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Warli:The Innocent and Natural Folk Art

With the intense activity to industrialize the country, the selfish entrepreneurs are venturing into the areas which have remained unaffected and immune to the fast pace of industrialization. Although for a country to become economically self sufficient, it is necessary to exploit the natural resources but given the present structure of economy, only a few are benefiting from all this at the cost of mindlessly destroying the nature and create problems for so many people who depend upon the nature for the lives. These people, whom we call tribal, live in complete harmony with the nature using only whatever is absolutely necessary. Many tribal societies which were on the periphery of towns have been influenced by the ever expanding demon of expansion in cities. The places which were uninhabited have become populated and the expansion is widening its circle relentlessly.

But still there are tribal people which remain immune to the influence of city life despite being in the proximity of the cities. They have resisted the contact with city life and live in their own world preserving their simple and close to mother nature based culture. One such community is called  Warlis.  It is the name of the largest tribe found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai, in Western India. Warli Art was first discovered in the early seventies. While there are no records of the exact origins of this art, its roots may be traced to as early as the 10th century A.D. Warli is the vivid expression of daily and social events of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, used by them to embellish the walls of village houses. This was the only means of transmitting folklore to a populace not acquainted with the written word. This art form is simple in comparison to the vibrant paintings of Madhubani.

Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings. These paintings do not depict mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life. Images of human beings and animals, along with scenes from daily life are created in a loose rhythmic pattern. These tribal paintings of Maharashtra are traditionally done in the homes of the Warlis. Painted white on mud walls, they are pretty close to pre-historic cave paintings in execution and usually depict scenes of human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting.

Stylistically, they can be recognized by the fact that they are painted on an austere mud base using one color, white, with occasional dots in red and yellow. This colour is obtained from grounding rice into white powder. This sobriety is offset by the ebullience of their content. These themes are highly repetitive and symbolic. Many of the Warli paintings that represent Palghat, the marriage god, often include a horse used by the bride and groom. The painting is sacred and without it, the marriage cannot take place. These paintings also serve social and religious aspirations of the local people. It is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods.

In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes make one line. The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These days, even men have taken to painting and they are often done on paper incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs with modern elements such as the bicycle, etc. Warli paintings on paper have become very popular and are now sold all over India. Today, small paintings are done on cloth and paper but they look best on the walls or in the form of huge murals that bring out the vast and magical world of the Warlis. For the Warlis, tradition is still adhered to but at the same time new ideas have been allowed to seep in which helps them face new challenges from the market.

These paintings resemble the cave paintings in that these are very close to nature and deal with common elements like animals, birds, marriages ceremonies and crops. These are simply beautiful because they are faithful attempts to represent the three dimensional world to 2 dimensional plane. The details are not required to be painted. It is from the contours and our human perception that we relate it to the real world.

These paintings have become very popular and its artists have been awarded for their work. One such painter is Jivya Soma Mhase who has been awarded Padmashree for his work.

Thangka Paintings of Kashmir

Thangka are painted scrolls depicting Buddhist deities and their cosmic realities. Although they are installed in domestic spaces as a talisman against all evils,Thangka are intended as navigational aids for the spirit, guiding the viewer in his quest for spiritual realization. It is in their capacity to render the invisible visible through iconographic representation that serve as installations in monasteries and prayer halls or as displays during religious festivals at monasteries. Due to the potency that the paintings are believed to possess, the painter is required to undergo rigorous spiritual and artistic training and in many cases is a monastic initiate. The proportions and iconographic details of the deities follow canonical prescriptions and the artistic genius of the individual is considered subordinate to the religious responsibility of the painter. Thangka are not signed by the artist but are given to a lama who blesses them with sacred syllables. The finished painting is then taken to only the male tailors of the community who mount the work on a frame of heavy gyasser, silk brocade panels. They back the painting with plain cloth and secure the scroll at the top and the bottom to wooden rods, with brass or silver knots at each end. Below are some samples:

A craftsman stitching a thangka at the Handicraft Centre at Leh.


Detail of a thangka painting a the Handicraft Centre.


A thangka depicting the golden Prajnaparamita or Yum Chenmo who embodies Supreme Wisdom. She is identified by the book placed on the lotus near her head.


A Green Tara thangka which shows 21 different manifestations of the goddess Tara. Depicted at the top of the thangka is Buddha Amitaha who denotes Boundless Light.


Wall Paintings of Hazaribagh

Situated at about 2000 feet above sea level, Hazaribagh is a thickly forested region in the heart of the Damodar river valley. Ancient rock art sites have been discovered here,like the famous Isko site in Hazaribagh town. The forms and motifs of prehistoric art of ancient tribes like Khurmi, Ganju, Santhals and Oraons who live here. While entire tribal villages have elaborately painted houses,two varieties are outstanding: Khovar and Sohrai paintings.

Much like the bridal chambers of Mithila, Khovar paintings have fertility symbols celebrating union and propagation. Bird motifs,especially the parrots and peacocks,are popular,as are fruit bearing trees. They are mostly made in the wedding season,which extends from January to May.

Sohrai is observed during November to December celebrating the harvesting. Cattle are cleaned and worshiped ,as are agricultural implements,like the plough. Sohrai paintings characteristically have a male god, Pashupati (popularly known as Lord Shiva), the lord of animals shown standing on the back of a bull.

Though tribal khovar and sohrai paintings have not had the market exposure that Madhubani paintings have had,the region has enormous craft energy waiting to be tapped.


Snakes & Peacocks


Shiva, riding on his bull Nandi


A hut with wall painting





Sujni: Traditional Embroidary From Bihar

Sujuni, is a traditional craft of Bihar. It is made by women and depicts the animal, bird and day to day activities of village life. It is technically done by straight running stitch embroidery on layered cotton.Women quilt together old sari and other pieces of cloth with tiny running stitches,and embroider these beautifully. The product is a quilt-cum-bedspread,sometimes stuffed with tattered cloth to give it added thickness. Sujuni is labour intensive-the number of stitches per square inch varies from 105-210. A fine running stitch all over the sheet in the same colour as the base cloth creates the background upon which motifs are outlined in chain stitch. The design is then filled in with tiny rumming stitches in coloured thread. An age-old practice among women in almost all parts of the country, what makes sujuni remarkable is the unique narrative elements in its embroidery. Women stitch their experience, their sorrows and their realities on the sujuni,transforming a mundane quilt into a testimony of their lives. Each sujuni tells a tale-the trauma of being a woman in a man`s world,domestic violence, female infanticide, effects of alcoholism and gambling on a family and similar issues.Social concerns like evils of dowry, education of girls, lessons in health-care and AIDS are also depicted. Thus each sujuni becomes a testament of personal trials or of social change.

sujni1  sujni3

Old sujunis had motifs from religion,nature and daily life.The shift in narrative themes is recent,after voluntary organizations encouraged women to stitch their lives, so to say, on the sujunis. Efforts by concerned agencies to contemporize sujuni have struck gold-not only has a product diversification been achieved, sujuni had also entered the international market,like Busra,an important productin cluster in Muzaffarpur, sujuni has changed the story of many a woman`s life.

I am not a Scheherazade!

Yes, I am not a Scheherazade, the famous woman -never ending story teller of ‘Arabian Nights‘ who could keep you on the edge of seat and weave a magical tale from the previous tale. She kept her husband prince Shahryar spellbound with a new story every night but never completed it and kept the end for next day to avoid being killed by her husband. The king, in order to listen the climax did not kill her. She told the tales for thousand and one night. During this period, the prince fell slowly in love with her and revoked his vow to keep a bride for one conjugal night and then kill her the following morning.

Depiction of Queen Scheherazade telling her st...

Depiction of Queen Scheherazade telling her stories to King Shahryar in The Arabian Nights. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My store of imagination is very meagre, It is bits here and there. After writing a single paragraph, it is quits for me. My imagination runs dry. Thank God, I am not telling my ideas to a prince of Arabia, otherwise my head must have rolled off long time ago. For that matter, my readers-if there are any-are very tolerant and forgive my idiosyncrasies. I am not a pedagogue, I am not teaching any lessons to anyone. As my attention wanders from place to place, I try to capture the events in my mind and then transfer them to the paper and ink. That is all. Thanks

It is so many days since…….

It has been months since I had put the pen to the paper. It seems that urge to write has been blocked by some unknown hand which is holding back my hand. There are thousands of things on my mind which I wish to share by putting them on the paper. In fact due to the multitude of the things, it has become a big task to manage them efficiently.

The words seem to flying thick like flies before my eyes and only thing I have to do is to catch them and arrange them on the paper in a logical manner. But they are so nimble and dart away as soon as I try to catch them. They want to be free not imprisoned on the paper.

And also there are other emotions which are preventing me to write. These are indescribable in words. They are the feelings which don’t have any name. They are all so abstract like propositions in the quantum mechanics. Today I am trying to break their resistance and holding the pen I am devising my own grammar and words. Let it be boring. Let the real emotions do not lend them to be put out on the paper in black and white.

Harking Back the Old Days

These days rewinding of the tape on the spool of life is taking frequently. This may be a indicator of many things. One of them may be that a person is not at ease in the present circumstances and since one cannot run away easily, the only escape is to take shelter in the past memories. The events of the past which are becoming memories each passing day may be good or bad but since they have now become history and rewriting them is beyond our capacity, so begin to like them. We are lost in the reminisces.

The childhood of every person was greener as compared to the present status. The longer you go back into the past, we were more nearer to the mother nature. Of course my memories have been stirred by watching the DD Bharati channel which in between telecasts the old recordings. On such recording I watched a few days back was a documentary on the revolutionary poet Makhdum Mohiuddin by Muzzaffar Ali.

Who can forget the songs of movie “Bazaar” ? This film was also made by Muzzaffar Ali. He makes a movie after a hell lot of research and have an great eye for detail. He does not seem to be bothered by the expenditure and strives to bring back the milieu of the setting of the story to life. This is called the creativity.

Makhdum Mohiuddin was born in a village in the Medak district in 1907. It was the time when we were ruled by the British. The Hyderabad had a Nizam. Mohiuddin studied till MA and taught in a college. He joined the marxist party of India. Many a times he went to jail. His poetry reflects the struggle of an ordinary man and the love. Hyderabad has a strong Udru base in its own right due to being ruled by Nizams. It is also said that Nizams were richest rulers in the world though the disparity between rich and poor was very high.

Long back he wrote one Nazm called “Ek Chameli Ke Mandve Tale” which was a long poem and a very popular song of the time. The song of Bazaar called “Phir Chhidi Baat raat phulon ki” was a hugely popular. It was sung by Lata and Talat Aziz and music was composed by the inimitable Khayaam.

In the documentary, this song was sung as a quawaali by some quawaals in such a beautiful way that it seemed even more ethereal than the song sung by Talat Aziz and Lata. I tried unsuccessfully to find it the net because nowhere in the documentary the names of singers appeared. Most of his poems are compiled in the book “बिसात-ए-रक़्स” . One of his poems starts with following lines.

Hayat le ke chalo, kayenat le ke chalo, chalo to sare zamane ko saath leke chalo… (Take the life with you, take the universe with you, when you go, take the people with you…)

This clearly shows that he was a people’s poet. He draw the material and ideas for his poems from the life of the common people.

Ass and Bull : Arabian Nights

Amongst the 1001 stories Scheherazade tells her husband the king Shahryar and her younger sister Duniyazad is the story of Ass and Bull. Purpose is to tell a different story every night but in a such a way that when the climax of story is reached, it is dawn and King who is fond of listening to the stories spares her life for another day to get the story completed the following night. She is a accomplished story teller and weaves a spider’s web and from the ending thread commences another story and this way her death is deferred for next day.

Actually this is a style of story telling and was very popular in India. People of India, especially in rural areas, has a culture of sitting together in the evenings and chatting and telling stories for centuries. Similarly, the womenfolk will come out of their homes with pitcher on their head and babies on their hips for fetching the water. There on the well, they will spent a lot of time sharing their travails and moments of happiness in their homes. Thus stories were born and spread here and there. In fact, it is claimed that Arabian Nights have been written in India.

One such story is concerning an Ass and a Bull. There is a big landlord who has a big house, lots of cattle and land. Among these cattle are our protagonists of the story. They are tethered side by side in the stable. In the evening when bull comes dead tired from tilling the land all day, they talk together. One day, Bull relates his miserable condition in the fields to the Ass who is well off and is used only when the master goes for a trip to city. The bull curses his being a bull and having a hellish life. The ass tells him the trick by which he, the bull, can ease his life. He tells the bull to behave like a very seriously ill and sprawl himself on the ground, don’t eat any fodder when the servant comes with yoke for taking him to fields. The bull sincerely follows the advice and is thought of as seriously ill by the servant and is thus spared for the day in the stable. This continues for few days. Bull thanks the Ass and the Ass basks in the glory of being a wise fellow. But alas!

The master is blessed with a boon by which he is able to understand the language of the birds and beasts and happened to be near the ass and bull when the ass was advising the bull. Presently, when the bull begins feigning the illness, he tells the servant to spare him and take the ass instead and make him work all day in the fields. Ass suffers all day. The master also tells the servant that if the bull does not get well by tomorrow, they will send him to a slaughter house. Bulls comes to his senses and resumes his routine as before.

Moral of story is that no one should think himself the wisest and also refrain from giving free advice to others. Otherwise the chickens shall come home to roost and ruin you.

Beautiful Poem by Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,

Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,

I thought that love would last forever: ‘I was wrong’

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.