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4 Ethnic & Folk Arts of India that I am learning these days

Lockdown is shown through Artwork

Amid all the art that screams of modish and contemporary styles, there comes a beautiful relief in the form of indigenous and classical. They are our “living tradition”. It takes a lot of practice, dedication and immaculate precision to make these paintings and keep the tradition going. Despite the fact that legends of the tribes of India and their artistic creations are very rich, the indigenous ethnic art has got it’s due only after years of struggle. A breather comes from the fact that the demand for tribal art is making its way from domestic to global art events. I have been making Gond and Warli art for a few years now, but these days I am also trying to pick nuances of Madhubani and Pattachitra art. Will attach the final pieces when they are done.

India is about many things. We are proud to be a country of festivals, cultures, architectural treasures, cuisines, landscapes and more. No less, we are a storehouse of rich array of traditional and ethnic art forms too but sadly our tribal talent remains largely unknown. To name a few, Warli-from Shahyadri, Gond from Madhya Pradesh, Madhubani from Bihar, Maru Gurjara from Rajasthan and Pattachitra from Odisha are some of the finest examples of tribal and heritage art.

Folk and Ethnic Art

Counted among distinctive artistic traditions of indigenous peoples across the world, our ethnic art depicts positive themes, natural elements and life as they see. The subjects are inspired from life, festivals, birth, death, marriage, celebration along with emphasis on the five basic elements of Mother Earth.  Art is about storytelling. Our artists have not only kept our rich mythology intact but have also successfully triumphed over the test of time.

Keep following my travel and art series!

Ethnic Art that can be learned during lockdown
Gond Art – Even Nature is sending “Get Well Soon” vibes to us.

Gond art from Madhya Pradesh

“A good painting begets good luck”. The largest tribal, or Adivasi Community in India, Gond or Kond lends its name to a superior and creative art form, famously known as Gond. Evolving from the dense forests of the Vindhyas, Satpura and Mandla in the Narmada region of the Amarkantak range, the Gond art mainly represents the ancient art forms of Madhya Pradesh. Intricate details, vibrant palette, double lined outlines and signature motifs are some of the distinctive and outstanding features of Gond art.

This tribal customs of painting actually evolved from the mud walls but after its revival by one of the most famous Indian artist, Shyam Gond, it crossed the traditional boundaries and started reaching connoisseurs of art. Mahua tree is revered by Gond communities and is one of the most distinctive motif in their art work. With their history of 1400 years and proximity to nature, this art is very close to wildlife. The evidence lies in their paintings as deer (barasingha), elephants, trees, tiger, snakes, wild boars, reptiles and different birds are the most common subjects of Gond work.

Warli is also a very popular tribal art.  It is ethnic art too
Warli artA beautiful ethnic art that depicts the life of people through simple geometrical patterns.

Warli-from Shahyadri

Warli and Malkhar koli tribes are another bunch famous for their creative capacities. They are the prime movers of a very fascinating folk art called Warli. This 400 yrs old tribal art form is believed to have originated in Thane Dist. of Maharashtra. Traditionally, practiced by women, Warli art traces its origin from the Neolithic age, 2500 BC to 3500 BC. The magical world of the Warlis, the cycle of birth and death, fertility and their everyday life is the focal point of this very simple but interesting art work.

Despite the fact that Warli art lacks perspective and proposition, it reflects human craftsmanship and primitive cultures very well with the help of basic linear and triangular shapes. It stands traditionally intertwined with religion, mythology and ritualistic practices of the tribal people.

The lines, triangles and circles are used to depict people, mountains and the trees while the square has come to indicate the sacred enclosure or a piece of land. The central motive in each ritual painting is the square, known as the chauk or chaukat. Inside a chauk, we find palghata, the mother goddess, symbolizing fertility. 

Warli art is a very basic form of art. Its USP lies in two prominent colors. The earth and cow dung is used for the ochre/red background while the white pigment, a mixture of rice paste is used for making the paintings. The water with gum is used as a binding.

Madhubani art is loved globally too

Mithala Paintings from Mithala

Every Madhubani home flaunts of a sun painting. The villagers are dependent on the sun for good harvest. It is painted in vivid colors. For decades, the women of Mithila have decorated the walls of their houses with paintings during festivals, marriages and ceremonies. These pretty and colorful additions have been creating a world that resembles mythological, folk themes, tantric symbolism, love and fertility. Mithila painting depicts the nine planets, the sun, the moon and other auspicious symbols like the fish, turtle, etc. The sun occupies a very important place in Madhubani paintings. This folk and ethnic art is one of the most famous art of Bihar and Nepal, mostly practiced in Mithila region.

One of the most disciplined art forms, the designs and aesthetics of Madhubani paintings have long been an inspiration for many fabric designs. Special Madhubani paintings were created to invoke divine blessings on the newlywed couple. Religion, mythology and ritualistic practices of indigenous people is showcased through traditional form, flow and flavor. Heritage of Madhubani art goes back at least 2,500 years. In Japan, there is a museum called ‘Mithila Museum’.

Lord Shri Jagganath Ji through Pattachitra from Odisha.
Picture courtesy :

Pattachitra from Odisha

Closely coupled with rich colorful motifs, this art form from Orissa is believed to have originated as early as the 12th century. It is one of the most popular living art forms from the land of Lord Jagannath. A ‘picture’ (chitra) painted on a ‘cloth’ (Patta) makes this Sanskrit word, Pattchitra. Hailing from the heritage village of Raghurajpur, this is one of the rare and traditional art forms that has survived over thousand years. Religious themes and deities are created on cloth and brought to life. Pattachitra art work reflects heavy influence of the Mughal era. These paintings became a very important form with the ornamentation of Lord Jagannatha within the innermost sanctum. 

The most 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. The display of emotions of the figures expressed in the paintings are very significant. The chitrakars put in their best.

I am also making Lord Jagannath’s statue in Pattachitra art form. Will attach the work once its done. Until then you may also start practicing some of India’s tribal art work.

16 thoughts on “4 Ethnic & Folk Arts of India that I am learning these days

  1. Hi
    After a long time I get to read an interesting post. As was reading I was curious to know as to from where are you getting mentored for the various art forms that u have practised and are practising. I was thinking of visit Odisha soon and also try to see the Patthachitra art forms. True there are so many art forms in our country and actually I guess they are too vast to even document minutely.

    1. So art has always been more than hobby for me. I travel for art and I have had a chance to travel to all these places where these arts originate from. I have met artists and learned some tricks too. Now I am learning more through youtube videos.

  2. Wow what a stunning post. This is so different to anything I have read recently. Really love this post, such interesting wall art ! iemexploring

  3. This is such a unique post about Art. I have always been fascinated by Arts and the history behind them as a former Architect and designer. I have found that Ethnic and Folk Arts are so underrated. It’s great that you have highlighted your love for the Ethnic and Folk Arts of India. They are very similar to the Ethnic Art of some countries in Africa.

  4. Coming from Bihar as I was born there, Madhubani paintings were one of my favorites from childhood days. Then as I traveled to different parts of our country I realised how rich we are as a nation when it comes to magical artistic creations. Lucky to come across a blogger who practices various forms of art. True appreciation for your cult and the paintings here.

  5. Wow this is so interesting. I applaud you for your interest in and dedication to preserving tribal culture through art. It is a shame that the details of so many beautiful tribes and peoples have faded away over time. Please know that you are adding value to this world through your story-telling and sincere appreciation for culture. I look forward to keeping up with your blog.

  6. Manjulika, you’re such an artist! You should do an Instagram account for all your art! I’ll definitely buy one for my house. I am super glad that you’re trying to learn things such as this. These days, we have so much time for learning at home and it’s good that you’re puttiung yours to good use. Thank you for sharing and keep creating!

  7. It is a fascinating story. Your works are beautiful. During several trips to India, I have always admired Indian art. Ornaments that took from nature, mother earth, legends impressed me.

  8. I love art from around the world. It’s funny, I’ve collected little things and have decorated my guest bedroom with the little pieces of art collected along the way. I was a huge fan of Warli. I wish I had that talent. Alas, I’ll have to settle for just appreciating it!

  9. Check out our vast DIY art kits collection exclusively made for anyone who wants to meet the hidden artist inside! Join Penkraft and be a DIY-er yourself.

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