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Painting of Buddhist goddess Green Tara by Prithvi Man Chitrakari done in 1947.
Paubha painting showing Vishnu Mandala (15th century).

Chitrakar (Devanagari: चित्रकार) belongs to the Newah community of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. Traditionally, they are painters and mask makers. In Nepal Bhasa, the mother tongue of the Newahs, this caste is called "Pun" (पुं).[1] When the Newah culture became Sanskritized, the last name Chitrakar was adopted. "Chitr" in Sanskrit means image, and "akar" stands for shape. The literal translation of the word Chitrakar is image maker.

Traditional occupation[edit]

The Pun or Chitrakar paint paubhas used in prayer rooms and murals in temples, make masks used for ritual dances, paintings on ceramics and woodblock prints used during festivals.[2] The craft is handed down from father to son according to the division of labour laid down from ancient times. Women generally play a secondary role in the artistic ventures.

Ethnically, Chitrakars like other Newar communities are of diverse origin including but not limited to various Indic and Tibeto-Burman tribes. So, one may infer that Chitrakars are heterogeneous groups rather that a kin or ethnically homogeneous group. Although the caste system is eroding in Kathmandu, there are still some Pun/Chitrakar families following their traditional role as artists. The Puns/Chitrakars practice both Buddhism and Hinduism with an emphasis on Tantrism.

In the French scholar Gerard Toffin's work on the painter Chitrakars, he focuses on their two main guthis (See Guthi and Desla Guthi), kinship and marriage patterns and, of course, their art, which sometimes functions as medicine. Toffin describes how they treat Jwanakai, which is thought to be caused by snakes, by painting two lions on the sides of the affected area.

The word "Pun" seems to have been derived from Pali/Sanskrit word "puantra"/"patta" or "scrolls/fabric". The religious painting called "Paubhas" is also a derivative of the "Puantra/Patta". These paintings are normally done over fabric/cotton gessoed with animal glue and clay.

Apart from Nepal, Pata painting or Patachitra is also an important element in Bengali cultural heritage. This art form flourished particularly during the Buddhist period in Bengal and normally carried the life sketch of the Buddha and his sayings and anecdotes. Later Patas show Hindu tradition. After about the eighth century AD, Use of patas dwindled in Bengal. It was only after about this time that saw the widespread use of pattas/paubhas (painting) in the Kathmandu Valley (Nepal).

There is a particular Chitrakar/Patua or painter community in West Bengal who still practise folk paintings on long scrolls.[3] This community during medieval times was stratified within a caste system based on professional hierarchies in the Hindu society. A few members of this community also follow Islam at present.

Notable Chitrakars[edit]

  • Amar Chitrakar: Artist, life member of the Royal Nepal Academy, his paintings are in museums and private collections.
  • Bhaju Macha Chitrakar: Artist/court painter, travelled with Prime Minister Jang Bahadur Rana to England and France in 1850.[4][5]
  • Dil Bahadur Chitrakar: Artist.
  • Dirgha Man Chitrakar: Court photographer, one of the first Nepalese photographers, he used large format cameras and wet plates. Accompanied Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher to England in 1908.[6]
  • Kazi Krishna Lal Chitrakar: Worked for King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah and attained the position of Kazi, which was one of the highest civil rankings at that time.
  • Raj Man Singh Chitrakar (1797-1865): Introduced watercolor painting in Nepal, official artist to British Resident Brian Houghton Hodgson.
  • Tej Bahadur Chitrakar: Court Painter. Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana sponsored his training at Government Art School in Kolkata.[7][8]


  • Chitrakar Samaj/The Chitrakar Society
  • The Chitrakar Society and Himalasia Foundation


  1. ^ von der Heide, Susanne (December 1997). "The Past in the Present: Cultural Development in the Kathmandu Valley and the Significance of the Chitrakars as Painters". Changing Faces of Nepal - The Glory of Asia's Past. Ratna Pustak Bhandar for the UNESCO Division of Cultural Heritage and HimalAsia. Retrieved 24 June 2012.  Page 13.
  2. ^ Chitrakar, Madan (2012). "Paubha Art". Nepali Art. Kathmandu: Teba-Chi Studies Centre. pp. 35–52. ISBN 978-9937-2-4933-1. 
  3. ^ Giusti, Mariangela (2014). Immagini Storie Parole. Dialoghi di formazione coi dipinti cantati delle donne Chitrakar del West Bengal. Mantova: Universitas Studiorum. ISBN 978-88-97683-39-1. 
  4. ^ Chitrakar, Madan. "Bhaju Man Chitrakar (1817 – 1874C)". Praxis. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Newar, Naresh (1–7 October 2004). "Giving their art and soul: The Chitrakars have dominated Nepal's art scene for three centuries". Nepali Times. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Newar, Naresh (1–7 October 2004). "Giving their art and soul: The Chitrakars have dominated Nepal's art scene for three centuries". Nepali Times. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Chitrakar, Madan (2004), Tej Bahadur Chitrakar: Icon of a Transition, Kathmandu: Teba-Chi (TBC) Studies Centre. ISBN 999338797-5.
  8. ^ Bajracharya, Saroj (September–October 2009). "The Post-Modern Tendency in Nepali Contemporary Art". Spaces. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 

External links[edit]