Bastar is an area soaked in rich culture. And art is an integral and unique part of this indigenous culture. It is safe to say that Kondagaon district is the art hub where there are entire villages dedicated to each of these handicrafts, with households registered with the ministry of culture & art. Several of these artisans are National award winners and visiting faculty at universities across the world. During my week long stay at Bastar, I managed to find time to visit some of these villages and interact with the artisans.
Blame it on me being an experienced professional in materials, manufacturing and heat-treatment processes, I have this weird fancy for everything that involves these aspects. One would not want to seize a travel opportunity from me when there is an element of art and engineering in it…. On similar lines, is the first part of this post.
The major and famous handicrafts of Bastar can be listed as below:
Wrought iron artefacts:
Chhattisgarh is a state blessed with a mineral rich geography. Until a few decades ago, the tribes inhabiting the region used to collect raw iron ore from the naturally available soil or portions of earth, heat it in a furnace and separate the molten iron to make wrought iron. Today, wrought iron is directly purchased from the market. This is then melted and beaten into sheets. The sheets are then formed into various patterns and welded into beautiful artefacts. Although the traditional designs are based on the local tribal culture and represent aspects of daily life in Bastar like animals, hunting, the tribal folk, tribal deities, etc., modern adaptations have been inspired by the Indian epics among many other things. But still, each piece is handmade and unique with no two pieces being exactly the same.
Bell-metal is an alloy prepared locally and cast into various patterns through a technique called as ‘lost-wax technique’ of metal casting. Although this technique was primarily used by the indigenous tribes to mold their traditional jewelry back in the time, it has slowly evolved into making idols and other home décor items. These indigenous metal cast items are collectively called as Dokra art.
A special type of clay is dug from the vast paddy farms and is then crafted into various artefacts. The specialty of the art here in Bastar is that very large and real-life sized objects are crafted completely with clay. After the potter assembles the product piece by piece, he then burns it as a whole unit to give it the required strength and rigidity. Well, there’s an entire village of potters / Terracotta artisans in Kondagaon.
Wooden carvings & Carpentry:
With the abundance of forest cover and timber availability, wood craft is a major part of the handicraft culture here. Large tree trunks and roots are given the form of beautiful figurines, animals, etc. by very skilled artisans. This can also be seen in the rich carvings on doors and friezes of various old and traditional structures across the region.
With the mineral rich earth of the region, various types of soil and stone are available. Several of these earthy materials are used to make beautiful sculptures.
With a somewhat influence of the Patachitra art from the neighboring state of Odisha, the local Gondi artform and several other influences, the indigenous wall and fabric painting has evolved. Beautiful pictures of tribal deities, everyday life etc. can be seen being depicted through these paintings.
A small portion of the local tribes are involved in collection of the naturally available cotton and Kosa silk from the forests and weaving them into traditional textiles.
Each of the tribes who inhabit the remote jungles of Chhattisgarh have their own unique pieces of jewelry. Anything that ranges from silver, fabric, plant fiber, shells or animal bones, the locally available materials from the wild are adapted into their culture in the form of traditional jewelry.
Art is an integral part of human life. Paintings are yet another form of expressing imaginations. The history of paintings in India dates to pre-historic times where there are several rock and cave paintings scattered across the sub-continent. Painted pottery on terracotta and ceramic too have been excavated at several sites. Eventually, it became an attempt to bring the storytelling of the Indian epics to a visual form, each one using the material available locally for colour and canvas. Some forms were patronized by the kingdoms that ruled India and yet a few, used by the local tribes to decorate their dwellings. The use of natural colours on naturally available surfaces has evolved with the generations, picking up influences from various events, people along the way.
This is the land of great artists like Nainsukh, Raja Ravi Varma. Bright and rich colours are now an inseparable part of vibrant culture and lifestyle of being Indian. Here is my attempt to enlist the traditional and folk paintings from all the states of India that can help you as a ready reckoner while you are out travelling in this beautiful land. A few, I would like to crowdsource the details wherever I failed.
These paintings can be strategically used in our daily life that will help revive, sustain and promote these ancient art and rural economy.
Deccani paintings– are miniatures which predominantly feature palm trees, men & women. The art has a significant influence by the Deccan sultanates who ruled around this area.
Nirmal art– is where the artisans have developed their own canvas using cardboard and luppam. The striking designs in the form of creepers, flowers etc. have evolved on furniture today.
Savara paintings– This wall art is practiced by the Savaras tribe around Vishakhapatnam. The wall is readied with a mixture of red soil and paper. The painting is done with brush prepared by chewing tender bamboo into various thickness. White colour is derived from rice powder and black colour is derived with a mixture of coconut ash & castor oil.
Kalamkari– This is a fabric painting form popular in the rural parts around Machilipatnam. Primarily human faces are block printed using vegetable colours.
Tholu Bommalaata– This is an art of making leather puppets that are hand painted using vegetable colours, mainly found in the region around Adilabad.
Kuthang strolls– These are intricate religious paintings of the Buddhists. These are derived from the Tangkha paintings that are auspicious symbols hung in every monastery and houses.
Khanikar art– These are religious paintings that adorn the monasteries & Satras around the state.
Assamese silk scrolls– Traditional colours of Hangool & Haital are used to draw representations from Ramayana and Mahabharata on silk strolls. This is practiced in the upper Assam region.
Mithila or Madhubani– These are originally intricate wall paintings that depict Ramayana & Mahabharata adorning walls across the rural parts of Mithila region and have now become synonymous with the state.
Patna Kalam– this is also another art form largely patronised during the Gupta era. Several paintings have been found in the Nalanda excavations.
Godna– This is a primitive art form that has been largely in practice as body tattoos by the women folk in the Jamgula and Bastar region. It has found acceptance in the form of motifs on textile with natural colours mixed with acrylic paints.
Kaavi mural paintings– is largely popular in the Konkan region. As the colour says, Kaavi is a single colour- red pigment derived from laterite soil. Several structures, churches and temples are coloured with red paint on a white background.
This state is sort of a mélange with vibrant colours used across a range of art forms.
Pithora– These are wall paintings practiced by the Rathwa & Bhilala tribes
Miniature paintings– This art has been used to depict epics and large stories under the Jain patronage in 11th century.
Glass painting– It is believed that the earliest form of painting on glass (Belgium glass) originated in Gujarat.
Kalampari art– This is a fabric painting technique practiced by the Chitara community.
With many tribal communities living around the Kutch area, each tribe have their own unique art, patterns and colourations used in their daily life like walls, huts, attire, jewellery, pottery etc. It is an endless list but here are some of them from the Rann of Kutch.
Terracotta paintings like Kavda pottery is believed to have techniques dating back to the Indus Valley civilization.
This is probably the only Indian state that doesn’t have a native art form. With several dynasties and rulers who came and went in this region, there has never been any specific art style that found patrons among who were always busy in fighting battles.
Kangra & Chamba miniature painting– Although largely spread across all the Himalayan states and largely coming under the Pahari paintings umbrella, the region of Kangra gave its name to the paintings that was largely promoted and patronised by the Rajputs. However, each ruler gave the art form its own twist and called it a different name.
Jammu & Kashmir:
Basohli miniatures– Again a part of the Pahari painting, the famous artist Nainsukh is believed to have moved from Chamba and have settled in this region during his last days. Thus, giving its name to the bold and intense form of painting the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hence, Basohli is the first school of Pahari paintings.
Paitkar scrolls– Ramayana & Mahabharata stories are depicted on paper with colour made from vermillion. Fine brush is made using goat hair.
Jadopatia scrolls– This form of paintings is used for story telling which are believed to have healing effects on people.
Sohrai, Kohver, Ganju, Rana, Teli, Prajapati, Kurmi, Mundas, Turi, Birhor & Bhuiya, Ghatwal- these are mural paintings used to decorate the walls of the tribal houses. Each, representing a tribe and have their own style. The common factor between all these styles are that the designs comprise of animals & plants depictions thus indicating the connection of nature and the tribe.
Mysore Royal painting– influenced by the Vijayanagar school of painting, this art flourished under the Mysore Wodeyars. Bright natural colours obtained from vegetables, organic, minerals were painted using natural brushes. Squirrel hair was used for finer strokes and brushes made with a specific grass was used for various thickness and strokes.
Kalam– This is a short name for Kalamezhuthu, a rural art of painting.
Face painting– with various traditional dance forms and ritualistic prayers, face painting is an essential part of art in Kerala. Largely seen in its vibrant designs and patterns during Theyyams, Kathakali etc.
Oil paintings– These murals are very elaborate piece of portraits largely practiced in the Northern part of Kerala.
Gond art– A painting style that is used by the Gond tribes. This largely comprises of finely drawn lines in a picture that encompasses animals and plants.
Pithora wall paintings– this form of art is inspired by various myths and is used by the Bhilala tribe to keep away evils. You can often see walls and both sides of the doors painted with patterns that are believed to protect them.
Malwa painting– This folk art can be found on floors and walls and practiced by the Chitera community. Chalk powder blended with turmeric & saffron for suitable shades of the colour is used in doing these paintings.
Mandana paintings– This art is used to depict special occasions and festivals and used only during specific events.
Warli– Used to adorn walls by the tribe, this painting uses patterns like triangles and circles to represent community living, human being, trees, animals and everything in general.
Chitrakathi paper paintings– as the name suggests, Chitra (picture) + Katha (story)- These are single sheet paintings used by a specific migrating community of Thakkar tribe for storytelling. Local version of Ramayana & Mahabharata and other myths are painted using colours made from stones. These are also called as Paithani paintings.
Naga cloth painting– Several Naga tribes reside in Nagaland and each have their own designs in their houses, dresses and morungs. However, the Lotha, Ao and Rengma tribes have their traditional designs painted on fabric. Fine bamboo brushes are used to transfer colours that are made by mixing tree sap, leaf ash and local beer.
Patachitra– These are traditional cloth-based scroll painting from rural parts of eastern Odisha. It is inspired by Mythic elements like Lord Jagannath and is derived from ancient Bengali art which is used for narration in the visual form when a song is performed.
Sikh miniature painting– This an influence of the Kangra paintings and is used as a narrative of various stories from the life of Guru Nanak. Hence, has a vital role in Sikhism.
The list of painting related art forms from this state is endless. Here is a small compilation of the same.
Phad cloth scrolls– These paintings are based on stories from Ramayana & Mahabharata. They have influences of both religious and folk performances by the local priests.
Rajasthani miniature paintings– When the Mughal artisans dispersed from the Northern India, they were sheltered and patronised by various Rajput kings. Individual ruler had his influence on the style, and it evolved into individual styles, largely coming under a common umbrella called as Rajasthani school of paintings.
Wall & ground paintings– Various styles like Devra, Pathwari, Sanjhi, Mandav etc. can be seen based on the individual communities.
Cloth paintings– like Pat, Picchwai, Phad scrolls etc.
Paane paper paintings.
Kavad wooden paintings.
Body paintings– various designs are drawn on human skin using natural colours like Mehendi & Godana
Thape paintings– This is a wall & door painting style that is used to invoke deities. Natural colours like turmeric, henna, vermillion is used.
Badaley paintings– These are either cloth or leather paintings that are used to cover metal utensils. It is prominent around Jodhpur.
Thewa art– This is a form of painting small pieces of glass with gold. It is a famous art around Pratapgarh in Bhilwara region.
Thangka painting– These are religious strolls that depict important lessons from Buddhism. This uses organic colours and even gold dust and adorns walls, roof and mural in Buddhist houses and monasteries.
Tanjavur paintings– This is a classical art form that has a 3-D effect with embellished with precious stones, glass pieces & pearls. It has been largely patronized by the Cholas and then have influences from the Marathas and others who ruled the region.
Cherial scroll painting– This is a folk art on very long cloths used for story telling that can sometimes run into several meters. It is painted specifically by the Kako Padagollu community.
Mughal/ Persian painting style– The Mughals got artisans from Persia and used their designs and patterns in all their structures across. Art flourished especially during the reign of Jehangir.
Garhwal painting– Again, something that has been a part of the Pahari school, this form largely uses characters that depict romance.
Patua art– This is a traditional narrative cloth scroll painting style done by a community called the Patuas. An entire story is depicted on a single scroll with several panels for each chapter. The speciality of the art is its people who are mainly Muslim and paint Hindu religious figures in their artwork. These are same as Odisha Pata paintings in theme selection but entirely different in their style and composition.
Kalighat painting– This started as paintings in items that were taken as offerings to Kali temple at Kalighat and has now become a specific form of painting. This is also a form of scroll painting but main difference is that this is done on paper.
Tribal paintings– This is primarily popular among the ‘Santhal tribes’ around the areas of Purulia, Birbung and Barbura.
So, have you read the story from my previous stop? (Click here to read) If yes, then this post is starting from Hurling, where I had alighted last. It was cold and I was the only non-localite at a small dhaba from where I was hoping to get a ride uphill to Tabo. The person making parathas at the dhaba instantly recognized me telling he had seen me at the wedding last evening. Although I found it very sweet of him, I felt embarrassed about not recognizing him and apologized to him telling that everyone looked same to me with their caps and mufflers. Not only did he refuse to take money from me for the cup of chai I had there, he ensured he got me a ride in the car of a fellow customer at his dhaba. This drive is indeed close to my heart, even today… So, what made it special?
Of course, the road beyond and the views as we drove further up was INCREDIBLE! And hey, there were unicorn farms enroute and we saw a few of them straying on the highway. But let me not deviate from my story… There were 3 occupants including the driver in this Alto car. The rear seat was reserved entirely for one of them. He had a plaster of Paris on his right leg which he rested on the seat. They were on the way back from Peo to their home in Kaza. The nearest hospital to get the guy’s broken leg fixed was at Peo. It took them a one-way travel of nearly 3 days, given the roadblocks on their way down the valley. Peo being THE one stop trading destination for the whole of Lahaul and Spiti region, all you can expect from anyone traveling there, is to have their vehicles stuffed with as many goods as possible. It was the same case with this car which spared no space other than the seats. So how did I manage my drive? The person driving shotgun made place for himself in the rear seat asking the patient to manage with his leg for a while. Not just that, he forcibly grabbed my big backpack so that I was comfortable in the front seat. He carried my bag on his lap all the way. I must tell you, it was a super cramped car already and they pushed themselves into great lengths just to ensure that I had a comfortable drive! I was an absolute stranger to them until that moment and I would have considered myself fortunate if I had just got myself dropped. But, just based on a localite’s (Dhabawala) recommendation, they ensured my safety and comfort till I had reached my destination. Before taking my leave, they also handed me their phone number to call them if I had any trouble finding a place to stay at Tabo. No, these are NOT the people one gets to see in the urban place where I call home.Bidding a warm bye to them, I walked down the road to the Tabo monastery. It was not too far as I reached the monastery and the old guest house run by the monastery. This is where I wanted to stay for all that I had heard about it. As I opened the main door leading to the staircase, I felt like I was climbing up a dreamland. The entire guesthouse is built in a traditional style with only mud and wood that is unique to Tabo. The staircase, walkways, balconies and the roof bars are all wood. And it is all naturally lit with glass sheets placed between the wooden beams through which I could see the mountains and the blue skies. The place had so much positivity. Since it was off season, I was the only traveler living in the guesthouse where it is usually very hard to get a room during the peak tourist season.
After freshening up in my room, I was supposed to head out to the monastery’s lunch hall. Talk about a matter of few minutes… by the time I came out of the guesthouse, it was snowing outside. At first, I couldn’t understand what it was. within seconds, I started to scream with joy… It was least expected and right there, I was experiencing my first ever snowfall in ages. The last and the only other time I felt snow was at the top of Kardungla, way back in 2014. The muddy walls and the red apples I saw in the orchard right in front of my door, just minutes ago were all disappearing behind a blanket of snow. I clapped hands, I didn’t know whom to share it with. Damn the network, damn me travelling solo, I felt. That was one moment I missed home, deeply. The kid in me was dancing like no one was watching…
I watched the snowfall for a while before heading to the lunch hall. Believe me when I say, that was a simple meal, yet the most sumptuous ever! I spent the rest of the afternoon inside the old monastery. I was finally at where my entire backpack was set for, since the time I left home, almost 10 days ago. The oldest running Buddhist monastery in the world- ‘The Ajanta of the Himalayas!’ The old monastery has nine temples, each lit up naturally, depending on the sun’s position at different time of the day. The head priest took me around the central prayer hall and explained the story behind each of the painting that adorned the wall. As there was no one else dropping in, we both had a long conversation that involved everything ranging from religion, politics, art restoration, environmental conservation, sustainable travel et all. He asked me to return the next morning when the sun lit up a different portion of the hall. It was time for the last prayer of the day and I sat down there, sinking in the aura of another level. The Buddhist chants have always transported me to a different world (since the time I was a child who first visited the monastery that is closer back home in South Karnataka). In here, that infinite silence and soothing ambience that smelled of juniper within an enclosure of mud walls, the holy chants in a dimly lit room, I was clearly experiencing the vastness of outer space. After the priest got ready to close the doors, I headed towards the guesthouse to find my resting place, quite literally! Post dinner, I only remember sneaking inside and snuggling inside the warm quilts provided in my room until I woke up the next morning.
Next morning, late by the mountain standards, I came out of my room and looked out of the glass ceiling in the corridor. I felt like the mountains had suddenly moved closer to my room. It took me a few seconds to realize that it had snowed all night and the entire village was now painted white. When I stepped out, it was still snowing. I was silently enjoying my snow affair as I walked up the distance to the kitchen. After breakfast, I headed out for a walk to explore the snow laden streets of Tabo. The backyard of the monastery, the helipad and the famous apple trees of Tabo looked so alien and picturesque with snow all over them. I strolled across the by lanes, the apple mandi, through the farms and finally settled down by the bank of river Spiti.
After sometime, I hiked up the hill to see the meditating caves and grab a view of the entire village from the top. As I walked through the village, every random person whom I came across greeted me with an apple. Some wouldn’t know how to make a conversation with me and would simply handover an apple with a huge smile. Oh my god! Those apples were the juiciest in the entire universe and all the love from the mountain people added to its sweetness. By the time I reached back to my room, I had removed my jacket just so that I could hold all the collected apples in it. They would feel bad if I rejected what they gave me and my intention was never that. But yeah, I had no idea as to what to do with so many apples.
That said, I had lunch and went towards the monastery. A couple had lit up a bonfire on the monastery’s portico to warm themselves from the snow and I joined them for a warm conversation. The couple went home after a while and I walked into the monastery to have a look at the paintings which I couldn’t see the previous day. The priest then walked me through explaining more details on the history and art of this beautiful place. The monastery is home to probably the only manuscript that is written on gold. This monastery is a treasure vault!
Watch the video of the monastery: Before and After snowfall
It is a daily custom to light a lamp in all the nine temples of the monastery and I got a rare opportunity to seem them all, which is otherwise closed for visitors. There is a statue of Buddha inside each temple, from small to large that I hadn’t expected in a small looking monastery like that. All the walls and roofs are adorned with various frescoes, Thangpa paintings, murals etc. depicting various events in the life of the Buddha. An earthquake in the late 90s has caused immense damage to the monastery and its clay walls making them lean on support. He handed me the prasad (read apples) from the main sanctum before he shut the final doors of the old monastery. He then walked me into the new monastery where he lit the last lamp of the day. I know my article doesn’t talk much about my day in the monastery today, but let me summarize it in one sentence. “I consider myself to be the most fortunate tourist ever to get a peek into so much art, so much tradition and history of Tabo.” I’m in no wonder when the 14th Dalai Llama declared that if only there was an option for him to retire from service, he would choose this UNESCO world heritage site!
I had started to fall in love with this place and wanted to stay here for the rest of my holidays that I had in hand. But It had been snowing without a break since last night and I had to ensure that I was heading out of this valley before I got stuck there for many more days. Yeah, my story does not end here though… If you want to read further, you will have to wait for my book 😉 I’m working on it….
• The sea buckthorn juice also is a must try (locally known as Drilbu or Chharma juice).
• The Tsirku tea made from the dried peels of sea buckthorn berries
• Don’t forget- A box full of handpicked Tabo apples for home!!
• A prayer Mandala can be bought from the souvenir shop at the monastery. This is to be hung at the entrance of your house that wards off evil
• Thangpa paintings and few other knick-knacks also can be bought from the monasteries for a more authentic gift.
Other things you should know:
Photography, torches and any other form of artificial lights are strictly prohibited inside d monastery. You need to deposit it before entering.
There is a library inside the guesthouse if you wish to stay and Tabo lake is nearby for a short trek or a drive.
If you thought Jammu was all about shrines and temples, wait a minute. You are not alone. Even I did not know about all the beautiful places that exist within a driveable distance from the city. This trip to Basohli was a part of our ‘Peace ride’, sponsored by Jammu tourism as a part of the Himalayan expedition to promote tourism in the lesser explored places of Jammu. The route we covered over the week was Jammu-Mansar-Basholi–Sarthal–Baderwah-Kishtwar-Gulabgarh-Sansari-Gulabgarh-Patnitop-Udhampur-Jammu.This trip was an opportunity for us to see so many beautiful places that are off the tourist map, totally untouched and waiting to be explored.
Places to visit in Basohli:
• Surinsar-Mansar wildlife sanctuary • Surinsar lake • Mansar lake • Atal bridge • Sunset at Ranjit Sagar Dam & RSD backwaters • Sunrise from Chanchala mata mandir
On a warm Saturday morning, we started from Jammu on a well asphalted highway cutting through the Surinsar-Mansar wildlife sanctuary towards Basohli. Needless to say, the route is blessed with natural bounty with the road flanked by wooded hills all the way. We did a quick stopover at the twin lakes from where the sanctuary gets it same. The Surinsar lake and Mansar lake are serene patches of nature which play an important role among the Hindu pilgrims as it is associated with mythology. It is believed that the arrow shot by Arjuna pierced the earth at Surinsar and came out at Mansar spouting water, what are now the two bunyanesque lakes. If you have nothing to do, then you can forget your watches by just sitting on the banks and feeding the squillion fishes there. These lakes are also known for the Indian flapshell turtles that are found in abundance.
After freshening up at the TRC guest house, we headed to the Atal bridge built across river Ravi. This happens to be the first cable suspension bridge in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. We got an eyefull of the setting sun from there and got some good silhoute photos of the fishermen busy with their last catch on their vessels drifting past us from under the bridge. The view of the surrounding lush green hills and several islets in the backwaters of the Ranjit Sagar Dam was a feast for the eyes with a golden backdrop. On a summer evening, it is highly recommended that you spend some time at the dam backwaters, what is fondly refered as the RSD beach by the localites. With swaying palm trees along the sandbars of the river bed, it is a very picturesque place surrounded by the lashing waves of the dam’s backwaters.
Although we had plans of reaching the Chanchala mata mandir to catch the sunrise next morning, we were woken up rather early by the roaring thunder and the rattle of our window glasses. It was pouring cats and dogs and we watched the dawn break into a bright day while sitting by the window side. There seemed no signs of the rain gods taking a break and hence, we decided to head out in the rains…
While we sought directions from the public, we realised that this town was home to over a dozen temples dedicated to Durga Mata. With a wild guess, we hit the accelerator towards one that was located atop a hillock. Oh Man! The view from up there was stunning… The temple had a 360degree view of the dam water and the hills. We could see the bridge along with several ruins of the old town dotting the view here and there. With the rocky valley at a distance, the entire Basohli town was visible from up there treating our eyes on a perfect morning!! With such a view around, the silver lightning in the dark grey sky, we couldn’t ask for a better start for the day…We were drenched to the bone but coudn’t get enough of the view. We somehow dragged ourselves back to our bikes, lest be a reason for the delay of all other fellow travellers back in the guest house.
Basohli is known for the traditional miniature paintings that carry a heritage tag with it. Basohli is believed to be a cradle of a new school of mythological paintings. But sadly, only a handful of practicing artists exist today in this hill town. How much ever I intended to meet these artists and buy a couple of paintings as souvenirs from this land, I couldn’t. A countable number of shops selling these artworks would open only later during the day, a few kilometers away from the place where we were staying at. We decided to return to the guest house.
We were already running late and had nothing left for breakfast, we satiated our stomachs with fruit juices and coffee. When the rain gods seemed to calm down a bit, we called it a wrap for the wonderful time spent in this historical town of Basohli. The journey continued, to yet another beautiful place waiting to be explored, waiting to be talked about to the world outside. A place that I call as my “FAVOURITE” destination in India- Sarthal.
Getting there: Jammu is well connected by airport, rail and road. You can hire a self-drive car or a taxi from the city to visit the other sightseeing places. Basohli is 147kms(about 3hrs) by road from Jammu city.
Stay: TRC (Tourist Reception Centre) guesthouse is run by the J&K tourism dept. on the banks of Ranjit Sagar dam and offers great views.