The Kutch region has a rich cultural heritage. One symbol of this was the Kamangari school of painting peculiar to the region. In old days the rich and the ruling class patronized these artistes to paint the walls of their houses, places of work and worship.

The speciality of Kamangari art was that the paintings were done on on a wet plastered background so that they lasted longer. The artistes used brushes made from the bark of palm trees, using colors extracted from leaves, pebbles and clay mixed with gypsum.

The subjects of the painting were scenes from the Indian epics as also from the day-to-day life of the people of those days. However, some such paintings featured scenes of events and objects which were not existent in the Kutch region of more than a hundred years ago. The reason given for this is that many people from this region migrated to other parts of India as well as abroad for seeking livelihood. There they came into contact with railways, aeroplanes, cricket matches which was something novel for them. When they came back to their native places, they got the Kamangar artistes to paint these scenes on their walls.

When the English arrived in Kutch they provided yet more subjects to the Kamangari artistes who were now depicting the Burra Sahibs (the big bosses), uniformed policemen, band parties in their murals. The first English political agent of this region Capt. McMurdo got his residence walls painted with the scenes from the Indian epics by Kamangari artistes. His bungalow is one of the few places where this art has been preserved till now.

A special thing worth noting about this art was that most of the Kamangari artistes were Muslims but they had no problem painting the Hindu epics or human figures in their work. While most of the Kamangari paintings were done walls, some artistes used paper for this art.

After enjoying the popularity for a very long time, the art started dying out in with the coming of the nineteenth century and now it is as good as extinct with no active Kamangari artistes engaged in this work. The decline of the art is attributed by scholars to the socio-economic changes of the region as well as arrival of other mediums of expression and entertainment.

But as the paintings were done with very long-lasting colors, there are a few places in Kutch where they can be seen. And the Kutch Museum has some samples of the art which bears testimony to the unmatched, exquisite skill of the accomplished artistes. The notable examples are the Muhharam scroll in the Kutch Museum and the Royal Procession roll in the Aina Mahal, another museum in Bhuj.

Source by Frank Grey

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