Indian art and paintings: A tribute to ancient India
Paintings have a unique quality in that they narrate stories that may be of a different period and of a different people, the spirit of the times presented as per the artist’s interpretation. Given the Indian subcontinent’s rich cultural history and the country’s diversity, it comes as no surprise that Indian art and paintings are some of the most evocative of their kind. Further, the vastness of the country makes variation of styles and stories across states imminent; these are dictated by people’s lived experiences, religion, and the tales they have heard. In this piece, we’ll touch upon certain Indian art paintings, specifically Pen Kalamkari, Gond, Cheriyal, Mithila art, Patachitra, Rogan art, and Sanjhi.
Pen Kalamkari | Andhra Pradesh
An intricate, complex painting style that uses earthy tones, Pen Kalamkari originated in modern-day Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This artform was first used to depict scenes from the ancient and sacred texts of India. The devotional aspect has not changed much. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to practise this art in its truest form due to decrease in natural resources. Dependence on vegetable dyes, weather conditions, and proximity to the river makes authentic Pen Kalamkari work rare. Washing the fabric in flowing water is an important stage in the craft. In fact, Kalamkari flourished in the region of Andhra Pradesh because of the availability of fresh, clean water from the Swarnamukhi river. A 23-step process, this artform is not limited to paintings and wall hangings. There is a big demand for Pen Kalamkari dupattas and Pen Kalamkari sarees as they exude elegance and self-assured grace. Today this art is practised mainly in Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh.
Mata-ni-Pachedi | Gujarat
Mata-ni-Pachedi, literally translating to "behind the Mother Goddess” has its origin in the nomadic Vaghari community of Gujarat. Banned from entering temples, the members of this community turned to art to create not just an image of their Goddess but, essentially, a place of worship. Armed with natural colours and bamboo pens, the Vagharis would lovingly and meticulously paint the stories of each of their deities, their faith evident in every stroke, their love apparent in every painting. These divine pieces, which took days to complete, were not used as decor but as shrines, with the members of the community offering their prayers to the beloved goddesses. The tradition of Mata-ni-Pachedi continues to this day, primarily due to the dedication and passion of the Vaghari community, and has become popular across India. The artform is also known as Kalamkari of Gujarat due to its similarity with Kalamkari of Andhra Pradesh.
Gond Art | Madhya Pradesh
Gond art is a tribal art form created and practised by the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh. ‘Gond’ comes from the Dravidian word ‘Kond’, which means the green mountain. The focus is on nature and her elements as the tribals hold all that is natural in high regard. They believe that spirits reside in all natural creations, from rocks to trees to water and so on. The artform, therefore, is a means to show respect to these sacred natural elements. Gond art is also a way for the tribals of the area to document their life, culture, and history. The colours used are made from natural elements, including plants, soil, charcoal etc. and the themes usually revolve around nature and tribal life, with instances of local deities and folktales. Much like its inspiration, nature, Gond paintings are colourful and unique in the approach to their subject matter, often blending the real with the abstract.
Cheriyal Scroll Paintings | Telangana
Practised solely by members of the Nakashi tribe in present-day Telangana, Cheriyal paintings use natural fabric and colours. The canvas material used is khadi, which is then treated with tamarind seed paste, rice starch, tree gum, and white mud. Cheriyal scroll paintings were initially used to educate those who could not read, and were a significant part of storytelling. Today, they are still utilised as a means of storytelling and have become a more tangible way for the Nakashis to preserve their heritage. Cheriyal paintings, vibrant and eye-catching, focus on a variety of themes, including mythology, social structure, nature, and legends of heroes. The last one varies from community to community. Cheriyal scroll paintings in Telangana have been traced back to as early as 1625.
Mithila Paintings | Bihar
Mithila paintings, also known as Madhubani paintings, are a form of Indian folk art paintings that originated in Mithila, Bihar. The artists, mostly women, use handmade paper and natural dyes for the base and hues respectively, while the mode of execution may take the form of fingers, pen nibs, twigs, or matchsticks. The subject matter is rooted in societal and cultural experiences, with love, fertility, and religion claiming the title of primary themes, and deities and their sacred texts topping the list of most used visual elements. In ancient India, this Indian folk art painting was used to decorate mud walls of houses and, in some parts of the state, it still is. This made these pieces temporary as they were removed the next day or in a few days to create something new. Today, Mithila painting is practised on cloth and other canvases. The artwork is detailed, in a narrative style, and uses geometric patterns for elements in the backdrop.
Patachitra Paintings | West Bengal
“Patta” or “Pata” means cloth in Sanskrit and “chitra” means picture. Vibrant and illustrative, Patachitra paintings have their origins in Odisha and West Bengal. Here, we will touch upon those that originated in the latter. Also known as patua scroll painting, Pattachitra in Bengal dates back to the 13th century. Themes tend to focus on myths, folklore, and social issues of the time. The artform uses only natural colours, mostly from minerals, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and soot. The paintings are often combined in order to create a long scroll, the width of which can be between 5 and 15 feet, with the length ranging from 3 ft to 15 ft. In terms of process, the paintings are done on handmade paper clubbed with recycled fabric. This fabric usually comes from sarees.The fabric and paper are fused with the help of maida and tamarind pulp to make the end result firm and stronger.
Rogan Art | Gujarat
Rogan art, a 400-year-old Kutch craft that is inspired by Persian art, almost went extinct in the 20th Century with only two families in India practising it. Today, it has resurfaced and is practised by only one community - the Khatris. This makes this Indian painting style all the more invaluable. Derived from the Persian word for oil, Rogan art involves boiling castor oil for hours until it becomes a viscous paste that is then mixed with colours. The coloured paste is stretched across the fabric and used as paint threads to create intricate motifs. The technique usually involves completing half the painting and then folding the canvas in half to transfer the mirror image to the blank half. Rogan art is usually practised on dark cloth since it makes the colours pop and helps the painting stand out.
Sanjhi Art | Uttar Pradesh
Sanjhi art, which originated in Mathura, birthplace of Krishna, is deceptively simple. Seen through the eyes of a layperson, all one might see are cuts in paper. What one might conveniently overlook is the precision, the subject, and the artist’s prowess. Less of an Indian painting and more of a type of Indian art, Sanjhi art is a delicate paper-cutting craft that focuses on devotion as the key theme, using instances from Krishna’s life as design elements. It demands the use of special scissors since the beauty of this artform relies on the skill of the artist to cut the paper in a way that it holds together, while allowing the design to show and encouraging a fascinating play of light. Speaking of light - sunlight, surprisingly, has a crucial role to play; working in sunlight results in a level of precision that is unattainable in artificial light. Hence, most of the work by artisans is done during daytime.
Indian paintings are, undoubtedly, an entity unto themselves, their interpretation changing as times pass, but the soul - the method and the hues - remain the same. Each hue used tells a different story, each smile a varied emotion, each painting, a different eternal narrative.
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