The somewhat lesser-known traditions of Indian painting are the so-called “folk” paintings, which are living traditions, essentially associated with the history and culture of various regions of India.
Decoration of floors in geometric fashions or drawings of narrative sequences of mythology on the walls of houses are very common, though less acknowledged forms of Indian traditional painting. Floor Painting has been recorded in the ‘Chitralakshana’ and in the Ramayana. These paintings are known by different names in different parts of the country, ‘alpana’ in Bengal and Assam, ‘aripana’ in Bihar, ‘mandana’ in Rajasthan, ‘rangoli’ in Maharashtra, ‘sathiya’ in Gujarat, ‘sona rakhna’ and ‘chowkpurana’ in Uttar Pradesh, ‘ossan’ or ‘jhunti’ in Orissa and ‘kolam’ in Tamil Nadu. In Himachal Pradesh, the Pahari women draw many diagrammatic designs called ‘yantras’ on the thresholds on ceremonial occasions. This form of floor painting is locally known as ‘haugaiyan’, while other terms like ‘dehar’, ‘likhnu’ and ‘chauk’ apply to specific forms of floor art painting.
Kalamkari is the technique of painting cloth with a pointed bamboo pen called ‘kalam’. Initially, outlines of the pattern are drawn onto the cloth in black, which is then given other colours like yellow, blue and green. Deities of the Hindu pantheon, the sun, flowers and even Biblical themes are used in these paintings. Kalamkari is a popular industry in Andhra Pradesh.
Patna Kalam Art:
This unique genre of miniature art was promoted by Akbar and adopted by the British during the early 19th century. Patna Kalam reigned supreme in the realm of Indian art for well over 187 years, beginning 1760. The Patna Kalam Art was an independent school of painting that dealt exclusively with themes of a common man and his lifestyle. It was a unique experiment in painting in the sense that these paintings were neither the known Indian types nor British. These watercolour-based works were essentially court paintings of Mughal and British durbars. This art form was first promoted by two painters Nohar and Manohar in Mughal emperor Akbar’s court. In the contemporary times, late Ishwari Prasad Verma was recognised artist of this genre of paintings.
Madhubani Paintings are folk paintings of Mithila, a market town in Bihar. This ancient art is today an exclusive monopoly of women artistes, having passed down from generation to generation in some families. According to early accounts, the paintings were actually executed by the Brahmin and Kayastha women, who constitute a socially respected minority in the villages of Bihar. William and Mildred Archer were among the first modern outsiders to document the tradition of Madhubani paintings, which was instrumental in getting international recognition to this art form in the recent times. These paintings are done on paper or cloth using primary colours of natural origin and largely depict figures of Shiva and Parvati, Radha and Krishna and other deities. Nowadays, ‘tantric’ symbolism is also being incorporated in the basic designs.
Palm Painting or Henna:
A special kind of body embellishment, the painting of palms and soles is practised in almost all parts of India, but especially in Rajasthan. This form of self-adornment is known as ‘henna’ or ‘mehndi’, after the plant from the leaves of which the red dye is extracted for the purpose.
Phad is an ancient tradition of scroll painting in Rajasthan, which is done on a long rectangular cloth. Phad is painted in bold colours and is rolled on two shafts of bamboo, thus making it easy to carry. Phad has been used as a backdrop by ‘Bhopas’ or the bards of Rajasthan for hundreds of years. The favourite themes of these scrolls include popular mythological stories, Jain ‘Patas’ and tantric ‘Kundali patris’ and ‘Janma-patris’, besides the adventures and travails of Pabuji, a local hero.
Pichwais are cloth paintings that unfold scenes from the life of Lord Krishna and are used as a backdrop for his idol at the Nathdwara Temple, near Udaipur, Rajasthan. These have deep religious roots and are devotionally rendered by painters. The Pichwais are increasingly being used as colourful decorative hangings in urban homes.
Tangkhas are usually silk painted Buddhist scrolls executed in vegetable and mineral dyes on canvas and framed by silk brocade especially woven to look like traditional Chinese brocades. These scrolls, which are painted by young Tibetan monks, are actually ritual paintings displayed only during certain festivals. They are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display. They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures. A central deity is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition.
Thangkas generally depict the mystical panorama of the Tibetan Buddhism and the mythology and lives of the Buddhist gods and Bodhisattvas.
Wall paintings are very common in different parts of India and have widely different themes. In Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi, wall paintings are usually made at festivals and special occasions like marriages. In Rajasthan, the doorkeepers or the ‘dwarkapalas’ are painted on either side of the entrance doors of houses. ‘Mandanas’ are auspicious wall paintings of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which are meant to protect the home and to welcome gods into the house. Kumaon is famous for its wall pictures called ‘bar boond’ (dash and dot) or ‘jyonti’, whose patterns are known by the number of dots used. In some places like Kangra, Mandi and Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, brilliant wall paintings are done in the ‘torana griha’ (honeymoon room). These paintings are known as ‘kauhara’ or ‘kamdeo’. Orissa is known for its ‘patachitra’, a folk painting done on cloth.
Warli paintings, discovered in the early 1970s on the walls of the mud houses, are a unique art form of the Adivasi Warli tribes of Maharashtra. These paintings, which are done with ground rice flour, have a fine symmetry and are characterized by meticulous use of colours. Stick-like figures of people, animals and trees form a loose rhythmic pattern across the wall, depicting the everyday life of the people. The paintings are very repetitive and are highly symbolic.