#Art + Culture

How This Kolkata Woman Is Spreading Joy With One Alpona At A Time

Kolkata woman draws alpona
Ratnabali Ghosh, 70, used to be a teacher at a South Kolkata school, but recently she caught the attention of the people from the city due to her unique act of spreading joy. Ghosh drew alpona on the stairs of random houses in Kolkata as a surprise for the residents during Diwali.

During Diwali, one must have seen rangolis being made at home as a symbol of celebrations and decking up the house for the festival. Diwali is one of the grand festivals that India celebrates and somewhere it crosses the line of religion and becomes a festival of light and happiness for all citizens. Lighting up a candle or making an artwork is not restricted to any religion but are ways of coming together.

Kolkata Woman Draws Alpona At Random Houses On Diwali

Ratnabali Ghosh was my middle school teacher; all I can remember is her smile and immense talent for every field of art. After years of passing out from school, when I saw photos of her going viral on social media for drawing alpona, I had to connect with her to know the story behind it. When asked about why drawing alpona, she said, “why not?”

Ghosh said this was not her idea, but her acquaintance, Mudar Patherya, suggested that she uses her fine skill of drawing alpona on houses of people whom neither of them knows.

What Is An Alpona?

For those unfamiliar with the term alpona, it is a traditional form of art to decorate houses on special occasions. Alpona is a Bengali term, there is a plethora of other forms of hand-drawn patterns in various parts of our country but with different names. The paint used for this is supposed to be homemade, and it is made using rice flour and there is a technique to draw these as traditionally, one is supposed to draw it with bare hands and not a paintbrush.

Traditional Alpona. Source – Mudar Patherya

Drawing alpona is now restricted to Lakshmi puja or some special occasions in houses in West Bengal. A generation back, it was still quite popular. From such a generation comes Ratnabali Ghosh, who also mentioned that her mother, an artist, taught her to draw them. She drew her first alpona at the age of five and ever since, Ghosh has symbolised it as a marker of celebration and is still trying to incorporate her age-old skill in this world of the metaverse.

Bringing People Together, One Alpona At a Time

Ghosh reminded me that she used to draw alpona in our school while teaching there. It was such a brilliant way to introduce children to the culture they belong to and inspire them with art. Alpona also holds the significance of secularism, says Ratnabali Ghosh. Her initiative to draw was also to bring together the religions for the festival of lights. Ghosh says, “Alpona er jaat dhormo hoy na”(Alpona has no caste or religion).

Ratnabali Ghosh painting alpona. Source- Mudar Patherya

They decided to draw in a few houses in North Calcutta and a few in South Calcutta to bridge the gap between the city’s two parts. In North Calcutta, they went to Shaymbazar and Amherst Street; in South Kolkata, they went to the localities between Bhawanipore and Lake Terrace. This time for the alpona to stay for a little longer, she used zinc oxide in place of the traditional rice flour mixture. When Ghosh went to these houses, out of 7 only 2 of the residents came out and saw it happen, as others were unaware of it. They went to these houses in the dawn so she could surprise the residents with the beauty. And Ghosh mentioned that the passersby who saw her draw were elated to see someone do this so generously. It didn’t matter whether the houses belonged to people in any particular religion, as alpona brings everyone together.

Ratnabali Ghosh concluded, “I would love to do it again and would want more people to join us from all communities so all of us can have fun and a good time together.” Alpona bringing people together seems like a beautiful idea for celebrations inside or outside of West Bengal.

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