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Bat-tala


Bat-tala a commercial name originating from a giant banyan tree in the Shovabazar and Chitpur area of calcutta, where the printing and publication industry of Bengal began in the nineteenth century. Bat-tala is now the name of a police station in Kolkata. The printing and publication industry that developed in and around this banyan tree primarily met the demand of ordinary and semi-literate people. Books were published to serve their taste. Main publications of Bat-tala include puthi, panchali, panjika (calendar), myths and legends etc. Numerous lanes and by-lanes around the banyan tree came to be generally known as bat-tala, and the books published from the place were derogatorily branded as bat-tala literature.

Though it was ridiculed by the rising literary gentry, bat-tala literature held its own in the publication industry of the country until the end of the nineteenth century. To cite a typical example, bankimchandra chattopadhyay in Durgeshnandini (1865) jocularly asked help from the goddess of bat-tala to enhance his creativity with practical wisdom, hinting that he wanted to make money out of writing. The bat-tala writers and publishers were realistic enough to publish only myths and legends, panchalis and panjikas because they were in great demand among the public. Until the mid-nineteenth century most books and pamphlets were published from bat-tala. But from the 1850s bat-tala began to lose its pre-eminence as a centre of printing and publication. Books of learning and higher taste began to be published outside the physical and intellectual orbit of bat-tala. Nevertheless, bat-tala retained its importance as a publication centre down to the end of the nineteenth century.

But it would be wrong to suppose that bat-tala was merely a place for publishing base books. In fact, it contributed greatly to the development of the printing and publication industry of the country. The introduction of pictures, illustrations and ornamentation in publications is the contribution of bat-tala. In imitation of the European technology of wood-cuts and lithographs, the bat-tala printers also enriched their books with illustrations, which were hitherto unknown.

The pictures of gods and goddesses and other mythical themes attracted buyers who decorated their homes with the printed pictures. The picture of Sri krishna playing the flute, sitting on the branch of a tree, became a holy household possession. The images of the goddesses Durga and Kali created by the bat-tala artists were similarly popular. The bat-tala publishers decorated their books with pictures of past and contemporary celebrities, of mansions of the rich, of fairs and festivals. All these had a tremendous impact on the circulation of their publications. Considering all these contributions, it may well be said that bat-tala was not only the address of a newborn publication industry but also the cultural and technological symbol of nineteenth-century Bengal.

From the beginning of the 20th century, however, to the bhadralok literati, bat-tala became synonymous with publications representing intellectual perversions, bad taste, commercialism and pornography. Bhadralok writers and publishers began to use the term 'bat-tala' in a derogatory sense. This use still persists, with writers branding the Banglabazar area of dhaka as the bat-tala of eastern Bengal. Though the influence of the bat-tala of Kolkata has been eclipsed now, Banglabazar, the bat-tala of Dhaka, still maintains its dominance, at least in publishing books for uncritical readership. [Sirajul Islam]