Folk Art from India: Sculpture and Decorative Objects

Academy of Fine Arts and Literature

Sculpture and Decorative Objects
The Arpana Fine Arts Museum’s is a strange world. Its artifacts bewitch with their beauty, astonish with their strangeness, and besides their visual impact, have immense symbolic width and deep underlying meaning. If a pot installed on an intricately designed multi-legged pod, which a group of lizards guard, represents beauty with an obnoxious and awful face, a deity-image with its base expanded to contain oil and serve as a lamp attributes to light divine dimensions. If the lizards’ mystery pot reminds of some old forgotten myth, perhaps one relating to some pot of nectar of which lizards were the guardians, something identical to the common belief that vipers guard all old treasures, the lamp conceived as the deity-image’s expansion re-asserts the universally acknowledged theological belief that God manifested first as light and then manifested His creation.
The symbolism involved in the two legends is alike obvious. If the former asserts that the way to nectar – endless life, routes through the venomous course of death, which lizards represent, or that beauty’s other face is obnoxious and awful, the latter asserts that let there be light within and God Himself would be within you.This section has artifacts from all art-regions in India – Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Orissa, Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Ladakh, South India … In the world’s most art forms creativity is coupled with aestheticism, in India its underlying tones are spiritual, and beauty, its frame. Hence, even an ordinary artifact has spiritual connotations, something that it reveals beyond form.

Here is an exceptionally simplified image of Lord Ganesh, Indian god of auspices. With his broken tusk prominently exposed he manifests his Eka-danta form. The artist has so used his motifs that each conveys at least two meanings. With bells attached to it, his ‘chhatra’ – umbrella, acquires a shrine’s status. The motif held in upper left hand is suggestive of both, a trident and a lotus. The form of a serpent hood has been used to become his ‘varada’-imparting lower right hand. As simple a form defines his ‘abhaya’-imparting upper right hand. The lower left hand is just a projection, not larger than a lamp-stand. It carries his favourite sweet ‘laddu’ – sugar-ball. The pot-bellied Ganesh is riding his mount mouse.

With bells attached to it, his ‘chhatra’ – umbrella, acquires a shrine’s status. The motif held in upper left hand is suggestive of both, a trident and a lotus.

This emaciated figure of the Great Master is known as fasting Buddha. An identical fasting Buddha statue, perhaps its proto-model, of around the 3rd century A.D. is in the Lahore Museum, Lahore, Pakistan. Before Buddha attained Enlightenment, he underwent a long fast rendering him very weak and thin. The fasting Buddha images represent the same state. He had broken his fast with pudding offered to him by a ‘shudra’ girl Sujata. Perhaps, in veneration to her all figures conceived as devotees on the pedestal are women. The ‘Pipal’ leaf motifs on the pedestal’s upper edge symbolise the Bodhi tree he sat under meditating and fasting. The gesture of palms reveal determination and the lotus leaf like surging ‘antariya’, the unfolding of light within.

He had broken his fast with pudding offered to him by a ‘shudra’ girl Sujata. Perhaps, in veneration to her all figures conceived as devotees on the pedestal are women.

The image is an exceptionally simplified form of Shiva. His multi-arms have been substituted by two arms but with such length as could be managed only when contained in folds. In one of his hands he is holding a trident and in the other, a small drum – damaru. His ears, nipples, eyes and legs all correspond to forms that tribal womenfolk render with clay on their mud-walls. The deity’s face reveals an unearthly sentiment.

His ears, nipples, eyes and legs all correspond to forms that tribal womenfolk render with clay on their mud-walls. The deity’s face reveals an unearthly sentiment.

The lady is worshipping a tree, a representation of Savitri Bata-puja which takes place in the month of Shravana. Man’s association with tree dates back to unknown times. In a Bata, banyan tree, the Vedic seers perceived wish-fulfilling power and ordained its worship. They also proclaimed that a certain tree would burst with flowers when a beautiful virtuous young woman touched it. In Indian tradition, Savitri stands for exemplary virtue and womanhood, and Bata for accomplishment of wish. Savitri Bata-puja is a blend of two traditions.

Man’s association with tree dates back to unknown times. In a Bata, banyan tree, the Vedic seers perceived wish-fulfilling power and ordained its worship.

The mother, lying by her child, is feeding it with a bottle. Child’s costume is interesting. Modeling of mother’s face is typical of Bastar’s tribal art. Features are as bold as those rendered using clay on the mud wall of a hut and as much simplified.

Unhappy or angry, perhaps with its naughty offspring not obeying it, the figure of the owl, otherwise an ordinary toy, has been delightfully conceived. The posture of its beak and the form of eyes reveal an emotion, perhaps displeasure or annoyance, so common with man and animal.

Unhappy or angry, perhaps with its naughty offspring not obeying it, the figure of the owl, otherwise an ordinary toy, has been delightfully conceived.

The warrior, carrying a spear with broad blade and a shield, and wearing a very special helmet, rich costume and lavish jewellery, defining his royal status, is standing on a high and beautifully modeled pedestal. An elegantly designed base is one of the essential features of Bastar statues.

An elegantly designed base is one of the essential features of Bastar statues.

As suggests her posture, the woman lying upside down, is in her leisure time entertaining herself with a book. Her feet, lifted above the ground, style of hair-dressing, circular formation of arms, and prominent nose are quite interesting.

The filigree like treatment of the body denotes fishscales

The figure, a woman though with a depressed breast-part, is holding a book in her hands as if reading from it. Circular forms of the figure's arm, face, coiffure and ears are characteristic features of Bastar folk anatomy.

The lady, from an affluent class, is whiling away summer by reading, with a fan in the other hand. Her rich and heavy jewellery and style of costuming, as well as her habit of reading link her with society’s upper strata. Her elongated figure, style of sari worn down to knee-height and round face, coiffure, ears etc. truly define the anatomical dimensions of Bastar metal casts.

Her rich and heavy jewellery and style of costuming, as well as her habit of reading link her with society’s upper strata.

The woman, obviously one from society’s upper strata, is lying on an elegantly floored ground with her head supported on her left arm. In full leisure she is reading a book.

The woman, obviously one from society’s upper strata, is lying on an elegantly floored ground with her head supported on her left arm.

This bagh blends two sets of motifs, one known as Mirchi, and other, multiple squares patterned like Mughals’ Charbaghs.

This bagh, embroidered using belan motifs on the entire field and laharia on the ‘pallu’ – border, is an artifact characteristic of western Punjab. It might be classified as belan bagh. Unlike those from eastern Punjab the ladies of the western part used white in abundance. Apart, they used soft colours like orange, yellow or magenta. Motifs which they used were simpler and their range not as large as was in eastern part.

This bagh, embroidered using belan motifs on the entire field and laharia on the ‘pallu’ – border, is an artifact characteristic of western Punjab. It might be classified as belan bagh.

A phulkari is hardly different from a bagh except that while in a bagh embroidery covers the entire field in a phulkari it covers special areas. Even when embroidered motifs are scattered all over the field, as in this phulkari, the ground remains sufficiently visible. Not so strictly in a bagh, darn or a large running stitch is the essence of embroidery in a phulkari. Embroidery rendered using cross stitch or its any other type will not class as phulkari. As in a bagh in phulkari also ‘pallu’ is distinctly designed. A phulkari like this in which similar motifs are embroidered in groups like tree-groves is usually known as bella or grove phulkari.

A phulkari is hardly different from a bagh except that while in a bagh embroidery covers the entire field in a phulkari it covers special areas. Even when embroidered motifs are scattered all over the field, as in this phulkari, the ground remains sufficiently visible.

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