A couple of weeks back I had written a post on my visit to the Countryside. I received the following comment from Janet Walgren “In America we only see the travel posters with snake charmers or news clips of crowded buses and poverty stricken slums full of starving people. I am certain that I have never seen a photo that would entice me to travel to your country until now. You showed me a face of India that I have never seen before … I do hope that you will post more photos to show the world the beauty that surrounds you.” I was really moved by her comment. It also made me realize, that not only abroad but even in India many people are unaware of the treasures that lie hidden in their own country. I dedicate this post to Janet Walgren.
My cousin sister is an artist and has great interest in tribal art forms of India. These pictures are from her collection. Most of these art forms are associated with religious rituals and boast of an unbroken tradition of many hundreds and in some case 1000s of years.
This is called the Mandala or the Gond art. These are deep forest Tribals. Their art gives rare glimpses of the forest. This picture depicts a very large prey being attacked by wild dogs. Since the predators are much smaller then the prey, the only way they can bring it down is by biting the stomach. There is a striking similarity between this art form and Australian aboriginal art form, in the sense they use dots or lines as fillers and not continuous color.
These are monitor lizards.
Every tribal art form of India depicts ‘The Tree of Life’. Below are two examples of the Gond version of ‘The Tree of Life’
This is an art form from the tribals of Orissa. This is associated with the death ritual. When someone dies the tribal artist cum priest called the Patua is called. He is asked to draw the exact replica of the dead person. The artist refuses to put eye balls for the image. The family of the dead person offers him charity(Daan) to persuade him to put in the eye balls. It is believed that the offer of a Daan sends the soul of the deceased to heaven.
My cousin claims these are true master pieces of minimalism. So much of information is captured with so little lines and colors. Each picture provides a wealth of information about the deceased person, right from his age and wealth to his temperament. I am more moved by the stories of their poverty and suffering. The pictures you see above are the original paintings done during the death ritual. These are not normally sold because the tribals think of these as their ancestors and consider them sacred. For many of them, these are the only reminders of their dear ones. A few years ago, Orissa was under the grip of a severe drought and so many of these tribals were dying of starvations. These pictures were sold to a middleman during that period. He paid less then a dollar for these!!!
Here is another picture from the same art form. This depicts, Kali the goddess of time during the time of annihilation of the universe. She is naked, holding severed heads of men and standing on her husband Lord Shiva. You can see this motif in almost every tribal art form.
This is a Hindu folk art form(different from Tribal art). It is practiced in the Madhu Bani district of Bihar. Infact, the exact origin, as the legend has it, is from Mithila, the village where Sita was born. Sita is a famous mythological princess, known for her chastity and devotion for her husband. Hence, this art form is also known as Mithila. Madhubani is associated with the marriage ritual. It is, like almost all Indian art forms, a mural form. It is practiced by women. The bride decorates her bridal chamber with these paintings.
Look at the above painting. Do you notice any resemblance to the previous one. It is the exact same motif, Kali on Shiva, which represents the end of one cycle of creation. My cousin told me that the artist who painted this was one of the finest she had met . Since these are considered religious symbols, widows are not allowed to paint. This lady, gave up painting after her husband died. My cousin tried to convince her to continue but she refused. She said, “To you, this may just be an art. To me it is sacred. It is god”.
Below is a goddess in the Tantric form of Madhubani.
The origin of this form is from the Warli Tribe of Maharashtra. This is the first Indian art form to enter the urban Indian consciousness in the early 1970s. This is done with rice paste on mud background. This seems to belong to the Neolicthic paintings of central India. This art form is associated with harvest and fertility. The above picture is very typical of Warli art. It shows a spiral swirl of dancers around a central figure.
This has it’s origin in the Bhil tribals of Gujarat and Bihar.
The below picture is a tree of life. It is a Mural art. A Pithoras are traditionally pictorial representation of horses which are offered to their deity baba Pithora as a thanks giving for boons granted.
The art form gets its name from the Saora tribe of Orissa who practice it.
These are ritual paintings done for ensuring a good harvest and keeping away evil spirits.
Below is a tree of life.
Like Madhu Bani, this is a Hindu folk art from Orissa and Bihar. These paintings are very sensual and almost always take their themes from Hindu Mythology. More than any other Indian folk art gets, this one gets the symbology of the gods perfectly. (The right accessories, and form). Also only art form where Hindu gods are given mustaches.
Here is Kali again on Shiva
This is a tantric goddess called Chinnamasta
This is lord Krishna, dancing on the serpent Kalinga. A scene from the hindu epic Bhagavatam
Kalighat has its origin in the Kali temple of Calcutta. This art form comes closest to the Europian visual art. It was practiced around Kali temple. Deals with both secular and religious subjects. With the coming in of the print media, this art form has almost vanished.
This is lord Shiva
Back again, to the popular motif of Kali with her feet on Shiva