Broto Alpona – Finger Painted Messages to the Gods

Bengali women from time immemorial performed various magico-religious rituals to appease and influence their Gods to grant them their wishes. These rituals involved finger painted designs drawn on clay floors and walls. These women, often powerless members of society, used this art form to convey their hopes and wants to their Gods and display their artistic talents. This practice has almost totally faded from use today and details about this art form is very hard to come by. This film is an attempt to preserve and showcase this rich cultural heritage.

Man has communicated with God using various means since time immemorial – through speech, art and physical expressions. Since ancient times, the women of Bengal have used Alpona (a form of painting on floors and walls with their fingers) to communicate with their Gods. This art form is called the Broto Alponas of Bengal.

Rituals performed to satisfy the gods with a view to achieving fulfillment of ones wishes is called a Broto. These rituals are typically comprised of three components one of which is drawing of specific symbols on the floor around an idol of the deity to whom the particular Broto is dedicated.

Alpona  refers to motifs, sacred art or painting done on a horizontal surface on auspicious occasions in Bengal. The word Alpona is derived from the Sanskrit alimpana, which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’. Traditionally in Bengal, Alpona is strictly white since the liquid paste used for Alpona is rice powder mixed in water.

From history unknown, the women maintained various Brotos for various events – for example – a young unmarried girl wanted a husband as good as Shiva, a young married girl wanted   beauty products, ornaments etc. They all wanted a happy healthy life with wealth, health, husband and many children. They also did not want co-wives. The communities being mainly agrarian, they always wanted a good harvest.

Thus the women celebrated many many Brotos throughout the year. And each of these Brotos came with their unique, Individual alponas drawn with concentration and reverence to the various deities to whom the current Broto is dedicated.

Traditionally, Bengali women were a religious and superstitious lot. They prayed the Gods for almost all their needs, wants and hopes. A young rural girl started her Brotos as young as 4 or 5 years.

This film will illustrate 5 Broto rituals and the Bengali wedding Alponas. Brotos are the Punni Pukur, Dosh Putul, Senjuti Brotos, observed by the youngsters as they learnt about how to run a household and prayed for a Shiva like good husband. The Aranya Shosthi , praying to goddess Ma Sasthi for a many male children. The parts of Senjuti Broto, to ward off or harm her co-wives. The Kojagori Lakhi Broto, with its focus on the prosperity of the family.

The process of creating the Alponas convey a strict adherence to formal rituals – of cleanliness, preparation of the canvas (floor or wall), the method of painting an Alpona, the unique motifs of the Alponas and also the rules about how long an Alpona can stay.

The film will showcase the sense of achievement felt by these women as their neighbors admired their handiwork – though the motifs are specified, the women have artistic liberty to embellish the Alpona.

Drawing these Alponas or finger paintings is therapeutic and requires much concentration that it helps to focus the mind.

Though many of these Brotos and their related Alponas have disappeared today, a few do survive – like the Kojagori Lokkhi puja – worshipping the goddess of wealth and plenty during Autumn and Poush Parbon – the grand harvest feast held in January.

The film follows a typical village girl from about 70 – 100 years ago in a typical Bengali village. It covers some of the Brotos and the corresponding Alponas for those Brotos, as she moves through her life, as the seasons change and the years roll by.

The Alpona motifs are drawn by experts and are authentic to the Nadia district of Bengal. The music and chanting too are the original chants performed by the children and women of the early 1900’s.

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