Tribal Paintings

Tribal Paintings

Tribal Painting is a form of visual art created exclusively by the tribes of different regions. The indigenous visual art form created by the adivasis, tribes and natives of India are collectively called Indian tribal painting.

Since the popularity of subaltern studies in the urban sensibility, art forms created by the tribes of different regions of India have gained considerable amount of popularity since the 70s. Unlike the urban and modern art, which is more than often tagged with the features of atomized individuals, publicity and consumerist approaches, tribal arts are collective, limited to the domains of the community and of course not commercial in nature.

But with time, as the urban market has approved these art forms to be at par with that of the modern traditions, tribal art forms have also been commercialized and as a result new avenues have been opened to promote and avail them, turning them into a prop to our concrete walls.


Features of Tribal Paintings

Tribal paintings are prized possessions of the city and its dwellers, primarily for its utilitarian yet non-commercial features. The following are some of the numerous features of a tribal painting:

  • Tribal paintings are primarily used for collective activities and community celebrations.

  • Tribal art forms are less complicated than the modern forms and depict simple beliefs of the community.

  • The themes and subjects for such painting are limited to the periphery of the daily activities, individuals, personified trees and animals.

  • Tribal paintings give as an impression of a two-dimensional image, much different from the perspective or three-dimensional feeling of the modern paintings

  • The colors used are mostly derived from nature.

  • Most of the paintings are symbolic and connotative; therefore, searching for realist approach in them is a waste of time.


Different Mediums of Tribal Paintings

Tribal art forms and paintings find different mediums for expression. They are:

1. Wall Paintings:

Paintings on walls are a very common form of tribal art. Every time when new wall is made or painted, various types of motifs and objects are drawn with natural colors. Tribal paintings are not very concerned about the surface on which the painting is to be done. So whatever the surface is, tribal painters do hesitate to employ colors and patterns according to their wishes. Their common pigments include red, yellow, black and white earthen hues.

Almost all the tribal paintings carry symbolic forms which are repetitive in nature. Human forms are depicted mostly through line diagrams, with specific geometric shapes, or even the figure is depicted, it does not have the European touch of anatomical detailing and measurement.

2. Masks:

Mostly painted on leaves and naturally processed layers of papers and pulps, painted masks are used during the ceremonies and rituals. These masks are painted with impressions of mythical figures, caricatures of ascetics and demons.

3. Clothes:

A lot of cultures prefer to paint on clothes for various ritualistic uses. The designs on clothes are mostly dominated by geometric shapes of square, triangle and circle, repetitive motifs and recurrent patterns. But this is more out of commercial need and is a recent trend.

4. Clay materials:

Mostly used as effigies, clay pots are made by the tribes themselves and are painted with different kinds of motifs. These earthen clay pots are used as a symbol to woo away misfortunes to the community and the family and to protect the product itself. The common themes include moon, star, tree, snake, comb and even aero planes.

5. Scrolls:

Mostly used to unravel narratives of tales from mythology and epics, scrolls are an ancient visual form with abundance of bright colors.


Types of Trial Paintings

India is an abode of innumerable tribes and thus has given rise to striking and varied genres of tribal art forms. Some of them brought to the limelight by the urban consciousness are:

  1. Warli Painting

  2. Saura Painting

  3. Pithora Painting

  4. Santhal Painting


Warli Painting

These are indigenous creations of the tribes like Warli, Kokana, Dhodi, Malkhar koli, Kathodi found in Thane district in the hinterland of Maharashtra. The word ‘Warli ‘comes from ‘warla’, a tribal word meaning ‘land’, as most of the population of the tribes are land tillers.

Warli paintings only came to the limelight as late as the seventies although the scholars’ reading approves the art of being into existence since the 10th century A.D. Research says that this art form might be a continuation of the tribal art which originated in the Neolithic period of 2500 B.C. to 3000 B.C.

Warli Paintings are two dimensional images with no influence of perspective in it. It has primacy of the linear representations with triangles dominating among the other shapes.

  • This form of art strictly adheres to the specific geometric shapes each having a significance of its own. The three basic patterns include circle, triangle and square.

  • These paintings are line drawings covering a lot of space of the canvas or the wall.

  • Mostly these paintings are monochromatic. The background colors are of mosly earthly red, henna, black and so on.

There are four major themes which the art form revolves around. They are:

  1. Lagna Cha Chawk

  2. Tarpa Dance

  3. Tree of Life

  4. Harvest


Saura Painting

Hailing from the folk culture of Orissa’s Rayagada, Gajapati and Koraput districts, these paintings are practiced by the local tribe called Saura (also called Sora, Sabara and Sour). These tribes have been mentioned in texts like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Drawn in the form of pictograms, these paintings are witnesses to the great acumen these tribes have.

Usually these are ritualistic wall paintings painted on the inside of the mud houses called italons.

Occasions which are celebrated through these paintings are:

  1. Birth of a child

  2. Good Harvest

  3. Marriage

Among the various themes of the Saura painting, the most important one is that of the Idital, the Saura deity attached with signs and symbols.

These images of the paintings are known to be Ikon and portray the activities and lives of the tribal community. Drawn in a line and segmented into zones, these are reminiscent of the ancient cave paintings.


Pithora Painting

Pithoras are colorful and vibrant paintings usually done on walls. They are created by the tribes of Rathwas , Bhils and Nayaks of central Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. These paintings mark the advent of the celebrations of the community mainly on the occasions of:

  1. Birth of a child

  2. Good Harvest

  3. Marriage

These paintings often pictorially recreate the mood of a community and with the expression of the sentiments of the creators

The colorful indigenous art form makes its colors from various mixes of pigments with milk and liquor prepared from the auspicious Mahuda tree. The shades of character of the tribes are unraveled through their paintings:

  1. Their mimicry of the upper class called Tadagis in their daily life.

  2. Forest being their most important natural resource, trees are considered to be sacred.

  3. Family as the most important unit of their society.

  4. Their practice of socially arranged marriages.

Pithora Painting is performed as a Ritual:

  • Pithora paintings are actually rituals which are performed to thank their god for their wish fulfillment.

  • The head priest called the ‘badwa’ is summoned during times of crisis for the families

  • Painting Pithwas with Pithora Baba on the walls are parts of solution given by the priests

  • Pithora Baba of the painting is believed to give solution to the problems

  • Three walls of the house are taken for this kind of painting.

  • Virgins of the families chalk the outline (called lipna) on the mud walls only after which the final painting is done.


Santhal Painting

Santhal paintings are practiced by Jadu Patuas and the magic painters of the Santhal tribe of Orissa, Santhal Pargana district in Bengal and parts of Bihar. Owing to its occupation as agriculture, these paintings portray simple life and work of this agro-based community and depicting their daily work.

The themes they work mostly upon are:

  • nature

  • farming

  • harvesting

  • marriages

  • dancing

  • celebrations

Some of the characteristics of Santhal Painting:

  • Like all other tribal paintings with their raw materials coming from a non-industrial set up, they render their art with natural dyes and naturally extracted colors.

  • These paintings, like most of the Indian forms of paintings (both tribal and royal), lack the application of perspectives and depth of filed, which makes it more interestingly indigenous.

  • These paintings are made on handmade papers with organic materials.

Awareness about the Santhal Painting is limited even in an age of unprecedented global knowledge system which shows the crippled aspect of our modern society. However, these paintings are less commercialized than the others, and most of the potuas and magic painters are reverting to other forms of livelihood.

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