Be it the depiction of countryside, weddings, festivals or celebrations – Pithora art, made by tribals of Aadharkaanch in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh, celebrates different realities of rural living.
The paintings are usually canvased on cloth, paper, card boards and walls with natural and synthetic colors. Traditionally, Pithora like every other form of painting originated on the walls of tribal households.
Wall paintings till date remain one of the most common forms of creative expression, and makes for traditional home décor that has religious importance to the Bhilalas.
Warli, Pithora, Mandana – tribals in India engage in various art forms to adorn their homes during festivals, and more recently also with an objective of diversifying their incomes.
Historically derived from cave, wall and rock paintings, this art is heavily inspired from Gujarat, has religious and mythological relevance to indigenous tribes of Madhya Pradesh which has slowly transformed into a vibrant occupation of the Bhilalas or Rathwas.
How the paintings are made
The process begins with Lipai that comprises of setting the background of walls with dung, water and chuna. Painted in spectacular and vivid reds, greens, oranges, blues and pinks- birds, animals, trees, the cosmos all find their representation through these paintings. It is considered sacred to paint horses, the sun, and the moon which, are believed to be the three lucky mascots in Bhilala mythological stories, characterizing and distinguishing these paintings. Daily activities of rural life such as farming, hunting, ploughing, and exuberance in festivities like dancing and singing in revelry, depicting social cohesion are exhibited through colors and imagination with highest reverence to Pithora Dev and local gods.
The many patterns of Pithora painting
A beautiful mélange of colors inspired from nature is seen in wall and paper paintings, but each pattern differs from the other. An important feature of authentic Pithora art is that no two paintings are ever similar and artists take care of this ‘unique selling point’ of their skill with utmost precision. Every artist leaves a distinct mark on each of his paintings to signify his intellectual and creative rights over the murals, thereby making each and every painting unique in its own way by using different color combinations, floral patterns, and symmetry in murals.
Choosing the subjects
The backgrounds are white or crème but could be stark red for a rustic mud color appeal suiting contemporary tastes. Tribal chores are depicted beautifully on these paintings which have over time become quite an exorbitant home décor product finding distant refuge in urban homes. The authentic portrayal of village and tribal life is done ecstatically to present hardship and occasional festivity, thus underscoring the co-existence of hope and despair in tribal lives, through depiction of daily chores and celebrations at the same time, making a painting complete.
Men of the tribe engage in this mural art form which is a traditional practice. Devi Singh, 32 belonging to the Bhilala tribe, and inhabiting the Dehrikheda village in Kathiwada block of Alirajpur depicts tribal folklore through Pithora works. Having received various trainings from Hastashilp Evam Hathkargha Vikas Nigam – a Government of Madhya Pradesh undertaking, Devi Singh and other artisans have now become master trainers of this exotic art originating from the hinterlands of India. Each painting without frames is priced at Rs 500- 600, and prices vary depending on the socio-economic context of markets. Realizing the livelihood advantage associated with Pithora art, Singh and his family now practice this art form on floor, paper, walls, cloth, canvas and wood. During weddings in the village, classic derivations of Pithora work as wall décor with mud and white paints is seen vividly in homes.
The history, the heritage
Pithora forms an important medium of expression and contributes to history and heritage as these paintings are a repository of tribal heritage. Artists through this traditional occupation, carry forward a rich tribal lineage of the Bhilalas, and therefore contribute to indigenous knowledge and market capital by creating platforms of accessibility and entrepreneurship in these regions which are usually marred by infrastructural and market constraints.
Next week in Part 2, we present bead work jewelry especially the famous ‘Galsan Mala’ that is handcrafted and meticulously woven with beads and threads, by Bhilala women.
Swasti Pachauri is a social sector consultant currently working as a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow in Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh, India. Views expressed in the article are personal.