butter lamp) or black-colored powder and mixed them into boiling water and optional egg whites. To make it sustainable, we mixed sares (a kind of blend). Then place the paper on it for printing. We repeat the process for each piece, then we color each after drying. ”
The shock of the markets
But, 48-year-old Sunil Chitrakar, who has taken art as a full-time profession, doesn’t make any posters, not even for himself, these days. “It’s been ten years since we stopped. Before the presence of Indian posters, the sale in Tihar was enough to finance all of Tihar’s expenses and more. But, the market for traditional posters fell and everyone took care of their own profession. So if need be, I go to Mangalbazaar and collect the hand painted posters.
He adds: “Times have changed. For about 10 to 15 years, there has been an influx of printed posters from India. They are mass produced and are therefore less expensive than our hand painted posters. As people prefer them to our products, the market [of hand-printed Nepali posters] decreases.”
“Some people, mainly those from the Newa community, prefer and still seek traditional hand-painted posters. A few other people who are now promoting Nepalese and traditional art are also buying this. But, others are more likely to buy the prints, ”Dipesh explains.
The cost of Laxmi Puja print posters ranges from Rs 10-25, depending on the size, while hand-painted posters cost Rs 25-50.
It is natural that when the market goes down, people change professions or look for a new source of income. The statement also applies to this scenario, as many Chitrakar families have changed professions and today go to the market to buy the posters they were previously busy creating for Laxmi Puja.
Meanwhile, to avoid such a fate for his family as well, Dipesh said, “If I don’t continue this myself, my children, neither will the next generation. Who will they learn from?
Realizing this, Dipesh taught his younger brother and nephew, who joined the team at the age of eight. Dipen says, “I have always had an interest in coloring; starting early learning from my brother and grandfather was insightful. I want to continue as much as I can. “
Addressing the struggle in the market, this budding young artist said, “There is a lot of hard work involved in this. But people don’t understand this. They are looking for easy and cheaper versions like the printed ones we see. However, it is our culture, and everyone should support it.