Folk Art & Tribal Art Paintings of India that have stood the test of time

Written by Admin


Madhubani Painting

Madhubani painting is a style of Hindu Painting, practiced in the Mithila region of Nepal and in Indian States of Bihar. Among various painting styles, in India, Madhubani Painting is one of the most prominent styles of painting. Madhubani Paintings are a proud example of an art form reborn amid disasters and deaths.Madhubani paintings are also known as mithila paintings.Originally a form of bhitti-chitra or wall art,this ancient art form of Madhubani is a heritage rooted in the rhythms of Hindu ritual life.Predominantly a feminine expression, the themes and motifs of Madhubani are drawn from a palette of mythical figures,gods and goddesses,ritual activity and very importantly,local flora and fauna.

Folklores trace the origin of this art to the marriage of Lord Ram and Sita. Janak, the king of Mithilachal and the bride’s father, ordered people to decorate mud walls of their houses with paintings of mythological events and geometrical patterns for the celebration. Since then every wedding and festival has followed the ritual of decorating the rooms and walls with Kohbar paintings and intricate designs in bright colors. The wall art, locally known as “Bhitta Chitra”, became a cultural tradition over the centuries.

Initially, the womenfolk of the village drew the paintings on the walls of their home, as an illustration of their thoughts, hopes and dreams. Mithila had long been famous in India for its rich culture and numerous poets, scholars, and theologians – all men. Today, the paintings have given the daughters of Mithila self-dependence and a new identity and it is endearing to see the beauty of the paintings reflect the numerous sacrifices women make for their families and the utmost love behind those sacrifices.With time, the paintings started becoming a part of mythological events, social activities, festivities and special events, like marriage.Festivals like chhath and Chauth chand are also occasions for doing this ritual art. Slowly and gradually, the Madhubani painting of India crossed the traditional boundaries and started reaching connoisseurs of art, both at the national as well as the international level. Themes of the Maithili painting of Bihar revolve around Hindu deities like Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi, Shiva, Durga and Saraswati.  The natural themes that are used include the Sun, the Moon and the religious plants like tulsi. If any empty space is left after painting the main theme, it is filled up with the motifs of flowers, animals and birds or geometric designs.

Painting is done with fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, and matchsticks, using natural dyes and pigments, and is characterized by eye-catching geometrical patterns.

The brush used for Madhubani paintings of Bihar was made of cotton, wrapped around a bamboo stick. The artists prepare the colors that are used for the paintings. Black color is made by adding soot to cow dung; yellow from combining turmeric (or pollen or lime) with 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 and orange from palasha flowers.

Madhubani art has five distinctive styles, namely, Bharni, Katchni, Tantrik, godna and gobar. In the 1960s Bharni, Kachni and Tantrik style were mainly done by Brahman and Kayashth women, who are upper caste women in India and Nepal. Their themes were mainly religious and they depicted Gods and Goddesses, flora and fauna in their paintings.

The painting, however, was only a domestic ritual and was unknown to the outside world until the massive Bihar earthquake of 1934. House walls had tumbled down, and the paintings on the interior walls of the homes were exposed. The beauty of the paintings fascinated and stunned the British colonial officer in Madhubani District, William G. Archer who was inspecting the damage. Then in a 1949 article in the Indian art journal, Marg, he brought the wall paintings to public attention and is rightly credited with the “discovery” of Madhubani Paintings.

The paintings saw their second birth after the Great Famine of Bihar in 1962. Social activist Mr. Bhaskar Kulkarni sent by Pupul Jaykar, a known cultural activist, noticed the paintings and came up with the idea of bringing them onto papers and clothes as an income generating project. The paintings were well received and proved a hot cake for the Central Cottage Industry Emporium, Delhi. The art lovers were baffled by the rich culture and the contrasting traditions of ‘line painting’ and ‘color painting’ in this art. This success inspired numerous painters and also paved its way to immortal glory.

Pattachitra Painting

Pattachitra painting ,believed to have originated as early as the 12th Century AD, is one of the most popular art forms to be practiced in Odisha.Pattachitra is a combination of two words ‘Patta’ and ‘Chitra’. In local language ‘Patta’ means canvas or cloth and ‘chitra’ means picture.So, Pattachitra means painting on cloth.Patachitra is amongst the most distinct and oldest forms of traditional painting in Orissa.Most of these paintings depict stories of Hindu deities.

The themes of Patta Chitra are mostly mythological, religious stories and folklore. Some of the famous themes of pattachitra art are Rasa Lila , Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Nava Grahas , Kanchi Avijana of Lord Jagannath, Panchamukhi Lord Hanuman and Panchamukhi Lord Ganesha.The Pattachitra style are mix of both folk and classical elements.

The paintings are done on specially prepared cotton cloth, which is coated with a mixture of gum and chalk and polished, before applying natural colours.

Traditionally the painters are known as chitrakars.Almost all of the Chitrakar community hails from a small village in Puri district called Raghurajpur. This is also the only village in India where each family is engaged in crafts such as patta painting, wooden toys, stone carvings, etc. For Pattachitra painting, the Chitrakars follow a traditional process of preparing the canvas. The process begins with creating a canvas, or the surface on which the painting is to be executed. A gummy paste of boiled tamarind seeds and soft granite powder is plastered on a stretched piece of cloth, twice over, so that it becomes stone hard and does not crack.This makes the canvass ready to accept the paint, made of natural colours.The mixture of gum and chalk gives the cloth’s surface a leathery finish on which the artists paint with vegetable, earth and stone colours.

Once dry, the bare outlines of the painting are sketched with charcoal or limestone (chalk) by a master painter.Woman members prepare the glue, the canvas and apply colours what we call the fill-in, and give the final lacquer coating.thus making the painting glossy.The gum of the kaitha tree is the chief ingredient, used as a base for making different pigments by adding available raw materials. For instance, to get the shade of white, powdered conch shells are used.The master hand, mostly the male member, draws the initial line and gives the final finishing. Patta paintings are done on small strips of cotton cloth.The painters do not use pencil or charcoal for the preliminary drawings. They are so expert in the line that they simply draw directly with the brush either in light red or yellow.

Over the years the art form has evolved and has experienced discernible changes. The Chitrakars have painted on palm leaves and Tussar silk and have also created wall hangings and showpieces. Because of the stringent methodology of the art, it survives, preserving the effervescence of the aesthetic Pattachitra. The intriguing folk paintings are internationally known, and the setting up of centres to teach the art form in Odisha speaks volumes about its consistency and popularity.

About the author


Leave a Comment