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6 traditional Indian artforms you should know

Text by Aarya Menon

Photo credit: Truly Tribal

India is a country of immense diversity and cultural heritage. Indian art consists of a variety of art forms, including painting, sculpture, pottery and textile arts. Interestingly, folk art and tribal art are often used interchangeably. Most people fail to understand the difference between folk art and tribal art.

Folk Art is done in specific regions. They are usually named after the region of practice or the materials used for the production. The main motifs of folk art include religious deities and their lifestyle. Some artisans also create paintings or products which depict the daily life of the people living in that region.

Tribal Art is mainly done by the tribes. The art forms are named after the tribe which practices it. The main motifs in these art forms are related to nature and mother earth because tribes worship nature.

Here’s a list of stunning Indian folk and tribal art forms that will make you proud and hopefully urge you to support ‘Vocal for Local’, ‘Made in India’ initiatives by them.

Indian Folk Art

Indian Art form: Madhubani
Indian Art form: Madhubani

1. Madhubani Art

Madhubani painting is an art form arising from the Mithila region, covering areas of Bihar and Nepal. It is done using natural pigments and dyes. It was traditionally done only by women to decorate walls. The art form is said to be as old as the Ramayana. It was done on the occasion of Lord Ram and Sita’s wedding.

Madhubani art has five distinctive styles- Bharni, Kachni, Tantrik, Godna and Kohbar. The Bharni, Kachni and Tantrik styles were mainly done by the Brahman and ‘upper caste’ women and they normally depicted the lives of gods and goddesses. The people of ‘lower caste’ normally depicted daily life scenarios in their paintings.

The British played a very vital role in popularizing the art form, who noticed the paintings done on the walls of houses in the Mithila region. This art form fascinated them and they encouraged the women to practice this painting not just on walls but also on paper and cloth.

Renowned Madhubani Artists: Some of the well-known Madhubani artists are Sita Devi, Jagdamba Devi, Leela Devi, Remant Kumar Mishra and more.

Indian Art Form: Pattachitra
Indian Art Form: Pattachitra

2. Pattachitra Art

Pattachitra is one of the oldest and very popular art forms of Odisha and West Bengal. Pattachitra is said to have originated before 5th century B.C. These paintings are very similar to those done on the walls of some of the oldest cities of the state which include, Puri, Konark, and Bhubaneshwar.

The themes of Pattachitra art mainly revolve around the Jagannath and Vaishnav sect. The subject matter of this art form is centred around mythology, religious stories and folklore. The paintings are predominantly done on the themes of Lord Jagannath, Radha-Krishna and the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

Pattachitra is done only using natural colours made of vegetables and minerals. The paintbrushes are also made by attaching a bunch of animal hair to a bamboo stick. The painting is made with primary colours but it is made alluring using brush techniques.

Renowned Pattachitra Artists: Tala Pattachitra is the name given to the art form when it is done on palm leaf. Some of the very famous Pattachitra artists are Monimala, Khandu and Radha Chitrakar.

Indian Art Form: Sabai Grass
Indian Art Form: Sabai Grass

3. Sabai Grass Artifacts

Sabai grass is a fibre which is available in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. The people living in this district were the first ones to make handicrafts out of this grass. The women of this region collect Sabai grass from the forest. It is then dried and made into ropes by manually operated machines. These ropes are then used for making utility items.

Some of the significant products that are made from Sabai grass include sofa sets and chairs. The mainframe of these items is made with bamboo around which the Sabai rope is coiled. In recent years, utility articles like dining mats, fruit baskets, trays, flower vase etc. are produced by using jute twined along with Sabai rope to increase the quality and stability of the product.

Tribal Art

Indian Tribal Art: Warli
Indian Tribal Art: Warli

4. Warli Art

Warli art originated in Maharashtra, where it is practised to date. It is practised by the Warli tribe, which is one of the largest tribes of India. Warli art was not recognized until the 1970s, even though it is thought to have originated in the 10th century A.D. Warli painting is centred around Mother Nature and the elements of nature are often the focus of the painting. It is done using the basic geometric shapes- circle, triangle and square. Each of these shapes represents an element of nature. The main motif of the painting is often surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing or farming and animals.

Traditionally, the paintings were created in the inner walls of houses. The artists only paint with white pigment on a base of some dark colour. Normally, the base is made by covering a surface by cow dung or chuna. The white pigment is made from a mixture of rice paste and water, with the gum used as a binder. The paintbrush is created by chewing off the end of a bamboo stick to get the bristle-like structures.

Renowned Warli Artists: Some of the well-known Warli artists include Jivya Soma Mashe.

Indian Tribal Art - Gond
Indian Tribal Art – Gond

5. Gond Art

Gond art is a tribal art form from central India. It is practised by the Gond tribe residing in the region of Gondwana covering present-day Madhya Pradesh. It was created by tribals to decorate the walls of their houses.

Colours are organically extracted from nature. The main ideas around which Gond paintings are done include nature. Gondi people believe that seeing a good picture brings good luck. These paintings are easily recognizable because of the recurrent use of dashes, dots and vibrant colours to compose images. In present times, natural dyes and hand-made equipment and paper are rarities, yet the cultural resonances continue to survive.

Gond paintings are uncannily similar to the Aboriginal Art practised in Australia. It is said that this connection is due to the common origin of both the countries from the landmass, Gondwana. As time went by, the landmass was broken into several pieces which with time drifted apart.

Renowned Gond Artists: Some of the well-known Gond artists are Durga Devi and Jangarh Singh Shyam.

Indian Tribal Art: Dokra
Indian Tribal Art: Dokra

6. Dokra Art

Dokra art is one of the oldest methods of metal casting. It was first practised by the Damar Dokra tribe of West Bengal. In present days, this art form has spread to states like Jharkhand, Odisha and Chattisgarh. The metal is cast into different motifs using the Lost-wax casting method. The famous ‘Dancing Girls’ from Mohenjo-Daro were cast using the same technique. It is one of the oldest metal artefact known to humans.

The two main types of lost-wax casting are- hollow casting and solid casting. Hollow casting is a more traditional method in which the core is created using clay. In solid casting, the core is created using a solid piece of wax. First, the core which resembles the final metal product is made with wax. The core is then given its details like the jewellery, facial features if the artefact is a human figure. The core is then covered with several layers of clay. This structure is then heated till the clay hardens and the wax melts. Ducts are created in the clay to wash away the wax. The hardened clay is used as the mould. Liquid metal is poured into the mould. The mould is destroyed once the metal in it hardens.

Some of the very famous motifs in Dokra art include- Dhokra horses, elephants, peacocks, owls, religious images, measuring bowls, and lamp caskets. One of the main characteristics of this art form is that no two artefacts will be the same since only one mould is used to produce one artefact.

Challenges faced by Indian artists

The artisans face challenges in marketing and selling their products. One of the main obstacles is that handmade items are more expensive than mass-produced ones. People tend to buy products that are cheaper and hence, they overlook the quality. It is important that consumers understand the worth of the artefacts and not bargain with the artisans as this is their only source of income. The other significant barrier is the middlemen. Traders often buy the products from the artisans at cheap prices and sell them at very high rates. This has a major impact on the artisans as they do not get the money that they deserve.

Since these products do not have many buyers, artisans are willing to sell their products at very low prices. Due to these circumstances, many artisans opt to withdraw from the art form and they start doing other jobs to meet their financial needs. This is a huge factor in the decline of these art forms. Indian Folk art plays a very important role in the cultural heritage of India. It is of utmost importance to revive these art forms to educate the upcoming generations of our country.

These art forms can be revived if necessary steps are taken. They can be added to school and college curriculums as extra-curricular activities. They can be modernized into everyday items like trays, scarves, sarees, dupattas and kettles to name a few. These products can also be used in corporate gifting. This will give a much needed financial boost to the dying art community.

About our writing program student:

Aarya Menon

Aarya Menon

Aarya Menon is a Grade XI student from DPS, Undri, Pune. This 16-year-old science student is also an aspiring writer, fond of fine arts and is an avid basketball player.

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Tanya is a graduate in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai, a post-graduate in Communications and Media from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and holds a Master's Degree in Journalis & Mass Communications from Chandigarh University. A former writing mentor and a seasoned lifestyle writer, Tanya writes columns on The Lifestyle Portal of life and living.

2 thoughts on “6 traditional Indian artforms you should know

  • Poyani Mehta

    A very informative write up. I got to know many details of the much loved art forms of India. Good going Aarya.

  • Aarya Menon

    Thank you so much. Your support means a lot to me.


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