When we talk about the cultural heritage of India, it is certainly incomplete without the handicrafts and artwork produced by several indigenous artisan communities. Meticulous and handmade, these artworks reflect the dedication, creativity, and craftsmanship of India’s artisans. These art styles have been passed down from generation to generation and are the pride and joy of not just an art connoisseur but anyone with an artistic bent of mind. From clothes to home decor, Indian rural art can make any item a statement piece.
This is one of the oldest forms of Indian rural art today. Painted on scrolls, this ancient folk art dates more than 2000 years. Simplistic and colorful images were drawn on subjects from Indian epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, episodes from the life of Lord Krishna, or Tulsi Das’s ‘Ram Charita Manas’. The usual canvas used were scrolls made from tsar silk cloth. This famous folk art is associated with the Patua community of West Bengal. A Patua would travel from place to place with the painted scroll, each containing a story or episode from Indian mythology, and recite the episode to eager audiences. Today most of the Patua artisan community is concentrated in Paschim Medinipur in West Bengal and some areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Orissa. Ingredients used for making the Patachitra painting were usually organic like raw turmeric, Marigold flower extract, soot, burnt rice, etc! Imagine the entire episode of Ramayana retold with the ingredients of a regular desi kitchen! A masterpiece recreated through simple everyday ingredients. That is the magic of Patachitra.
There is an elaborate procedure to be followed before the painting process begins. The cloth or the scroll of ‘toshor‘ silk is coated with a mixture of chalk and gum made from tamarind seed extract. This is done to give the surface a leather-like finish. Sometimes palm leaves or ‘tal-paata’ are also used as a medium for the paintings.
Palm leaves are dried out in the sun and later on woven together to form a canvas. Most of the colors used in this Indian rural art are prepared from organic materials. White color is made by boiling conch-shells and straining them to take out the extract. Similarly, Black color is obtained by burning coconut shells, ‘Haritala’ or yellow obtained from turmeric, etc.
Aside from cloth, the chalchitra’ or the background of a pratima or idol were also used as canvases by the patuas. This artwork is known as ‘Pata-Lekha’ among the Patua community. Durga ‘sara’ or pots sometimes are used as canvases too. The Durga sara is worshipped in Hatsarandi Sutradhar society at Birbhum during Durga Puja.
This is another celebrated form of Indian rural art. ‘Batik’ simply means wax writing. The entire Batik painting involves three main processes – dying, waxing, and de-waxing. Images are drawn on silk or cotton fabrics using vegetable dyes. Sarees, salwar, shawls, and kurtas having ‘batik designs’ are very popular among women today and are seen as a status symbol.
This Indian rural art is not very flashy or flamboyant. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. This popular embroidery craft is prevalent in several areas of West Bengal, Tripura, and Orissa. This is also known as ‘recycle art’ as many women use old saris and layer them with Katha stitching to make blankets for children. Katha stitched sarees, kurtas are also popular among Gen Z or the youth for their unique aesthetic value. Simple, clear-cut geometrical patterns, floral motifs, bird and animal figures are the subject of Katha stitches.
These cute red horses are a staple fare at pretty much every single mela or fair at West Bengal. These pretty terracotta horses are available in various sizes. They are mainly produced at the Panchmura district of the Bankura district of West Bengal. When it comes to terracotta handicrafts though, West Bengal is pretty much unbeatable. Aside from the Bankura horse, the lifelike clay dolls of Krishnanagar (Nadia district, West Bengal) are another very popular example of terracotta art.
Craftwork made from wood is another staple feature of Indian rural art. The most famous example of wooden handicraft would be the colorful wooden owls produced at Naungram.
Originating in the 19th century this Indian rural artwork is known for flawless brushwork and bold strokes. Although initially, it depicted Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon, increasingly it shifted from Hindu deities to portraying various social issues of that era. Paintings often depicted zamindars or landlords and priests living a life of debauchery and immorality.
This is one of the oldest and most popular forms of wall art in rural India. This art originated from the Warli tribes of the Western Ghats in 2500 BCE. The day-to-day lives of the Warli tribe like fishing, hunting, and their dance – Tarpa are drawn using simple geometrical patterns like circles, triangles, and squares. The images are painted using a bamboo stick as a paintbrush. Color Ingredients are mostly made from organic sources such as rice paste ( for white color).
The is a unique rural Indian wall art hailing from the tribe Saura found in Odisha, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh. Saura paintings also known as ‘ikons’ depict the beauty of nature and the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Colors are derived from natural sources like neem and other herbs and flowers.
Originating from Andhra Pradesh, ‘Kalamkari’ translates to drawing with a pen. Kalamkari art is predominantly of two types. The Kalamkari art originating from Machilipatnam is more of a block-printed form of art, while the one produced in Srikalahasti (Chitoor) are bonafide pen-based drawings. This form of art blossomed under the patronage of the Golconda Sultanate of Hyderabad and later the Mughals who called the artists ‘qualamkars’.
Much like the Patachitra scroll paintings of West Bengal and the Rajasthani ‘Phad’ ( scroll painting) the Cheriyal scroll painting is a popular Indian rural art practiced by the Nakashi family. About 40-50 feet long these colorful scrolls depicted various episodes from the Puranas.