‘Paath’ makers of Cuncolim

A newlywed Goan Hindu daughter is gifted with ‘paath’ which is part of the traditional ‘vaje’ during Ganesh Chaturthi. But very few actually know what goes into the making of this ‘paath’. Nilesh Chitari speaks to NT BUZZ about the intricacies and difficulties making of this piece of tradition
As Ganesh Chaturthi approaches, you will find many Goan Hindus making a beeline to the Chitari house in the Demani area of Cuncolim. It is the only place in Goa where one can find the chitari and carved ‘paath’ to gift their newlywed daughter to celebrate the festival at her new house, as an auspicious start to a new journey in her life.

As the festival of Chaturthi approaches, the orders for the chitari and carved paath flood in all quarters of Goa. From time immemorial, a newlywed daughter in Goa is gifted a paath which is part of Vaje – that consists of matoli items, sweets, puja items, by her parents. The paath is used to perform religious ceremonies during Chaturthi. “These are the preparatory offerings from a daughter’s family to celebrate the auspicious festival of Lord Ganesha,” says Cuncolim-based Nilesh Chitari who looks after the traditional business of paath making in collaboration with his other family members.

There are two types of paath: chitari and carved. “Chitari is colourful and only requires vibrant and long lasting colours. While, the carved ones are devoid of any colour, here the design is carved on a wooden piece,” says Nilesh.

The way these are made is also different. Nilesh says: “The initial procedure of cutting the wood and smoothing the surface remains the same. However, for Chitari, first we whitewash the plank, as we have to paint on it. Then, we use a layer of a kind of edible natural gum called ‘gonn’. It is in the solid state, so we soak it in water for a day and it then melts into liquid. This gum is them mixed with colour and used to paint the paath. Hence, ‘gonn’ acts as a solvent as well as an adhesive to help the colours remain on the paath. For the carved paath, after we smoothen out the wood, we carve the design using pointed equipments. The designs for all the paaths are exactly same, only the size differs. Finally, we use compressor to give finishing polish thus giving it a shinier look.”

A paath can be made of four types of wood – mango, jackfruit, shivni and hedi (white wood). The ones made from jackfruit wood are the costliest, followed by the white wood (hedi) while shivni wood is the lightest among all, and hence it is averagely priced. The mango tree wood is the cheapest. Along with the type of wood, the size of the paath also determines the price.

Painter Suhas Chari has been painting chitari since 1984. Growing up in the area of the paath makers, Suhas would visit the Chitari house very often and observed their work. Art seems to be inbuilt in Suhas’ life, evident from the smooth strokes he paints with ease while talking to us. He says: “I have always been painting chitari. I began screen painting for Maendra Alvares too where I still do paint from time to time.”

Working on a traditional business of this big a scale needs assistance, which is often hard to come by. “There are around 25 to 30 workers under us. It is very difficult to find skilled labourers nowadays. In fact none of the Goans want to do such kinds of jobs. All are getting into white collared jobs. Earlier, this was not a state. Every traditional profession in Goa is in the same plight today. Thus, we have to employ non-Goans as labourers,” says Nilesh who also teaches in a school.

Moreover, arranging for the wood is yet another difficult task. “It is very difficult to get wood for making paath. We get it from forests, not government ones, but these are personal forests of people we are acquainted with. Also, when we get to know if someone is cutting their mango or jackfruit tree, we approach them to use the wood,” says Nilesh.

These paaths though made to order are also sold at feast fairs. “We send our stock for various feasts like the Saptah, etc. We also sell it at Goa Bhagaytdar, where people often come to buy their monthly stock of groceries and other household items,” Nilesh says. Along with paaths, the Chitari family is also into woodwork, making items like wooden coconut graters, wooden board and rolling pin for roti making, wooden cookery set for children, wooden cradles (as per the order), ancient wooden games like ‘kabulfale’.

Over the years, Cuncolim has become known for making chitari and carved paath. Nilesh, in continuance of his family tradition, aims to keep the art alive: “My ancestors were involved in this work, and that’s how we learnt it. The techniques then and now are different, but the product is same. Our family has continued this traditional art that continue to stay in demand.”

Currently there are only a few families who still carry on this art at Cuncolim. “Chitari and carved paaths are only found at Cuncolim. There are only a few families who continue to do this business, and they are our extended families,” concludes Nilesh with a genuine parting smile.[NT]