Manuscript Painting of Assam: Process of Preparation of Colours and Folios

Manuscript Painting of Assam: Process of Preparation of Colours and Folios

in Video
Published on: 18 September 2018

Meghna Baruah

Meghna Baruah is a freelance graphic designer and Illustrator. She hails from, lives and works in Assam. Her area of special interest has been learning about local cultures especially traditional forms of visual art and communication.

This video of preparation of colours and folios for manuscript painting in Assam was presented by artist Mridu Moucham Bora and was shot in November 2017 at Dhing in Assam.

English Transcript


The processing of mahi (traditional ink) is usually carried out in the winter month of Puh (Assamese month which falls around December-January). In order to make the ink a number of ingredients are required. The text is written with the help of a pen that is usually made from bamboo or kap dhekia, which is a kind of fern. Paintings are usually done with the help of brushes made from squirrel’s hair.


This is an illustrated manuscript on Parijat-haran. I had created this manuscript in 2010 that was commissioned to me by Rashtriya Natya Vidyalaya (National School of Drama). It has been made in sanchi bark. The ink is traditional and colours that have been used are hengul and haital. This is a small version of Naam Ghosa. It has been recorded as the smallest manuscript in Assam.


There are a number of colours here. First colour is hengul also known as mercury sulphide. This colour is quite expensive. One kilogram of hengul can cost around Rs 1850. This is haital or arsenic sulphide, which is used for yellow colour. It is a mineral and is poisonous in nature. Haital is used on manuscripts even when there is no painting on it. Indigo is used for blue, which is derived from the indigo plant. This is khorimati, which is used for white. This is sandalwood. This is ash of xilikha or Terminalia chebula, which is used for black colour. This kind of a ghila guti is used to straighten the manuscript (seed derived from a certain kind of tree or plant).


You can see that there is a depression on this stone grinder. We take hengul here and we need to grind it everyday for about two hours, pour water on it and keep it. The next day impurities, which get mixed with water and float on top, should be removed by gently tilting the stone grinder.


Sanchi bark is the bark of agar tree and its botanical name is Aquilaria agallocha. The bark is removed from the tree trunk. It is then wrapped in the other direction and exposed to the sun so that it dries up. After drying it in the sun for around a week, this bark is kept in dhua sang (using smoke emitted from kitchen while cooking different food items to dry up sanchi bark) for around six months. When we need to make folios for a manuscript this kind of a roll is brought out from dhua sang and kept outside for a night so that it softens by getting exposed to the mist. Later with the help of a wooden stick this roll is opened up gradually. After the bark is straightened it looks like this. This is the outer part of the bark and this is the inner side. The process of cleaning the outer part of the bark is quite lengthy and it takes almost a day. Usually the bark is kept on a bamboo rod and cleaned with the help of a sharp knife. The bark looks like this after the outer layer is removed with knife. Later haital is applied on the bark and then it needs to be polished and straightened with ghila guti. After rubbing the folio with ghila guti for a long time, the bark is ready for writing. We can also paint on the folios of the manuscript after this process is complete.