Folk and Tribal Paintings: The Bhil and Orissa Schools

Academy of Fine Arts and Literature

Folk Paintings in India
A live tradition, vibrant and deep rooted into people’s blood, folk art reveals a massive variety of form and theme. Her ten-twelve thousand years old creative culture and a wide-spread art geography apart, India has hundreds of ethnic groups scattered from north to south and east to west, each with its own art form representing its taste, needs, aspirations, aims, joys, sorrows and struggles. Regional peculiarities, nature around and a different pattern of day-today life apart, their art reveals each group’s ethnic distinction and creative talent. Not in the ‘word’, these primitive peoples discovered in the ‘form’ their diction which gave expression to their joy, jubilation and intrinsic warmth and announced their rejection of violence, eroticism and the ugly.
In the form they discovered the ultimate means to discourse with each other and with the ‘divine’. Skill, education, or training hasn’t been their tool. Their legends, myths, or convictions weren’t born of texts or were the dictates of authority. They discovered all that their art sought to represent within them, in their blood that retained it across ages, almost as it was transfused into it, with its vigour and freshness which the murky narrow cells of authority often defiled, or at the most sought to gild. What imparts distinction to their art is their massive imagination, a passion to embellish, and an inborn ability to give to a routine form symbolic dimensions, and to things scattered around, status of art imagery – all that transformed into artists, not just individuals but communities in their entirety, generations after generations. In a world every minute seeking means to distort and destroy they have kept along their own tenor singing to their own tunes, dancing to their intrinsic rhythm and to the notes of their hearts, and discovering in the jumble of things, rough crude lines, raw colours and incoherent motifs, a world that breathed purity, harmony, respect and concern for life.

A paper reproduction of the Bhil wall painting, it portrays the celebrated Bhil deity Pithora riding a blue horse and smoking hookah, designed indigenously. A pedestrian and two equestrian figures are piloting him. In attendance are drummer and dancers. The composition comprises other motifs too.

It portrays the celebrated Bhil deity Pithora riding a blue horse and smoking hookah, designed indigenously.

Though highly dramatized and hence difficult to link, the episode represented in the painting is what is termed as realising toll from gopis by Krishna and his mates. As the tradition has it, for better price gopis of Brij used to export their products, butter in particular, to Kansa’s court at Mathura and thus helped evil to grow stronger. Krishna and his mates decided to take from them their share of butter. They hence posted themselves midway and forced gopis to give them their share before they were allowed to go farther. Here the two horse-riding figures with their characteristic body colours and costume-forms are Krishna and Balarama and the lady with pots of butter in her basket symbolically represents the gopis of Brija.

For better price gopis of Brij used to export their products, butter in particular, to Kansa’s court at Mathura and thus helped evil to grow stronger. Krishna and his mates decided to take from them their share of butter. They hence posted themselves midway and forced gopis to give them their share before they were allowed to go farther.

The painting represents king Dasharatha of Ayodhya and his three consorts, Kausalya, Sumitra and Kekeyi, each with one of their four sons, Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Such is the contentment of king Dasharatha and his queens that forgetting their regalia they sprawl on bare floor like common lots

Such is the contentment of king Dasharatha and his queens that forgetting their regalia they sprawl on bare floor like common lots.

This miniature with strong folk character represents Lord Vishnu reclining on the coils of the seven-hooded great serpent Shesha and his consort Lakshmi massaging his feet. As the legendary tradition has it, the four-faced Brahma is seated on the lotus emerging from Vishnu’s navel. Towards Vishnu’s legs has been represented sage Narada with four arms instead of his usual two. Behind the serpent Shesha stands Vishnu’s vahana, the great bird Garuda. Gentle tones of the colours used impart to the painting exceptional beauty.

Behind the serpent Shesha stands Vishnu’s vahana, the great bird Garuda.

While jumping across the ocean in the course of his search for Sita Hanuman encounters a number of she-demons, Ravana’s sea-guards around Lanka. One of them, Surasa, challenges Hanuman and to devour him expands her mouth. Hanuman doubles the size of his body. Surasa further expands her mouth and Hanuman again doubles his body size. This continues for long. Suddenly Hanuman reduces himself to almost an invisible size, enters Surasa’s mouth, passes through her womb and re-emerges. Now re-born of her he claims to be her son deserving her protection.

Surasa further expands her mouth and Hanuman again doubles his body size.

An unusual theme – a king paddling a boat with his queens, or any of the royal damsels, with pots on heads or in hands on board, seems to be the part of some festival or ritual tradition which mandated the monarch to himself sail his boat. Maybe, the occasion required them to visit some temple and bath the enshrining deity with the water queens carried in their pots. A long bird-like shaped boat, a tree extending all over its length, lake covered with lotuses, and judiciously used line-work impart to the painting its great aesthetic charm.

A long bird-like shaped boat, a tree extending all over its length, lake covered with lotuses, and judiciously used line-work impart to the painting its great aesthetic charm.

More elaborately rendered, the painting portrays Rai Pithora riding a chariot ahead of equestrian female attendants carrying in their hands bowl, parrots, flag, hookah etc. The entire painting is divided into five registers which accommodate besides the sun and moon type conventional motifs several animal forms, hut, activities like sowing seeds, carrying palanquin, churning curd, drawing water from the well, and modern motifs like a clock.

More elaborately rendered, the painting portrays Rai Pithora riding a chariot ahead of equestrian female attendants carrying in their hands bowl, parrots, flag, hookah etc.

An episode from the Ramayana, Rama is shooting his deadly arrow to kill Bali, Kishkindha’s monkey king, for usurping his younger brother Sugriva’s state and wife. Under a boon half of the might of anyone facing Bali would pass into him. Hence Rama keeps himself behind a tree and Sugriva is put to face him. On the lower register Sugriva and Bali are engaged in fighting while on the upper right corner Rama is fixing his target.

An episode from the Ramayana, Rama is shooting his deadly arrow to kill Bali, Kishkindha’s monkey king, for usurping his younger brother Sugriva’s state and wife. Under a boon half of the might of anyone facing Bali would pass into him. Hence Rama keeps himself behind a tree.

With a double border, the outer one comprising multi-coloured temple motifs, and other, successive multi-coloured angle-marks, the painting celebrates the deity Pithora riding a black horse. Apart the usual pedestrians and equestrian figures piloting the procession, and drummer and dancers walking along, the composition comprises a number of other motifs and a mountain range with the sun above as the background.

With a double border, the outer one comprising multi-coloured temple motifs, and other, successive multi-coloured angle-marks, the painting celebrates the deity Pithora riding a black horse.

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