On 26th January this year, as every year, India will again rise to reminisce and celebrate the nation it has become. Marked by an elaborate parade and cheering crowds, the day will witness a rejoicing of this nation’s history and diverse cultural heritage. However, amidst the commemoration, there are some facets of our culture which have dangerously slipped into oblivion.
The cultural heritage of India is enriched by the myriad arts, crafts and rituals that abound from every region, colouring the lifestyles of people who have lived on this land for centuries, often moulding exiting practices with their own novelties, adding uniqueness and regional colour. Art and paintings make up an integral part of this legacy, existing in diversity and local flavours, made using distinctive materials and practices that render each art form notable and worthy of praise by art enthusiasts and collectors across the globe. However, within this splendour lie certain styles of painting that have been deemed obsolete or are sliding into extinction for lack of popularity and means, creating a void in the rich artistic culture that India boasts of, and this is a matter of concern that needs amends, rapidly and efficiently.
Born in the 7th century in the Anga Kingdom, presently the Bhagalpur region in the State of Bihar, this is a rare style of painting that is depicted in the form of a series, with each canvas portraying a specific scene in sequence, quite like a scroll painting, often narrating folk tales of historical and cultural relevance. It was traditionally associated with the Bishahari festival, dedicated to the local snake God, and while it majorly represented the Bihual-Bishari folklore, it also included a wide range of motifs such as the deities Shiva and Hanuman, the sun, the moon, birds, flowers, etc; the borders of these paintings were of various styles like Belpatr, Lehariya, Triangle, Mokha and patterns of snakes. The culturally vibrant and historically significant art form flourished in the colonial period, but started waning in magnitude by the 20thcentury, currently facing the threat of obsolescence if not properly restored.
This art is practised exclusively by the women and girls of the Mithila region, where this was historically originated, and the paintings are characterised by vibrant colours, which are used to depict local folklore which dates back to the marriage of Rama and Sita, along with other mythological events, social activities and festivities, drawn in subtle geometric patterns. These paintings were generally made on the mud walls of houses in the community, but could also be made on cloth, handmade paper and canvas, and used the faint colour of cow dung as the base and natural colours created from fruits, flowers, leaves and roots, to give a natural, yet dynamic, look. The different styles include Bharni, Katchni, Tantrik, Godna and Kohbar, made by the females from various caste as a way to ensure self-independence; however, since the art is survived only by a single village, Mithila has reached a status of extinction, and requires urgent steps for survival to continue the livelihood of women.
This art form dates back 800 years and is closely linked with feminine traditions, as it is supposed to symbolise the essence of the Bindi, the auspicious object worn by women on their foreheads, signifying their intellectual capacity and a symbol for empowerment. The style was born in Patna, where its popularity attracted traders to deal in these art works, especially during the Mughal reign, as the rulers were fond of patronising spectacular art. Tikuli paintings are intricate pieces and require skill and work- they are made using gold foil, thwarts and gems on a glass base that give it the delicate, yet shiny appeal- and are hence highly priced; while there is no denying the beauty of a Tikuli painting, this style of art started losing admirers with the withdrawal of the Mughal Empire and the establishment of the Colonial rulers, and is now rapidly being replaced by industrialised products.
Davli paintings, also called Mlavelivayana, refer to a scroll painting tradition of Kerala, where art is often closely intertwined with folk narration that evokes a rich culture that distinguishes the region, while adding to the artistic charm of India.The artists, known as Mlavelipandaram, depict two or three episodes of the local Shiva myths on a single piece of canvas, creating several pieces to represent the entire epic; traditionally, these artists carried the paintings from door to door in the villages in Ernakulam and Kottayam districts to narrate the epics to the community while unravelling their work like scrolls to generate interest and perpetuate the knowledge of myths. While this entire process possessed immense religious significance, it is now carried out only by a few artisans in the Aluva area of the district of Ernakulam, and is proper steps are not taken, this art might be rendered extinct in the next couple of years.
These art forms have vividly coloured the space of the country and deserve recognition and praise. This Republic Day, let us bring these treasures back to the fore. Let us mark 26th January as the day we no longer neglect the precious artistic heritage India is bolstered on!