Calendar Art: An Overlooked Art Tradition

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Calendar Art: An Overlooked Art Tradition

Pinaki Gayen and Gobinda Banik

The images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses still circulate in both domestic and private social spaces of India and get reiterated again and again during the important religious festivals and new years. On each New Year commercial agencies and small businesses still distribute free calendars to their clients. While the more sophisticated business houses develop their own calendars and gifts, the less privileged ones still buy them in bulk and have their names printed on them. A majority of such calendars are about various Gods and Goddesses. Why are they distributed? How are they received and relocated in diverse social, cultural and profane and religious spaces of the receivers? How are they used? What social, religious and aesthetic functions do they still perform? This photo feature by Pinaki and Gobinda, based on a small locality of Kolkata, attempts to answer some of these questions.
Priyadarshi Patnaik, Art Editor, Muse India
Calendar is one of the arts which directly deals with popular visual culture. It is used as an indispensable object of daily life. Apart from the numerical usage, calendar has multidimensional functional values. For instance, calendar contains different popular images, texts, advertisements depending upon a certain socio-cultural purpose. Indeed, calendar carries various messages of society concerning many religions. If we analyse different features of calendar of a specific culture, we would be able to identify a number of important aspects, such as religious belief, visual culture, seller and consumer relation, rituals, advertising strategies, product, business places, individual and cultural aesthetics and so on. In this case study our intention was to explore various factors of religious calendar dissemination, from social, cultural and aesthetic perspective. For this photo-feature, we have selected an important location of south Kolkata in eastern India where a large number of Calendar dissemination industries have been found and a huge number of people survive on this occupation.

In south Kolkata, generally most of the calendar users and disseminators belong to the lower middle class and middle class. A large number of calendar users and disseminators are mostly business man; very few are service holders. Apart from the New Year, calendar dissemination also takes place during Hindu religious festivals. Such festivals are Lakshmi Puja, Ganesh Puja, Poila Boishak, Mahalaya, Durga Puja, Akshay Tritiya, Vishya Karma Puja etc. Simultaneously it is distributed in the festivals of other religions as well. It seems that calendar dissemination is one of the significant business strategies, concerning religious beliefs.

The shopkeepers are very familiar with calendar dissemination and keep calendars at their business places for religious beliefs and to get business benefit. When asked about calendar distribution, they respond that consumers expect it from them because they are regular customer and it is distributed one time in a year followed by some religious festival. They generally distribute images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, mostly Sri Ganesha, Mata Lakshmi, Lord Siva, Goddess Durga and Kali. The other purpose of calendar dissemination is advertising. The shopkeepers want to spread their business. They print their store’s name, address, contact number, product names on the calendars. Then the gods and goddesses will also bless them.

Calendars figure significantly in the houses of the people here. They keep it in sacred places for religious purpose. Calendars representing their preferred gods and goddess are kept. Some are even more than 25 years old. It also serves many interesting aesthetic functions from decorating drawing room walls to hiding broken glasses or discoloured walls to acting as covers for school notebooks.

Before the arrival of the New Year, all kinds of calendars are kept for the customers. There are mainly three major religions in Kolkata – Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Most calendars are made for these religions. Other types of calendars display landscapes, paintings by famous artists, children’s image, flowers, animals, movie stars, patriotic figures, and mere dates and months.

Some calendars are printed in Kolkata and others brought from outside West Bengal – Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Local calendars are mainly printed in multi-colour offset printing machines, which are mainly working at Sealdah, Razabazaar, and Koi Khali. Calendar artists are often local. Some of them have art college background and others are self taught artists who are mostly anonymous. Sometimes they use handmade paintings of Gods and Goddesses for initial editing in computer using Photoshop, Corel Draw or Freehand software. Generally they scan images from other calendars or download from internet and rearrange the composition as per customers’ preferences.

In the last few years, the basic nature of calendar has not been changed radically. The major changes of calendar have come only in colour quality, composition and in printing materials, and not in the choice of subject. Old compositions are edited again and again by the calendar artists. Another notable change is seen in size. Nowadays calendars are printed in large size paper, such as – 36 X 48 inch or more than that. Instead of using normal paper, the use of glossy paper prevails and they are printed with golden or silver glitter. Sometimes aluminium foil papers are also used for printing. Three types of calendar are common – wall calendar, table calendar and small card calendar. The price varies. The cost of wall calendars starts from Rs. 2 and may reach up to Rs. 200 (aluminium foil paper calendar), table calendar costs about Rs. 10; small cards are sometimes even less than one rupee.

What is the future of this art form? True, it is one of the lowest-cost printed advertising media, capable of catering to the needs of specific local consumers. But how long will it survive. The sell of calendars has fallen in the last few years. A number of factories have closed. Customers now buy product online. In the decades to come, calendar art may become another lost art. Let us think.


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