Friday, 8 January 2016

Folk and Tribal Art of India

India had always been known as the land that portrayed cultural and traditional vibrancy through its conventional arts and crafts. All states and union territories have distinct cultural and traditional identities, and are displayed through various forms of art prevalent there.
Every region in India has its own style and pattern of art, which is known as folk art. Other than folk art, there is yet another form of traditional art practiced by several tribes or rural population, which is classified as tribal art.
Folk art in India apparently has a great potential in the international market because of its traditional aesthetic sensibility and authenticity. Some of the most famous folk paintings of India are the Madhubani paintings of Bihar, Patachitra paintings from the state of Odisha, the Nirmal paintings of Andhra Pradesh, and other such folk art forms.
 Folk art is however not restricted only to paintings, but also stretches to other art forms such as pottery, home decorations, ornaments, cloths-making, and so on. In fact, the potteries of some of the regions of India are quite popular among foreign tourists because of their ethnic and traditional beauty.
Moreover, the regional dances of India, such as the Bhangra dance of Punjab, the Dandiya of Gujarat, the Bihu dance of Assam, etc, which project the cultural heritage of those regions, are prominent contenders in the field of Indian folk art.
These folk dances are performed by people to express their exhilaration on every possible event or occasion, such as the arrival of seasons, the birth of a child, weddings, festivals, etc.
The government of India, as well as other societies and associations, have therefore made all efforts to promote such art forms, which have become an intrinsic part of India's cultural identity.
Tribal art generally reflects the creative energy found in rural areas that acts as an undercurrent to the craftsmanship of the tribal people. Tribal art ranges through a wide range of art forms, such as wall paintings, tribal dances, tribal music, and so on.


Folk art is linked with the forgotten art of story telling. Paintings are used to depict the visual counterpoint in narration in every region of India. Art forms of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bengal narrate the myths and legends of local heroes and deities and construct a kaleidoscopic image of our glorious past and rich cultural heritage. Each work is a complete narration in itself, giving us a glimpse of the past, which has been kept alive by talent and devotion of our artists.
'Religious paintings with a royal heritage' is the best definition for Thanjavur paintings, now better known as Tanjore paintings. Tanjore painting ranks among the greatest traditional art forms for which India is noted worldwide. Their themes are fundamentally mythological. These religious paintings demonstrate that spirituality is the essence of creative work. Few art forms match the beauty and grace of Tanjore paintings.

Originating in Tanjavur about 300 kms from Chennai, this form of art developed at the height of cultural evolvement achieved during the rule of mighty Chola empire. The art form evolved and flourished under the patronage of successive rulers. These magnificent paintings adorned the royal dwellings and later found their way into every household.
An extraordinary visual amalgamation of both art and craft, Tanjore paintings mainly consist of themes on Hindu gods and goddesses, with figures of Lord Krishna in various poses and depicting various stages of his life being the favourite. The characteristics of the Tanjore paintings are their brilliant colour schemes, decorative jewellery with stones and cut glasses and remarkable gold leaf work. The liberal use of gold leaf and precious and semi-precious stones presents a splendid visual treat. These give life to the pictures such that the pictures come alive in a unique way. Adorned with rubies, diamonds and other precious gemstones, and trimmed with gold foil, Tanjore paintings were true treasures. Nowadays, however, semi-precious stones are used in place of real ones, but the use of gold foil has not altered. The shine and glean on the gold leaves used by the Tanjore style paintings, lasts forever.

Madhubani Painting

Madhubani painting, also referred to as Mithila Art (as it flourishes in the Mithila region of Bihar), is characterized by line drawings filled in by bright colours and contrasts or patterns. This style of painting has been traditionally done by the women of the region, though today men are also involved to meet the demand. These paintings are popular because of their tribal motifs and use of bright earthy colours. These paintings are done with mineral pigments prepared by the artists. The work is done on freshly plastered or a mud wall.
For commercial purposes, the work is now being done on paper, cloth, canvas etc. Cotton wrapped around a bamboo stick forms the brush. Black colour is obtained by mixing soot with cow dung; yellow from turmeric or pollen or lime and the milk of banyan leaves; blue from indigo; red from the kusam flower juice or red sandalwood; green from the leaves of the wood apple tree; white from rice powder; orange from palasha flowers. The colours are applied flat with no shading and no empty space is left.

Figures from nature & mythology are adapted to suit their style. The themes & designs widely painted are of Hindu deities such as Krishna, Rama, Siva, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Sun and Moon, Tulasi plant, court scenes, wedding scenes, social happenings etc. Floral, animal and bird motifs, geometrical designs are used to fill up all the gaps. The skill is handed down the generations, and hence the traditional designs and patterns are widely maintained.
In order to create a source of non-agricultural income, the All India Handicrafts Board and the Government of India have been encouraging the women artists to produce their traditional paintings on handmade paper for commercial sale. Madhubani painting has become a primary source of income for scores of families. The continuing market in this art throughout the world is a tribute to the resourcefulness of the women of Mithila who have successfully transferred their techniques of bhitti chitra or wall painting to the medium of paper.

Warli Folk Painting

Maharashtra is known for its Warli folk paintings. Warli is the name of the largest tribe found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai, in Western India. Despite being in such close proximity of the largest metropolis in India, Warli tribesmen shun all influences of modern urbanization.

 Warli Art was first discovered in the early seventies. While there are no records of the exact origins of this art, its roots may be traced to as early as the 10th century A.D. Warli is the vivid expression of daily and social events of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, used by them to embellish the walls of village houses. This was the only means of transmitting folklore to a populace not acquainted with the written word. This art form is simple in comparison to the vibrant paintings of Madhubani.
Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings. These paintings do not depict mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life. Images of human beings and animals, along with scenes from daily life are created in a loose rhythmic pattern. These tribal paintings of Maharashtra are traditionally done in the homes of the Warlis. Painted white on mud walls, they are pretty close to pre-historic cave paintings in execution and usually depict scenes of human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting.

Stylistically, they can be recognized by the fact that they are painted on an austere mud base using one color, white, with occasional dots in red and yellow. This colour is obtained from grounding rice into white powder. This sobriety is offset by the ebullience of their content. These themes are highly repetitive and symbolic. Many of the Warli paintings that represent Palghat, the marriage god, often include a horse used by the bride and groom. The painting is sacred and without it, the marriage cannot take place. These paintings also serve social and religious aspirations of the local people. It is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods.
In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes make one line. The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These days, even men have taken to painting and they are often done on paper incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs with modern elements such as the bicycle, etc. Warli paintings on paper have become very popular and are now sold all over India. Today, small paintings are done on cloth and paper but they look best on the walls or in the form of huge murals that bring out the vast and magical world of the Warlis. For the Warlis, tradition is still adhered to but at the same time new ideas have been allowed to seep in which helps them face new challenges from the market.

Pattachitra Painting

Pattachitra style of painting is one of the oldest and most popular art forms of Odisha. The name Pattachitra has evolved from the Sanskrit words patta, meaning canvas, and chitra, meaning picture. Pattachitra is thus a painting done on canvas, and is manifested by rich colourful application, creative motifs and designs, and portrayal of simple themes, mostly mythological in depiction.
Some of the popular themes represented through this art form are Thia Badhia - depiction of the temple of Jagannath; Krishna Lila - enactment of Jagannath as Lord Krishna displaying his powers as a child; Dasabatara Patti - the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu; Panchamukhi - depiction of Lord Ganesh as a five-headed deity. More than anything, the themes are clearly the essence of the art form, conceptualising the meaning of the paintings. It is no surprise therefore that the process of preparing the paintings engages undeterred concentration and careful craftsmanship, stretching the preparation time of the patta alone to around five days.
Making the patta is the first thing that comes in the agenda, and the painters, also called chitrakars, go about their work in preparing a tamarind paste, which is made by soaking tamarind seeds in water for three days. The seeds are later pounded with a crusher, mixed with water, and heated in an earthen pot to turn it to a paste, which is called niryas kalpa. The paste is then used to hold two pieces of cloth together with it, and coated with a powder of soft clay stone a couple of times till it becomes firm. Soon as the cloth becomes dry, the final touch of polishing it with a rough stone and then a smooth stone or wood is given, until the surface becomes smooth and leathery, and is all ready as a canvas to be painted on.

Preparing the paints is perhaps the most important part of the creation of Pattachitra, engaging the craftsmanship of the chitrakars in using naturally available raw materials to bring about indigenous paints. The gum of the kaitha tree is the chief ingredient, and is used as a base for making different pigments, on which diverse raw materials are mixed for diverse colours. Powdered conch shells, for instance, are used for making a white pigment, while lamp soot is used for a black pigment. The root of the keya plant is usually used for making the common brush, while mouse hair is used on the requirement of finer brushes, to be attached to wooden handles.
The creation of the Pattachitra paintings is a disciplined art form, and the chitrakars maintain rigidity in their use of colours and patterns, restricting the colours to a single tone. Limiting themselves within the boundaries of some rules, the chitrakars come up with such remarkable paintings depicting stark emotional expressions that it is a surprise shading of colours is a taboo. In fact, it is this display of emotions of the figures expressed in the paintings, which is the crème de la crème of the art form, and the chitrakars put in their best to bring out the most through their rich colourful motifs.
With the passage of time, the art of Pattachitra has gone through a commendable transition, and the chitrakars have painted on tussar silk and palm leaves, and even created wall hangings and showpieces. However, this kind of innovativeness has never proved to be a hindrance in their customary depiction of figures and the use of colours, which has remained intact throughout generations. This constancy is the key factor that has maintained the effervescence of Pattachitra, backed with the fact that the setting up of some special centres for the art form in Odisha speaks volumes for its popularity.

Rajasthani Miniature Painting

The art of Miniature painting was introduced to the land of India by the Mughals, who brought the much-revealed art form from Persia. In the sixteenth century, the Mughal ruler Humayun brought artists from Persia, who specialized in miniature painting.
The succeeding Mughal Emperor, Akbar built an atelier for them to promote the rich art form. These artists, on their part, trained Indian artists who produced paintings in a new distinctive style, inspired by the royal and romantic lives of the Mughals. The particular miniature produced by Indian artists in their own style is known as Rajput or Rajasthani miniature. During this time, several schools of painting evolved, such as Mewar (Udaipur), Bundi, Kotah, Marwar (Jodhpur), Bikaner, Jaipur, and Kishangarh.

These paintings are done with utmost care and in minute details, with strong lines and bold colours set in harmonious patterns. The miniature artists use paper, ivory panels, wooden tablets, leather, marble, cloth and walls for their paintings. Indian artists employed multiple perspectives unlike their European counterparts in their paintings. The colours are made from minerals and vegetables, precious stones, as well as pure silver and gold. The preparing and mixing of colour is an elaborate process. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to get the desired results. The brushes are required to be very fine, and to get high-quality results, brushes even to this very day are made from hair of squirrels. Traditionally, the paintings are aristocratic, individualistic and strong in portraiture, where the plush court scenes and hunting expedition of royalty are depicted. Flowers and animals are also the recurrent images in the paintings.

The Kishangarh province in Rajasthan is known for its Bani Thani paintings. It is a totally different style with highly exaggerated features like long necks, large, almond shaped eyes, and long fingers. This style of painting essentially depicts Radha and Krishna as divine lovers, and beautifully portrays their mystical love. Kishangarh miniature painting reached a peak in the eighteenth century, during the rule of Raja Sawant Singh, who fell in love with a slave girl, Bani Thani and commanded his artists to portray himself and her as Krishna and Radha. Other themes of Bani Thani paintings include portraits, court scenes, dancing, hunting, music parties, nauka vihar (lovers travelling in a boat), Krishna Lila, Bhagavata Purana and various other festivals like Holi, Diwali, Durga puja, and Dussehra.
Today, many artists continue to make miniature paintings on silk, ivory, cotton, and paper. However, with the passage of time, the natural colours have been replaced by poster colours. The schools of miniature have also been commercialized, and the artists mostly replicate the work produced by the old painters.


Names like Rangoli, Kolam etc are not new to us, and neither is the tradition of drawing them at the entrance of homes and temples. In fact it is part of the domestic routine in Hindu households, who consider it auspicious to draw certain patterns at the doorstep and courtyard to welcome a deity into the house. This art form is a harmonious blend of Aryan, Dravidian and Tribal traditions.
Kalam (Kalamezhuthu) is unique form of this art found in Kerala. It is essentially a ritualistic art practiced in temples and sacred groves of Kerala where the representation of deities like Kali and Lord Ayyappa, are made on the floor. Various factors need to be considered when deciding the nature or figure on the 'Kalam', which include the presiding deity of the temple or sacred grove, the religious purpose that calls for the ritual of Kalamezhuthu and the particular caste that does it. In each case the patterns, minute details, dimensions and colour choice are decided in observance with strict rules. The patterns vary considerably depending on the occasion, but rarely by the choice of the artist.

Kalamezhuthu is practiced using natural pigments and powders, usually in five colours. The drawing is done with bare hands without the use of tools. The pictures are developed from the centre, growing outwards, patch by patch. The powder is spread in the floor, letting it in a thin stream between the thumb and the index finger. The figures drawn usually have an expression of anger or other emotions. The powders and pigments are all extracted from plants - rice powder for white, burnt husk for black, turmeric for yellow, a mixture of lime and turmeric for red and the leaves of certain trees for green. Lighted oil lamps placed at strategic positions brighten the colours. Kalamezhuthu artists are generally members of communities like the Kurups, Theyyampadi Nambiars, Theeyadi Nambiars and Theeyadi Unnis. The 'Kalams' drawn by these people vary in certain characteristics.
Ritual songs accompanied by a number of instruments (namely ilathalam, veekkan chenda, kuzhal, kombu and chenda) are sung in worship of the deity, on completion of the 'Kalam'. These songs form part of an oral tradition; the rituals being performed by the artists themselves. The type of song varies considerably, from folk to classical depending on the deity being worshipped. The drawing of a 'Kalam' is started at an appointed time and it is erased immediately after the rituals related to it are over.

Phad Paintings

In a 'Phad' painting colour, costume and culture are reflected in colours that are vegetable dyes which the artist himself prepares. The paintings have a mythlogical meaning and usually depict the story of Pabuji, a Rajput revered for his deeds. Done usually in scrolls of 30 feet long, they show Pabuji's victory and the life style of his time. The colours are done on an off-white background used in a fixed order starting from orange-yellow to brown, green, red and finally black. White is merely used for decoration.


The paintings are usually canvased on cloth, paper, card boards and walls with natural and synthetic colors. Traditionally, Pithora like every other form of painting originated on the walls of tribal households.
This is the most prevalent and characteristic art tradition of the Rathwa community, who live in the region bordering Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states in India. While the styles vary with every Bhil group, they hold a deep social relevance.

Wall paintings till date remain one of the most common forms of creative expression, and makes for traditional home décor that has religious importance to the Bhilalas. Warli, Pithora, Mandana – tribals in India engage in various art forms to adorn their homes during festivals, and more recently also with an objective of diversifying their incomes.
Historically derived from cave, wall and rock paintings, this art is heavily inspired from Gujarat, has religious and mythological relevance to indigenous tribes of Madhya Pradesh which has slowly transformed into a vibrant occupation of the Bhilalas or Rathwas.
Pithora paintings are characterized by the seven horses representing the seven hills that surround the area where the Rathwas reside. This is enclosed within a rectangular fence in the painting that defines this geographical area. This rectangle usually extends up to the Arabian Sea in the west, Bharuch in south and Indore in north and east. The wavy line depicting the river Narmada cuts through the painting.
Things like fields, trees, farms, wild life, birds, sun and moon are present in their relative positions in the map along with people and their ancestors. Even modern elements like railway tracks, aeroplanes, and computers feature in the paintings, thus making the Pithora paintings a real description of the world of Rathwa tribe.
Pithora painting has various connotations. One meaning attached to the Pithora Paintings is the idea of a map. This tradition is supposed to have started in the 11th century, when Bharuch was a centre for traders from the North
The roads connecting Bharuch and nearby areas were difficult and even dangerous, so the tribes created a new profession for themselves – escorting Indian and foreign traders through this region in exchange for silver coins. To ensure that the area remains mysterious and their livelihood stays safe, the leader of the tribe made a map full of codes. Thus, the seven hills became represented by seven horses and the mouth of river Narmada by two tigers. The leader also ordered the escorts to make the same painting in their houses. The people who showed loyalty by painting the map at their home came to be known as “Rathwas” while those who disagreed, were called “Talavis”. The Rathwas then got rights to climb and dwell atop the seven hills. This practice went on till 1812 A.D. till the British rulers put a stop to it. Then the act of making Pithora painting became a ritual and Pithora became the god of Rathwa tribe.

Batik Art

 Batik art of India Asian paintings come from Bengal. Batik art refers to the art of dyeing fabric by making use of resist techniques, covering areas of cloth with a dye resistant substance to prevent them from absorbing colors. The technique of Batik art dates back a thousand years and can be traced to India.

Batik art is created in several ways like splash method, screen printing method, and hand painting one is by a Kalamkari pen. As patterns are applied by actual drawing rather than by weaving with thread, the artists can put forth their best in terms of creativity and imagination. The Batik art fabric is in high demand as dress materials, designer home decor and also as forming an important part of contemporary fashion accessory.

Gond Paintings 

Tribal art of India Gond paintings of Madhya Pradesh, specially the wall paintings of Bundelkhand, Gondwana, Nimar and Malwa are living expressions of the village people, deeply linked with their day to day lives. They are not mere decorations but also instant expressions of their religious sentiments and devotions.

The tribal folk art gond paintings, based on local Indian festivals like Karwa Chauth, Deepawali, Ahoi Ashtami, Nag Panchmi, Sanjhi etc. are done by women using simple homemade colors. In the Gondwana region, the Gond and the Pardhan tribes who have impressed audiences at exhibitions in Japan, France , Australia and other countries, have showed unmatched creative vision. A community of professional artists does the paintings. Horses, elephants, tigers, birds, gods, men and objects of daily life are painted in bright and multicolored hues. 

Kalamkari Painting 

 Folk art of India Kalamkari painting is pen drawings on cloth. Andhra Pradesh are famed for Kalamkari paintings. This folk art form derives its name from kalam or pen, which is used to trace outlines patterns and images. The Kalamkari technique involves drawing outlines with burnt tamarind twigs dipped in molasses and iron fillings.

The vegetables dyes of deep shades are used to create religious scenes. The final effect comes with repeating the process of coloring. The uniqueness of these painting is that no two panels are similar. Vegetable and mineral pigments are used to create these paintings. The artists believe in using natural dyes, extracted from bark, flower and root. One would be stunned to know that the colour red is obtained by using the Indian madder root, yellow from the pomegranate seed or even mango bark, and black from myrobalam fruit. The process used for both schools of Kalamkari painting is more or less the same. The only major difference is that Srikalahasti paintings depend entirely on the brush-like pen whereas the Masulipatnam style uses block-printing procedures. The process done in Srikalahasti is more tedious. The cloth is treated and washed twice, and two or three times alum is painted. 
Mandala Paintings 

 Mandala paintings are spirtual buddhist folk art paintings . Mandala with Amitayus Amitabha as the highest deity. The leaves around him also symbolize the instance of his Enlightenment. Amitayus, literally meaning unlimited life, is what Buddha is called in this form.
He is regarded as the God of longevity. The ambrosia vase that is placed on his left palm is his special emblem. His right hand touches the ground while he sits in lotus posture.


In Bengali, "Pat" means "picture" and "Patua" or "Chitrakar" means "Painter". The origin of the painted scrolls is very ancient. We could find some in the Pharaohs' graves in Egypt. In India the first description of these painted scrolls can be found in a sacred text dated 200 B.C.
Nowadays, this art form is still used mainly in the West Bengal and Bihar states. In West Bengal, the painters are also singers. The scrolls are done with sheets of paper sewn together and sometimes stuck on canvas. Their width can go from 4 to 14 inches and their length, seldom below 3 feet can exceed 15 feet. A piece of bamboo, sometimes carved, is placed on each extremity of the scroll and is used to roll and unroll the painting which is done with vegetal colours : charcoal or burnt rice for the black, betel for the red, a fruit from the Nilmoni tree for the blue colour, etc... In order to fix the colours, they add a tree resin which they first melted.
The story is shown in sequence, like a story board or a comic strip. Seldom are the scrolls with text.
The Patua is a kind of minstrel. He goes from village to village, with a bag containing several scrolls. He gathers together the villagers around him and unrolls his paintings never showing more than 2 or 3 images at a time, and he sings the painted story. Then the villagers give him some rice and rupees. This way the Patua earns his life.
The subjects painted by the Patuas in West Bengal are extremely varied. Their audience is mainly Hindu or Muslim, sometimes Catholic. The themes are inspired by the sacred texts of each of these religions. To these religious subjects are added some profane ones which go from historical epics (local, national or even international : they could evoke the French Revolution as well as the bomb in Hiroshima) to some more general themes (painting about the cyclone which devastated the Midnapur district or, more recently, Mother Teresa's death). They also speak about political subjects which are given to them by the local authorities like the regrouping of the lands or the family planning.

Chittara Painting

Folk Art of Karnataka,deep in the forests of Karnataka, in southern part of India, lives a small tribe, called Deewaru. People of this tribal community have a beautiful art called Chittara, which is a mix of music, painting and lifestyle. This painting, which used to be done only by women, was always accompanied with a song. Traditionally Deewaru women painted the mud walls of their huts on special occasions such as weddings, festivals and auspicious days.
Motifs used in Chittara painting are very geometric and mainly lines. The art forms represent the daily hustle bustle of their village life, various ceremonies, the birds and animals around them, the toys their children play with, the flowers used for pooja etc. the colors used for painting were traditionally made from natural materials and each family used to make its own color. White was made from rice, red from crushed red stone and red mud, black from burnt rice, and yellow from seds of gurige tree that grows in the surrounding jungles. Brushes are made of fine jute from fibres of pundi plant.

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