The ancestral occupation of Chet Kumari Chitrakar, 65, is devotional art – painting gods and goddesses for the altars of the people of Bhaktapur, a city also known as ‘the city of devotees’.
But this week has been particularly busy in the run-up to Nag Panchami, the festival of the multi-headed serpent god that falls on Saturday 25 July this year.
She cannot turn out the paintings fast enough for people to buy to stick them to their main doors to protect the household from earthquakes, lightning, pestilence – and this year from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chet Kumari learnt how to make these paintings from her Chitrakar in-laws – the surname means ‘artist’. Besides Nag Panchami, she also turns out paintings for Chotha Puja, Gai Jatra (4 August) Indra Jatra, Bisokarma Puja, Dasain and Tihar. Now that paddy planting is over, Kathmandu Valley’s calendar is filled with festival every week till harvest time in October.
“I feel holy while I make these sketches and colour the figures of deities, it is like praying,” explains Chet Kumari, as she imprints the outlines of serpents from a wooden block before infilling them with colour. She buys paper, colour powder from the market, works on different block shapes and fills in the colours with her brushes. It takes about 15 minutes to complete one.