This is a depiction of a religious festival known as Charak Puja. The rituals seen being performed here were acts of penance, in a very real sense bloodletting was done to appease and honour the Hindu God Shiva (in Bengal) or the Mother Goddess Marriamam (if further south).

At the time this mica painting was painted the practice would be as follows: a large pole was erected by the village and a man from a low caste would be selected. He would literally have the flesh from his back hooked (which can be seen in the painting) and he would be swung around in a circle (charak means circle in Bengali).

This would have been a useful image to have in a European’s collection. Firstly, it would have enabled colonial officers to identify those people of low caste, allowing them to classify those under their jurisdiction. Secondly, it was a source of information for the British who wished to outlaw acts such as this and also sati (the burning of a wife on her husband’s funeral pyre) and bring a Christian influence to local populations.

Object Summary

Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Archives and images
Collection Area Region
mica | pigment (oil-based) | | |
Common Name
Simple Name
Production Town
Production County
Tamil Nadu
Production Country
Production Person Initials

Production Person Surname

Production Year Low
late 19th century
Production Year High
early 20th century

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mica painting of Charak Puja festival