Painted mostly on mill-made paper with flowing brushwork and bold dyes (often homemade), Kalighat paintings are said to have originated in the vicinity of Kalighat Kali Temple in Kolkata. At this time, the works were sold to visitors who sought souvenirs to take with them from the religious sanctuary. The art almost always depicted Hindu gods and mythological characters, or incidents, themes, and characters from everyday life.
There is a great proficiency in line drawings shown in this art form. The drawings are made on flat, hand-made coarse paper, a little larger than a foolscap sheet. The first outlines are very clearly made in single, bold strokes with a brush. The paintings have well-sustained rhythms of spatial relations and bold colouring. The popularity of these paintings were taken advantage of and German lithograph imitations on glazed paper, at cheap prices, flooded the market. This resulted in the demise of this art form – the last representatives of the Kalighat tradition are no more.
Kalighat art had two schools : The “Oriental school” in which predominant themes shone a spotlight on religious figures and scenes from sacred texts, from goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, to the characters of Rama and Sita in the ancient epic poem of Ramayana. The alternate discipline of Kalighat painting, known as the “Occidental school,” included pieces that depicted ordinary people engaging in everyday life.
Kalighat paintings were often a joint effort by a group of artists – usually from the same family. So while some members ground ingredients to create homemade dyes, others drew outlines of the figures, filled in the hues, or added the final touches in the form of motifs and background designs. These were then typically brought to be sold in the city.