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An enticing collection of traditional and tribal paintings picked from far-flung nooks of India, these bright  hued works are virtual showcases of the lives, legends and inspirations of their creators. Rooted basically in tradition, they are now the precious livelihood of these artists. Click to learn more about the particular type, and also to pick from this gallery: 

Madhubani
Miniatures
Palm Leaf
Pattachitra
Orissa Tribal
Pithora
Tanjore
Thangkas
Paboji Ke Pad
Pichhvai Painting
Warli Tribal
Kalighat
 
 

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Madhubani Paintings

Many Brahmin and Kayasth women of Madhubani district (Bihar) are particularly accomplished in decorating their houses for marriages and feasts. These paintings depict bright, lively deities, most popularly Krishna and his beloved Radha, and various stories associated with their legends. These are called the Madubani paintings, named after the village of their origin. The stories depicted in such paintings are reminders as well as safeguards of these often quaint stories.

The form of each figure is a highly stylized profile of the face and feet whilst the body often faces the viewer. Characteristically, the outlines are drawn as a double line with diagonal hatching between them. During the Bihar famine of 1964-65 some of these women began to reproduce their pictures on paper. And that is how originated the now famed Madhubani Painting tradition in it's current form.

 


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Miniature Paintings

Miniature Paintings are a classical art-form practised in India since the time of the Mughals and before them. It still thrives, but in a more commercialized version in Rajasthan as a souvenir craft. Various styles of miniature paintings like those which flourished in the Punjab foothills viz. Chamba and Kangra, those practised in the Rajput courts like Bundi, Kota, Kishangarh along with the Mughal style in Delhi are extensively covered in the Art Education section on this site.


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Palm Leaf Etchings

In the Cuttack district of Orissa, a beautiful folk art-form thrives which involves etching out patterns with thin lines using an iron pen on strips of palm leaf. Different parts of the complete picture are finished on a number of strips which are then sewn together to complete the motif. The etching is rubbed with lamp black to achieve a quaint effect. These small etchings mostly use mythological themes and are folded over and tied up with a string.


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Pattachitra

Patachitra are still turned out for the millions of pilgrims who flock to the great Jagannath Temple. These are cloth paintings executed on a leather-like surface comprising layers of old cotton cloth glued together with a gum made of ground tamarind seed. Apart from the three idols of the temple Jagannath, lord of the univers, Subhadra, his sister, and Balbhadra, his brother the painters depict various religious subjects in a sharp-featured ritualized form. The final stage involves outlining faces and jewelry in close detail and accentuating sections of the picture with black lines. The finished article is varnished to protect it from dirt and damp. 

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Orissa Tribal Paintings

Tribal paintings from Orissa, earlier done as house-hold decoration, but now a commercial art-form done on raw silk fabric. The themes are drawn from day-to-day life showing rows and rows of tiny human forms painted in black, and engaged in daily or ceremonial activities.
 

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Pithora Paintings

Amongst the Rathwa Bhils of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, it is a common practice to install a deity at all auspicious times in the family like weddings etc., within the home in the form of a ritual wall-painting. These are called the Pithora Paintings because the subject is usually the wedding of the deity "Pithoro". These are done in a sacred enclosure and outside the enclosure, other similar paintings depicting incidents from daily life are also done featuring usually horses.
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Tanjore Paintings

In Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) a single family preserves an individual school of painting which, whilst integrating foreign elements, continues an old tradition expressed in an original technique. Thin cardboard is glued onto a board of pilla wood, and over this a sheet of calico. On this surface a paste of gum made from ground tamarind seeds and powdered stone is spread. When this is dry the outline of a picture is sketched in crayon. It is characteristic of these paintings that decorative materials are used to embellish them in the very best work gold leaf and semi-precious stones may be used but, more commonly, these are replaced by foil and coloured glass. The gold leaf or foil is glued over selected parts of the sketch, followed by the real or imitation gems. It is only at this stage that painting begins, using strong primary colours and starting with the background. Finally, the main figures are added and the details completed. Today the hand-ground natural colours have been religious replaced by factory-produced pigments. 


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Pichwai Paintings

Nathdwara (Rajasthan) is famous for its picchwai, which are large paintings on cloth portraying Sri Nathji, a powerful icon of Krishna clad in his various costumes, as well as maniatures on paper or card. Most are, as they always were, low-quality, cheap souvenirs. The style probably developed soon after the idol, fleeing  iconoclasts, reached its present home. 


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Pabuji Ke Pad

The Pabhuji pad which is painted on a cloth screen some 5 metres (over 16 feet) long by 1.3 metres (over 4 feet) high, depicts the miraculous life of the god-hero Pabhuji Rathor, in little-altered, mid-18th-century style. Painted by hereditary craftsmen in and around Shalpura (Rajasthan), it is carried by itinernat bards. The narrator signs the story in front of the screen whilst his wife points to each episode as he describes it. When worn out, the pad was ritually destroyed, and consequently its early evolution is obscure. Now it is painted almost entirely as a curio, as few men still perform. Other such Rajasthani screens tell of similar figures such as Ramdevi, and Dev Narayan, whose story has been copied onto the walls of shrines dedicated to him in Shahpura. 
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Thangkas

Thangka cloth paintings were produced for religious rituals, to be displayed at certain festivals in the extreme northern region of the country, in Ladakh, where Tibetan Buddhism flourishes, and in parts of Himachal Pradesh, where Tibetan  refugees have settled. Thankas are often showing the Buddha and the Wheel of Life. Figural tradition in Tibetan art was inspired by India, while the Chinese taught Tibetans the visualization of nature. Tibetans eagerly absorbed these two great influences and created this remarkably expressive style of painting. 
Thangka paintings are generally hung in monastic shrines or in domestic altars. They are used during prayer as a means of offering homage. Large Thankas are unrolled on  ceremonial occasions and also hung outside the walls of monasteries. The Mandala, a variety of this style is used in meditation.  The practice of pilgrims carrying these paintings as protective omens on journeys helped disseminate this style across vast lands. To the Tibetans these paintings are more than a work of art. Rich in iconographic imagery, they are sacred objects of devotion and religious practice.
The medium used is a paper that incorporates linen fiber for strength and durability. This is stretched over a frame and made smooth by sizing with chalk and glue. When dry it is made smoother yet by burnishing with sea shell. One or more artists work on a single painting due to the iconographic complexity of the work. A master craftsman draws in the outline, in black or red, chooses colors to be used, and instructs his assistants to fill in the appropriate color. The pigments used are derived from vegetable and mineral sources, such as ground lapis lazuli. The paintings are usually finished in 24 karat gold paint. Gum resin is used as the binding medium. The technique essentially is an opaque watercolor. 
Traditionally Tibetan paintings are mounted on elaborate silk brocades. A plain piece of silk hangs in front as a dust protector and can be flipped behind when the painting is being viewed. This technique of mounting was suited to the life style of the nomadic Tibetans. Despite the fact that these people had very old cities and monastic sites, they wandered in search of seasonal pastures. These paintings could then be rolled for ease of transport and unrolled for devotion and meditation.
 

The word Mandala literally means 'Essence Container'. It deals with the first two forms of Tantric Yoga, Action (Kriya) and Performance. A Mandala is a vehicle and support for meditation, which is the ultimate practical application of Yoga. 
All Mandalas are geometric in design, combinations of circles and squares varied and strategically placed. The viewer leaves the outside perimeters of the Phenomenal world (i.e. burning ground of flames on the perimeter) he enters and visually moves toward the center (Axis Mundi) or the goal. It is near the central area that the cleaner mind can allow for a reintegration with the cosmos to take place. 
The Mandala can be characterized as a cosmogram, as a micro-cosmic symbol of the universe complete with its collective consiousness, as an 'inner forum' for the psychic drama of man's reintegration with the cosmos. The Mandala remains one of the most graphic symbols ever invented to denote order and harmony of the enlightened mind. 

The Wheel of Transmigration is laid out in concentric circles, rounds of rebirth that revolve around the center that depicts the three poisons: pig, ignorance; desire, crow; and hostility, serpent. The next circle shows souls ascending and descending in circles of reincarnation. Surrounding this is the realm of rebirth, a teaching Buddha in each realm. Clockwise from the top, the realm of gods, shown the largest; titans; Hungry ghosts; hell beings and beasts; and mankind. The entire wheel is held by Mahakala, the God of endless time. 
The painting can be characterized as a cosmogram, as a micro-cosmic symbol of the universe complete with its collective consciousness, as an 'inner forum' for the psychic drama of man's reintegration with the cosmos. It remains one of the most graphic symbols ever invented to denote order and harmony of the enlightened mind. 



 
 

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Warli Tribal

The murals of the Warli tribals of the coastal region of southern Gujarat and northern Maharashtra are also now commercially painted, often executed on specially prepared softboard. Typically, these pictures show multitudes of tiny human forms hunting, dancing or cultivating the land. They rely more on line than colour, usually being drawn in white rice paste to prepare for specific festivals or family events.
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Kalighat Paintings


Kalighat paintings emerged as a contemporary art around the time of Indian independence close to he Kali Mandir area in Bengal. These were painted by the poor painters called "Pats" as souvenirs for the pilgrims to the temple and often made wry, witty satires on the contemporary social life of Bengal at that time. Sadly, their value was realized long after real talent was replaced by commercial substitutes. Please visit the Art Education section on this site for more detailed description of this art form.
 

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