This thesis is an exploration of the art and religion of the Patua people of Northern Bengal, India. They are a caste of people who are unique because of their cultural oscillations between the religions of Hinduism and Islam. What is constant, though, is that they are artists. Their vocation is to speak the truth through their art, and they do so through devotional religious art, politically critical art, and socially progressive art. I introduce the topic by discussing the basic relationship between art and religion, which have always been linked. I then give background information including a relevant history of India, as well as short segments explaining key terms such as caste; darshan, the visual aspect of Hindu worship; and rasa, Indian art theory. In the introduction I explain that there are a few key themes that run through the paper. The first key theme is that the Patua are a living example of religious paradox, which is a belief or practice that is contradictory from the outside, but makes a religion whole and complete from the inside. The second key theme is that the Patua are also a prime example of a culture that changes its tradition in order to keep its tradition alive (which itself is one of the paradoxes of the Patua people). The first chapter gives more in depth background on the relationship between Hinduism and Islam in India, laying the ground on which the Patua stand. The second chapter tells the stories of the Patua's origins, both historical and mythic. The third chapter goes into the specifics of the Patua's lived tradition: how they combine Hinduism and Islam in their every day lives, opening with a discussion of the specific differences between the religions. Here I highlight the most important difference in the context of the Patua: imaging vs not imaging gods. The fourth chapter is an in depth look at a localized group of Patua painters called the Kalighat, who shifted the style of painting, and offer a unique case study in understanding Patua art. The Kalighat are a prime example of how the Patua evolve tradition in order to keep tradition alive. The fifth chapter builds up the idea of paradox in Patua culture through their combination of categories that we often think of as distinct: tradition and modernity as well as divine and daily life. The conclusion of the paper acts not only to sum up the discoveries of the thesis, but to introduce the other half of my Independent Study. In discovering the Patua I realized there was very little scholarly commentary about the tension or discrepancy of Patua who identify with Islam but paint Hindu devotional images. I decided to address the issue myself through the medium of painting. I created a series of images that act as a conversation between a god that is imaged in human form, and one that is imageless, as described by American landscape. In the conclusion I explain the process of creating these paintings, how they are connected and specific references in the paintings. Through painting I discovered that both concepts, a god that is tangible as well as a god that is expansive and unimaginable, are valid and create a complex, paradoxical understanding of god.


Graham, Mark

Second Advisor

Mangubi, Marina


Art and Art History; Religious Studies


Art and Design | Religion


patua, india, art, religion, hinduism, islam, syncretism, kalighat

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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