Art in India has a rich history. Proven records of existence of Indian Folk Art date back to Indus valley civilization. It is certain that Art prevailed in prolific forms even before that.
I love innovation and what can be more beautiful and thrilling than artistic innovation. It is so easy to imagine innovation in technology with innovation in art. In this post, I have focussed on the Indian Folk art.
Indian art is extremely versatile because of its folk galore over the ages. Art has been enriched even more by innovations in subtle manners. India is more like a continent with mini countries rich in diversity, customs, culture, religion etc. These mini countries have developed their distinct styles to further add colour to the Indian Art.
In this post, I have tried to provide a background to the Indian Folk art (even covering a bit of non folk art) and then in a nutshell have detailed a few forms of folk art prevalent in India.
These art forms have been extremely innovative and versatile and have thrived for centuries now. There are numerous folk art forms in India not all of which have been discussed in this post. I have however tried to cover the most popular ones.
Indian Folk art- Background
The origin of Indian art can be traced back to pre-historic Hominid settlements in the 3rd millennium BC. Art has been a unifying factor for the Indian subcontinent ever since.
Indian folk art has had cultural influences like Indus Valley on the way to its current contemporary form. It has been highly driven by customs and religious influences like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. India is a land of diversity and thus Art has diversified over the years as well.
This article elaborates on and portrays few of the most prolific Indian folk arts while taking a holistic approach on Indian Art as folk culture is embedded homogeneously in Indian art.
Indian Art including Folk art consists of a variety of art forms, including plastic arts which includes ceramic art, visual arts (like cave paintings), paintings, sculpting and textile arts.
Discussing each of these would be like writing a novel and, therefore, discussion in this article would be Folk centric art form driven by innovation, needs, customs and desires of various communities. These art forms which started small have become institutions over the years and have gained international accolade.
Various forms of the Indian Folk art
International market has rated a few of the folk arts of India highly. These have started to yield ample returns for the artists. Some of the most famous folk paintings of India are:
- Madhubani paintings of Bihar,
- Pattachitra paintingsfrom the state of Odisha
- The Nirmal paintings of Andhra Pradesh
- Rajput paintings of Rajasthan
- Warli Folk art from Maharashtra
- Thanjavur painting
- Bengal Pat
- Warli Folk Painting- Warli Tribal art
- Gond art
- Nakashi art
And many more.
Related article- Folk and Tribal art of India
These art forms have become an intrinsic part of India’s cultural identity. A Pattachitra painting is reproduced below.
Folk and tribal art in India takes on different manifestations through varied media such as pottery, painting, metalwork, paper-art and weaving.
Designing of objects such as jewellery and toys also have folk flavour at times. There is a deep symbolic meaning that is attached to not only the objects themselves but also the materials and techniques used to produce them. The symbolic meanings are derived from various cultures, religions, civilizations and societal settings.
Art-work given below is one such piece which is displaying presentation of Akbarnama, the biography of India’s most famous Mughal emperor, ‘Akbar’. Akbar was an illiterate but an ardent lover of art and literature.
Folk art forms in India often include depiction of Gods and legends which are reproduced in contemporary forms. Different regions come up with different depictions which adds to the diversity of art.
Each sect brings with itself a unique set of expertise to make art richer. Folk art also includes nature, nomads, landscapes, cultural depictions, lifestyle and so on of a specific segment. Given below is a Warli painting as a classic example of Indian Folk art.
Another example of Folk art is the Nakashi art from the Telangana region of India. These arts are being performed by artists from generations and depicts a story in each painting.
Each generation adds value staying abreast with the changing landscape of Art. It is however extremely common in India for art to cross state boundaries. It is possible that same art form finds its abode in another part of India. Below is a Nakashi painting from North of India (Amritsar).
Commercialization of Indian folk art
Commercialization of Indian Folk art has been a recent affair and folk artists, barring a few popular ones have had difficulties in the past even to earn bread and butter through the art they beheld and practiced for generations.
Folk arts have been preserved by ordinary people and are now being promoted by various NGOs and the Government of India.
Several scholars in India and across the world have studied these arts and have acknowledged that the folk spirit has an incredible role to play in the expansion of art and in the overall cognizance of ethnic cultures. Painting below is one such presentation of Kangra Folk art from the Himalayan region of India.
India has been known for its cultural diversities and traditional vibrancy and this has been amplified through the folk arts. Each state and union territory through its own traditional identity contributes to the unification of Folk art. Tribal art or village art practiced by rural communities act as an icing over the folk cake.
Reproduced is a historic Tanjavur painting below (Credits: Nireekshit) origins of which can be traced back to thousands of years.
Indian folk art- The cultural connect
‘Religious paintings with a royal heritage’ is the optimum definition for Thanjavur paintings, also known as Tanjore paintings. Each of the paintings is like a story with an embedded local theme.
Mughal folk painting below has the story of illicit love of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Due to these folklore based stories, this post has been named as Art Folk Lore but with a demarcation.
Rajput painting has several subdivisions owing to various cultural subsets of the famous Rajput culture. A Rajasthani Miniature painting from the medieval era of Mira Bai is a good example of Rajput painting.
Hindu households consider it auspicious to draw certain designs at the doorstep to welcome a deity into the house. This art form is a harmonious blend of Aryan, Dravidian and Tribal traditions.
Kalam (Kalamezhuthu) is unique form of this art found in Kerala. This art requires strict adherence to patterns according to norms and occasions. As it is not a choice by artists, artists blend contemporary methods to make it look more vibrant and attractive without changing the traditional design.
Folk art is not limited to paintings and it has extended its reach to pottery, sculpting, textiles and is riding high on recent innovations. Here is a short video which tries to give a flavour of the Indian Folk art which is immensely versatile and innovative.
The route ahead for Folk art
Government is spending a lot on research and scholarships for studying, practicing and researching on several folk art forms.
Indian culture and local rituals are embedded in these folk art forms, which when complemented with technology, training and astounding creativity of artists have earned name and fame for this art globally.
The names which don’t appear so familiar are not far behind in terms of fineness, colour, efforts, innovations and story-telling.
With the integration of traditions they are waiting for right opportunity to showcase their talents. While the artists engage themselves in the intricacies of rejuvenated folk art of India, world awaits to see some fresh innovation. With this note and high expectations from Indian Folk artists, I leave you with a painting from Raja Ravi Varma who provides a folk touch in his exquisite art-work.