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Date with deities and heritage

Few are aware that Calcutta Art Studio, founded in 1878, is still alive and well, albeit in a new avatar. The Studio was famous for producing and marketing of lithographs, both chromolithographs of brilliant hues and monochromes. Hindu deities, mythological beings and public figures were some of the images it mass produced and, at one time, almost every middle-class family used to hang these to add some colour to their non-descript homes. This was a long time before they became familiar with the term “décor”, a word known only to the Westernised upper classes.

Over the years, Calcutta Art Studio prints, like the lithographs of other studios in Bowbazar and Garanhata, have become collector’s items as production stopped a long time ago. Calcutta Art Studio was started by Annadaprasad Bagchi, headmaster of the Government School of Art, and his four talented students, Nabo Coomar Biswas, Phanibhusan Sen, Krishna Chandra Pal and Jogendranath Mukhopadhyay. Since they were trained in the European academic style they modelled their Hindu gods and goddesses on classical deities.

In the meantime, the Studio has evolved into a hi-tech printing and packaging company. Yet almost every year it reproduces a batch of its famous prints in its much-sought-after calendars. This year it has reproduced four of its famous prints that find pride of place in books on printmaking in India. Two of these are from the life and loves of Krishna, while the other two are about the autumnal homecoming of Durga every year. Krishna’s faithlessness leaves Radha in tears. So the Blue God falls at her flower-like feet, begging forgiveness. In the second, Radha’s spiteful sisters-in-law, Jatila and Kutila, try to catch her red-handed making love to Krishna. But the god has already turned himself into Kali, and the two vixens are left dumbfounded. Interestingly, porcelain depictions of Krishna-Kali can be found in certain old families.

In the third, a joyful Durga astride a lion arrives at her father’s house from Mount Kailash, her husband’s abode. Her mother welcomes her. In the last picture, she is grieving as her mother wipes her tears. In the foreground is a hirsute Shiva modelled on Apollo.