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Folk Arts: The Magic Of Raw Hands

Article of the Month - August 2008
Viewed 96989 times since 2nd Oct, 2008
Sarvanga Alpana
Sarvanga Alpana

Folk art is the creative expression of those who uninfluenced by princely ostentation and ecclesiastic conservatism, revealed in lines and forms what they had within and around. Her ten-twelve thousand years old creative culture and a wide-spread art geography apart, India has hundreds of ethnic groups, each with its own taste, aspirations, joys, sorrows, struggles and a creative talent. Not in 'word', they discovered in 'form' their diction, their ultimate means to discourse mutually and with the 'divine'. Education or training wasn't their tool. They had instead massive imagination, passion to embellish, and inborn ability to give to routine forms symbolic dimensions, and to things, scattered around, status of art imagery - all that transformed into artists, not just individuals but communities, generations after generations. In a world every minute seeking means to distort and destroy they have kept along their own tenor singing to their own tunes, dancing to the notes of their hearts, and discovering in jumble of things, rough crude lines, and raw colors, a world that breathed purity, harmony, respect and concern for life, and a strange stoicism.

Defining Folk Arts

It is far easy to identify a folk form but as much difficult to define. Its definitions vary from the art of tribes, primitive people, ethnic groups to an art by family tradition. Race language, a phrase that Gurushaday Datta, a bureaucrat of colonial India and author of a number of books, used for folk arts, underlines folk arts' power to communicate. By race he obviously meant India's indigenous masses other than her west-influenced metropolitan or urban minority of his days, that is, 1920s-30s. Now this minority of those days comprises the mainstream of Indian populace, and the majority of those days is now-days' minority. Thus, what was to Mr. Datta the language of indigenous majority is now the language of primitive few.

People's Art As Against Ecclesiastic And Court Art

As against the art of class - imperial or ecclesiastic, Gurushaday Datta's phrase identifies folk art as the art of indigenous common masses, whose first specimen was the nomad. Nomad's rock-shelter art preceded the earliest examples of priestly or princely art by nine-eight thousand years. Even the painted Indus wares or terracotta figurines, the transforms of the nomad's art, preceded the art of court and temples by many centuries, though subsequently the latter completely isolated the former. Around 11th-12th centuries the illustrative Jain painting revived some of its elements - irrational anatomy, angularity, bold lines, over gesticulation. Then onward, elements of this common man's art continued to have, except in the imperial Mughal painting, a perceptible presence in Indian painting, even the Sultanate, and the contemporary.

Chhatha Parva - A Typical Folk Festival of Mithila
Chhatha Parva - A Typical Folk Festival of Mithila


Folk art discovers its themes from things around. Every ethnic group has its own stimuli - things and occasions that emotionally move, which give each a different character. However, folk art in its entirety celebrates joy, festivities, ceremonial occasions, and shuns sensuousness, voluptuous modeling, more vehemently nudeness and all forms of obscenity. Diction of flesh isn't its idiom. The folk artist creates forms from within the rituals, myths and legends, by which he adorns, or rather sanctifies, daily living - things that matter in life.




Flying Elephant
Flying Elephant

Reason, the tool of science and classical arts, or even speculative imagination that breeds metaphysics is not its tool. Here spontaneity substitutes reason. It uses instead the creative faculty of mind - art imagination, which Coleridge, the known 18th century Romantic poet of England , calls 'esem-plastic imagination' - faculty that assimilates and creates. This power to assimilate gives to folk art its unique mythology - a world beyond average man's perception, in which the sun and moon have a simultaneous presence, trees grow over a donkey's head, a tree with a human trunk, or birds, its foliage.

Mediums And Mind's Width

To be creative is folk mind's innate nature, to which medium, technique, training... are irrelevant. In whatever around, a piece of paper, cloth, wood, clay, metal, thrown away pieces of a waste, it discovers its medium. Wall is very often its canvas, and for rendering a painting on it a few pieces of thrown away ropes might suffice. The Sarguja artist will mould them into desired forms, a bed of flowering plants - stems, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fix them on the wall and paint them with colored muds - white, ochre, yellow. Ignorant of it, he creates not three-dimensional effects but a painting with three dimensions. In pieces of rejected iron a Bastar tribesman finds his material for a statue. Such multiplicity of material and ability to transform it into an art medium gives to folk art such generic width, which a single essay might not encompass. Hence, this study confines to a few of its modes.

Art Of Chhattisgarh: Bastar

Merciless Putana
Merciless Putanaa

Every region in Chhattisgarh, a province in Central India, has a distinct art-form, Sarguja having a special painting style; Raigarh, metal-casts; Kanker, wood-art; Kondagaon, terracottas; though it is due to Bastar that Chhattisgarh has in the world's folk-art map a place which no other art school of Indian folks can equal. Bastar, a region with over 70 percent tribal population, has unique talent for almost all forms of art, though it best reveals in beaten-metal artifacts, a technique which village-blacksmiths used since ages for manufacturing hand-tools, agricultural equipments, kitchen wares, things of day-today use. Chhattisgarh has an abundance of iron ores. Traditionally, Chhattisgarh tribes gathered rejected mass of iron, purified it by heating, manufactured articles of daily use by beating it, and exchanged them for food-grain etc. Simultaneously, from its surplus, they made children's toys, forms of birds, animals, human icons, articles like oil-lamps, tiny boxes, containers. Maybe, one day these artifacts caught some art-lover's fancy and reached his drawing room and thus this art began getting patrons. Bastar's paintings, bamboo-art, wood-craft, brass-casts rendered using lost-wax technique, terracottas all have a distinction of their own.

Bastar artist hardly abides by prescriptions - iconographic or anatomical.

Even when portraying an upper class lady reading a book, he pursues his own anatomical or iconographic whims. Caricatured extra large legs and a coiffure, as large as her head, reveal his picture of the lady. Forms are exceptionally simplified. An upright rectangle with four exceptionally large strips defining legs and arms, and a form for head, sometimes gilded metal-pieces used for identifying eyes and other body parts, represent a human figure. Strips, comprising legs, are sometimes turned on either side to become statuette's pedestal. Though isolated, festive figures of musicians, their enthused faces glowing with delight, force the viewing eye to see around them a celebration. Indigenous Indian masses have behind them a long tradition of thought, beliefs, conventions, customs, practices, diluted and instilled into the routine of their lives. However, it is perhaps only a Bastar artist who has a unique talent in giving to his form such thematic width that in it reflects this entire past and the gist of its thought. Into a form, something like a tribal rearing a bird, or transporting a dog, sick, wounded, or tired, made from ordinary thrown-away pieces of tin, the Bastar artist is able to entwine India's indigenous belief that life is obliged to mutually sustain as without life there is no life. Indeed, what distinguishes the Indian folk art from the entire body of decorative art, from anywhere, is this thematic expansion - the meaning, or the message that it reveals.

Folk Painting

Indian folk paintings are divisible into three categories: professional, or commercial; votive reproductions of deity-images; and, domestic. First two painting-types are remunerative, while the third, aesthetic. Professional painting is free to choose any theme, religious or secular; votive painting adheres to the image-type it seeks to reproduce. Though now commercialized, a domestic painting - a paper transform of traditional floor and wall paintings, was initially ritual, decorative, and for personal delight. Elaborate Madhubani compositions, indigenous paintings of Gonds of Madhya Pradesh, Bengal folks, and pictographs of tribes like Warli of Maharashtra, Saura of Orissa, Kurumbha of Tamilnadu, Santhals of Bengal-Bihar, and Bhils of Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh define the domestic idiom of folk art.

Professional Paintings

Tattoo Mandala
Tattoo Mandala





Professional or commercial paintings comprise two types, the paintings narrating a tale that itinerant village performers - dancers-singers-actors, rendered for pictorially supplementing their performance, and the other, Godana or tattoos that tattoo-artists rendered for money.




A Rajasthani  Phada Depicting Mahadurga
A Rajasthani  Phada Depicting Mahadurga





The former is a narrative painting on a scroll-type large canvas, paper or cloth, unfolding horizontally or upright. Its themes are usually India's great classics, legends, or local folks.


Gangavatarana And Other Myths
Gangavatarana And Other Myths








This comprises the earliest example of art for public away from court and temple. Local traditions apart, Paithan paintings of Maharashtra's chitrakathis, Rajasthani pars, and scrolls of patuas or jadu-patuas of Bihar and Bengal are some of its more significant examples.











Handwoven Black Paithani Sari With Zari Pallu
Handwoven Black Paithani Sari With Zari Pallu








Chitrakathis' paintings from Paithan, the ancient Pritishthan, a major township and business center those days, illustrate epical tales, especially the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and sometimes narratives like Vetal-Panchavishi. Now Paithani is better known for its textile designs and a Paithani sari is a prestigious collection for any wardrobe.






Basag Phad
Basag Phad






Rajasthani counterparts of Maharashtra 's chitrakathis are known as Bhopas. The Rajasthani pars - scrolls, narrate the epical legends of Devanarayana and Pabuju, the examples of unique velour and unprecedented sacrifice. Pabuju's legend being more prevalent, these scrolls are often called as Pabuju-ki-pars.








Patuas, or pata - scroll painters, of Bihar and Bengal illustrate both, episodes from great epics as well as local folks. Some patuas confine themselves to magic tales and are hence known as jadu-patuas, magic-scroll painters. In West Bengal Midanapur region is a known seat of scroll painting. Midanapur patuas not only narrate the tale when displaying the scroll but also, when illustrating it on their canvas to capture its essential spirit. The tradition of these itinerant singers still prevail and is a significant source of entertaining a large part of village population.


Godana, or tattoos, till recent past the art of backward rural masses, is also a commercial art by which a tattoo-artist earns his livelihood. Till recent past, among tribes and low-caste Hindus Godana, besides beautifying body, was an essential requisite of a married woman for a marriage was sanctified only after the bride had at least two sets of Godanas on her body, one for her in-laws, and other, for her parents. Unless tattooed, her in-laws did not accept even water from her hands. The Godana motifs were religious, auspicious, and sometimes secular. Demand for new motifs compelled tattoo-artists to conceive new forms and maintain an album. Thus, paper transforms of tattoo motifs emerged and a new folk art form was born. What an irony, tattoos that with their ethnic look define today one of world's latest fashion trends and adorn body parts of ramp-icons world-over, male or female, was despised, till a couple of decades back, as a crude ugly thing of barbarians.

Reproductions Of Deity-Images : Orissa And Nathdwara

Sri Nath Ji
Sri Nath Ji









Votive reproductions of Shrinathji at Nathdwara in Rajasthan,









The Trinity of Balarama Subhadra And Krishna at the Temple of Jagannatha
The Trinity of Balarama Subhadra And Krishna at the Temple of Jagannatha





or Jagannatha at Puri in Orissa, pursuing exact image-types, define yet another class of paintings. Initially rendered on cloth these paintings were identified as pata-chitras - cloth paintings. The term pata has many connotations, its most accepted meaning is however cloth. The Oriya tradition perceives in cloth a different kind of sanctity. Cloth is one of the main components used in making temple images of Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra. As is the practice, plain featureless neem-wood-images of Jagannatha and others, which are annually re-painted and periodically replaced, are first wrapped with several layers of cloth to arrive at a smooth surface and then painted. These cloth-layers better retain colors and their brilliance. Thus, the visible forms of deities enshrining Puri temple are actually those on cloth realized in colors. Hence, Jagannatha's reproductions on cloth are believed to have the same sanctity as the original temple image.




Worshipping Shri Nath Ji
Worshipping Shri Nath Ji



Jagannatha's image is votive while Shrinathji's, in act. This pre-determines their image-types in two art schools. Oriya reproductions of the Trio are simple votive portraits, while those of Shrinathji at Nathdwara represent his lila-rupa. Even when Shrinathji is reproduced with a large size central image, the Nathdwara pata portrays aspects of his lila around. Correspondingly, the canvas size of Nathdwara-patas is relatively larger.



Sri Jagannath Pati
Sri Jagannath Pati






So vary their uses. Orissa-patas are usually the images for domestic shrines but Nathdwara's, usually the votive-aesthetic hangings. With this specific use Nathdwara wall-hangings are called Pichhawais, not pata-chitras. In Orissa pata-chitras, the focal point is its traditional style of painting and its image-type, which is static from at least the 11th century. Other subjects, secular and even romantic, also figure in them, reproduction of temple images is however their main theme.





Meditating Chaitanya Mahaprabhu With Shri Krishna
Meditating Chaitanya Mahaprabhu With Shri Krishna






For other icons, human or divine, these pata-chitras pursue Orissa's regional iconography - large eyes, angular chin, pointed bird's beak type raised nose, and robust look.

The form of temple images is akin to some folk tradition, which some scholars relate to Sauras, an aboriginal tribe of Orissa. They contend that Sauras worshipped wooden images of the Trio with identical iconography till at least 11th century. In 11th century, they were shifted to the newly built temple at Puri and installed as Jagannatha.








Fluting Krishan With Gopis
Fluting Krishan With Gopis



Kalamkari, a large-size cotton fabric patterned through the medium of dye, used as a hanging usually in a temple but also in private apartments on auspicious occasions or for decoration, is partly the Pichhwai type and partly pata-chitra, though in its style of rendering it is akin to the narrative cult of performers' scrolls.




Shri Rama Durbar
Shri Rama Durbar






More expansive than a scroll, sometimes with a length and width in meters, a single Kalamkari, divided into many registers and spaces, covers an entire epic like the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, its fifty-sixty episodes or even more. Isolated deity-images, Vishnu's ten incarnations, are also painted but its usual themes are rituals like tree-worship, legends like Devi annihilating Mahisha or Shumbha and Nishumbha, episodes from Krishna-lila - stealing Gopis' garments, killing a demon, besides the great epics and other classics, and sometimes flora and fauna and similar decorative motifs.






Kalamkari and Traditional Design Heritage of India
Kalamkari and Traditional Design Heritage of India


Different from a Pata-chitra which derives its name from its medium 'pata', and a Pichhwai, a name characteristic of its use as a wall hanging, Kalamkari derives its name from its technique, though now, not so much for its technique, a Kalamkari is known for the type of motifs and iconographic forms which have almost concretized. The term Kalamkari literally means the work of 'kalam' - pen or feather, though besides, a Kalamkari is also block-printed. Earlier only the outlines were block-printed but for finer details colors were applied freehand with a brush or feather. Obviously, it was for this finer part of its work that the artifact was called Kalamkari. Now this distinction has largely blurred. As in case of brush and block, distinction in types of colors has also blurred. Ahmedabad in Gujarat, and Kalahasti and Masulipatan in Andhra are the known centers of Kalamkari.

Gujarat has two other classes of painted cotton, 'chhit' - spotted cotton, and 'chintz' - fabric with pictures. Being one among others, Kalamkari did not have in Gujarat such distinction as in Andhra with the result that Kalamkari is more widely known as the art of Andhra rather than Gujarat.



Domestic Painting

Domestic painting has its roots in rock-shelter pictographs. Harappan drawings on its pottery, as well as animal and human forms in its terracotta figurines, reveal continuity of these pre-historic pictographs. Human and animal figures on early coins adhere to same iconographic forms. Tattooing, perhaps an art prevalent across ages, has similar line-drawing technique as had rock-shelters. Floor drawings and wall paintings, a part of marriage-like auspicious rituals, represent the final stage in the growth of folk-art from rock-shelter drawings to canvas painting. It is essentially this common tradition that imparts to art-styles of most tribes - Bhils, Warlis, Gonds, Kurumbhas, Sauras, Santhals and others, striking similarity.

A folk painting is composed of overlapping forms, irrational anatomy, irregular imagery, and random motifs but its polyphonic character has an amazing coherence and unity; perhaps, because its images are endowed with the power to speak to each viewer in his diction and tell him his tale. This apart, born of the tradition under which it was part of a ritual, or deity-feast, marriage, birth, festival type sacred or auspicious occasions, a folk painting is endowed with underlying spiritual tones, which thread into an unseen unity its apparent diversities. This spiritual connotation is folk painting's essence, spirit and soul. To the artist, individual in his act is heroic, but along it myriad other events keep unfolding, and the artist finds his world widening beyond this individual and beyond his act. To the folk artist the world is not an individual's island. So to him is time, a continuum and indivisible process. Hence, in his art, events of past, future and present exist in simultaneity, and legends, myths and fantasy - things of far gone days, are found interwoven with the contemporary. In his epic one story unfolds into another and so on in an endless chain.


Ritual Painting of Goddess Lakshmi for Worship
Ritual Painting of Goddess Lakshmi for Worship



In folk art, ritualism rarely reflects but it has always sustained in ritualism.






Folks believed that gods blessed with their presence a house only when it consecrated for them sacred spaces. This gave birth to the cult of floor drawings and wall painting which separated from profane the gods' sacred spaces and realized their divine presence in motifs drawn along. Floor-drawings, variedly known as Rangoli, Alpana, Ossam, Jhunti, Kolam, Mandana, comprised sacred symbols, mystic diagrams, auspicious motifs, flora and fauna, geometric patterns. In addition, wall paintings, figural by nature, comprised divine icons, legends. Paintings' such contents apart, its entire tradition had ritual connotation. The skill of painting was believed to be a divine gift made to a woman, essentially a married one, a Suhagin. As both, marriage and painting, represented fertility, a Suhagin alone could accomplish a painting. In all ages, one Suhagin, or another, was found claiming appearance of a female divinity, usually Parvati, in her dream and gifting to her the skill to paint and giving her an understanding of reeti - convention, and knowledge of cosmic laws. Commercialized, the painting of tribes might have lost its ritual status but not its ritual connotations, its intrinsic quality and ability to transcend the flesh and reach the soul.

Domestic Folk Painting: Tribal And Non-Tribal

Marriage Procession of the Warlis
Marriage Procession of the Warlis







Tribal and non-tribal - Madhubani, Bengal, are two distinct painting-types. Tribes' art breathes closer affinity with rock-shelter art. Geographical boundaries are irrelevant in both but in tribal art almost absolutely. In Warli painting, a village is seen running into a town, and town, into a big city, and so on. A two-color composition as is Warli, or multi-colored, a painting of tribes has a set of more simplified imagery and composition.







The Tragedy of 9-11
The Tragedy of 9-11



Bengal folks, or even Madhubani, adhere to norms of anatomy and iconography, and even to hierarchical or social order. Not these alone, tribal paintings do not abide even by figures' relative sizes. They conceive a scorpion or caterpillar with the same size as a cock or horse, and see no anomaly in it, as if some internal logic regulates them. Folk paintings, especially Warli, use spatial divisions of canvas for portraying simultaneous operation of a number of activities of the same genre - ripening of crop, harvesting, transportation, stacking of bundles, thrashing, separating corn, revealing a kind of rhythmic synchronicity, something not seen in non-tribal folks. They have as different attitudes in portraying violence - terror, hunting, animal or human sacrifice. Madhubani compositions have abundant motifs relating to violence. Contemporary terror theme apart, the Bengal folks portray acts of male cruelty against a woman and even human sacrifice. Scant fishing activity or a hunt-transporting icon apart, in tribal paintings violence rarely figures. Whatever in their real life, the tribes do not pollute their art with scenes of killing or cruelty for to them a painting is the seat that gods enshrine.



Flora and Fauna
Flora and Fauna



In non-tribal paintings nature is a rarity, and landscape, rarer. Tribal painting is more sensitive about nature. To their randomly jotted figures or activities, landscape affords compositional unity. In entire tribal art man and nature are alike essential component of existence. In field or forest, grazing cattle, harvesting, or transporting firewood, or fodder, it does not distinguish man from his surroundings. Apart, in its treatment of nature it is exceptionally sensitive. Paintings of Gond tribe treat animals with same sensitiveness as one treats a child, conceiving them as multi-colored, grafting on a tiger's face a child's innocence, curiosity and enthusiasm for life, or allowing a mouse to overlap into the form of Ganesh, its patron. The use of bright basic colors without shading is characteristic of the entire body of folk painting but in tribal art, Gond in particular, colors are more vibrating and create movement and rhythm.




Lost in the Forest
Lost in the Forest

When shifted to paper Warli artists retained their initial scheme of geru - red mud, for background, and white for forms.

Kurumbhas render both, a two-color as well as multi-color composition. Bhils distribute the canvas space into small circles, triangles, minuscule towers or temple motifs and use in them deep bright colors in striking contrast.

In tribal paintings, forms are extremely simplified. In Warli paintings a configuration of fleeting lines defines a bird, and a series of revolving circles, the sun. In other paintings, as Bhils', the sun is conceived as a spiked circle with human face. Two length-wise elongated triangles of the same size, one, upright, and other, inverted, a circle for head, and two lines, for arms, and other two, for legs, define a human figure. In Kurumbha paintings an upright rectangle substitutes this two-triangle-formation of human figure. In paintings from Sarguja and Bastar, in Chhattisgarh, upper triangle has a size larger than the other. Sauras conceive human figure with just one elongated triangle. The style of costumes and modeling of figures in Bhils' paintings are somewhat urbanized. As simply are identified genders. A single circle for head denotes a male, while an additional one, denotative of hair-dress, annexed to the former, denotes a female. As simple are animal forms. Two horizontally drawn triangles, as those of human figures, constitute an animal figure. A rectangle, straight or curbing, sometimes substitutes this two-triangle-formation. A few vertical lines under the hind legs, denotative of thuds, denote a cow or female animal. Hardly optical, these distinctions emerge from interpretation, a tribal painting's basic feature. In any case, the tribal art paints a thing's essence, not the thing.

Madhubani And Bengal Folks

The Terror of Osama bin Laden
The Terror of Osama bin Laden

The non-tribal Madhubani and Bengal paintings are theme-oriented and form-consistent. Even randomly jotted, motifs and forms reveal a conscious effort in their composition. However large the number of motifs, a Madhubani painting has at least a central theme. Bengal 's Kalighat folks had begun transforming into bazaar art by around 1890-1900. Hence, it inclined towards sophistication and visual accuracy. It developed accomplished imagery as suited the market. Kalighat painting initially reproduced Kali-images but subsequently their number or even those representing religious myths, legends, reduced to almost nil. Instead, rigid social customs, festivals, celebrations, pictures of Europeanized life-style were more favored. The period from late 19th century onwards was a great era of art in Bengal. Institutions of art like Shanti Niketana apart, Bengal had a galaxy of eminent painters in modern art-styles. Their influence transformed Bengal folk into a semi-civil art. Now its themes are terrorism, demonisation of terror symbol like Osama bin Laden, warning against AIDS.

Madhubani, the painting style practised around Mithila in Bihar with village Madhubani as its center since ages, emerged into global focus around 1970 and is now world-wide most demanded art-form of India. In 1970s itself it impressed art world by the magic of its pure colors, rich and elaborate composition and ability to lead the viewers to an India - the truest, to which they have no otherwise access. Now hardly in an average man's mind, Mithila had, instilled into its people's blood, a set of myths, legends, beliefs, traditions, customs, rituals, festivals, practices, and these are what flow from the Madhubani painter's brush as its vision of India, the India that wakes gods after four monsoon-months by performing rites around sugarcane plants and a couple of footprints - Lord Vishnu's, walking on a chain of lotuses leading to an empty sanctum sanctorum, the India where a maiden, before entering into marriage-ties, worships the earth seeking from the Mother goddess blessings of fertility, the protective Pipal tree, for giving her a roof, or where a deadly cobra is seen dancing to the notes of snake-charmer's pipe. Whatever, a myth, legend, event or occasion, a Madhubani painting represents in a series, various steps, episodes, or a repetitive chain.

It is in the cult of floor-drawing and wall painting that the roots of Madhubani painting lie. In its broad layout it pursues floor-design - Alpana format. The central theme apart, like an Alpana a Madhubani painting adorns its entire field with motifs and images, even incoherent or random. It inherits its divine imagery, myths, legends, narratives and all its dialogues - its unique feature, from wall-paintings. In Madhubani paintings images often eject and begin discoursing. Conceptualization apart, the Madhubani painting also reproduces now highly stylized forms, even abstract, experiments with them, deity-forms in particular, resorts to deliberate symbolism and inclines to be more decorative. Terrorism like concurrent themes often frequent its canvas. Short heights, expressive and angular faces in profile, large bulbous eyes, sharp noses, and typically styled hair define Madhubani's male and female figures. However insignificant, almost every image has its role. Massive symbolism, underlying rhythm, great width of imagination, strong lines, versatile and vibrant imagery, vigorous composition, elaborate borders are other features of Madhubani art idiom.


  • Gurusaday Dutt : Folk Arts and Crafts of Bengal
  • Das Gupta : Alpana
  • R. N. Ganguli : Pata and Patuas of Bengal , in Indian Folklore
  • Heinz Mode/ Subodh Chandra : Indian Folk Art
  • Upendra Thakur : Madhubani Painting
  • Michel Postel/ Zarine Cooper : Bastar Folk Art
  • Elwin : The Tribal Art of Middle India
  • S. Fuchs : The Gond and Bhumia of Eastern Mandala
  • The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa : ed. A. Eschmann, H. Kulke and G. C. Tripathi
  • Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India : ed. Jyotindra Jain
  • Marg Volume : Homage to Kalakari (April, 1979)
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"One uniqueness of our Vedic religion is that it allows for salvation not only through renunciation (nivritti) but also through the path of material happiness (pravritti).... If dharma makes it mandatory that conjugal pleasure be restricted to the life partner, how is it that Krishna indulged in the amorous sport of Rasa with others' wives?.... Some stopped cooking, some stopped feeding, some stopped eating, some stopped washing clothes etc. and ran away.... Upanishads call the jiva in waking state as Vishwa and the dreaming jiva as Taijasa (Mandukya Upanishad Mantras 3-4)."
Krishna's Rasa Lila: The Vedantic Perspective
"This middle path lies in between extreme asceticism on one side, and extreme indulgence on the other…. When standing under a Ashok tree, tired and exhausted, she raised her right hand for seeking support of a branch of the tree…. The unique balance that defined his entire life was pre-determined in this duality….One day, in the palace garden he frightened his attendants…. He ate less and less till his diet reduced to a sesame seed, and himself, to a mere skeleton…. Seven days after the attainment of enlightenment gods sent food for breaking his fast…. However, he postponed his ‘nirvana’ for three months till he visited the places he had reminiscences of."
The Light That Enlightened Millions
(The life of Buddha in the popular mind)
"people all over India will say approvingly for someone: "He is a Rama like son, a Rama like brother, or a Rama like king. " It is rare however to hear the following as a compliment "Rama like husband or son-in-law."... All of Sita's miseries in the confinement of Ravana pale in comparison...to the emotional trauma and humiliation she was subjected to by Rama himself. In a bitter irony, what was to be her moment of deliverance, turned out to be the beginning of another trial... Sita sets a high standard as an ideal wife who stays unswerving in her loyalty and righteousness, no matter how undesirable her husband's response... She emerges as a woman that even Agni - who has the power to reduce to ashes everything he touches - dare not touch or harm..."
Sita - The Silent Power of Suffering and Sacrifice
"The sources of Dharma have been systematically divided into four simple categories....This desisting from the prohibition is what constitutes the karma, leading to Dharma.....There are many Vedic Karmas which do not find mention directly in the Vedas but are found only in the Smritis....The Agnihotra mentioned above can be performed at any one of the three times....Lord Shiva drank the deadliest poison easily. However, if anybody else did the same, he would be reduced to ashes....However, this is the weakest source of Dharma out of the four."
Understanding Dharma: The Four Authentic Sources
"No one spends even a single moment without doing some action or the other....We generally notice in history that almost all civilizations acquire a lot of material affluence in the beginning and after sometime they go into oblivion....We very well know that it is only the work based on well thought plan that solves problems and not our worry.....The success of any action depends not only on visible parameters but also invisible one....We are carried by the slogans of the times and move in the turbulent waters of life in a rudderless boat.....Want to give us a state of pleasure which is constant and never ending."
Dharma: The Only Remedy for Modern Man
"Contrarily metaphysicians and theologians perceived his form as it manifested in the Upanishads and Puranas….The ‘Advaita’ philosophy also contends that the entire Creation is just the extension of One…. Dance illustrates one of the ever-first cosmic acts with which Shiva seems to have tamed violent motion and separated from it rhythm, moves that communicated emotions and states of mind – human mind and the cosmic, and disciplined and defined pace…. Unlike Vishnu who resorted to dance for accomplishing a contemplated objective, Shiva has been conceived more or less as a regular dancer performing for accomplishing an objective as also for pure aesthetic delight…. Unfurling locks of hair and his snakes floating into space portray the dynamics of the act."
Shiva, the Nataraja
"A man receives a wife given by the gods... Where women are revered, there the gods rejoice; but where they are not, all efforts are unfruitful…. The husband, tradition says, is the wife, They can never be cut loose from one another. This is the dharma made by Brahma himself….he king who bears patiently when those in anguish insult him will be exalted in heaven…. If the driver of a vehicle injures a man, animal or property, he needs to be punished along with the owner of the vehicle…. This in a nutshell, is the definition of suffering and happiness."
Living According to Manu: God’s Manual of Instruction for Life
"Durga Puja is more than the periodically observed navratra in the subcontinent..The akaal bodhon Durga Puja has evolved into great socio-cultural significance in the Eastern Delta region, and is the lifeblood of Bengalis everywhere...On dashami the next day, one could sense the pall that descends upon the delta...Ma Durga's time in Her girlhood home draws to a close. Now is the final throes of festive exuberance."
Durga Puja - Worshipping the Wife of Shiva, Daughter of Bengal
"There is Rama, the son of Ayodhya's king Dasharatha in his human birth, and there is Rama's divinity, his divine aura that overwhelms the Tulasi's entire Ramacharit-manas, one manifest - with attributes, and the other, unmanifest - without attributes. With main emphasis on his majesty in South Indian tradition this crown is taller than usual. His 'khadgasana' images are usually in three modes; one with his right foot moved forward represents him in a commander's disposition ready to rush for protecting a devotee in crisis or redeem him from some calamity. Harihara, a form in which he shares with Shiva half of the body. Basically a bird Garuda is seen for ages as Vishnu's ardent devotee, a learned human being and an auspicious presence, and in iconographic tradition often conceived with a man's face, anatomy, ornaments and ensemble. The Puranas are replete with tales of Garuda's divine exploits."
Iconography of Vaishnava Images: Vishnu
"Bhishma undoubtedly is one of the central figures of the Mahabharata.…. One should not venture out too early in the morning…. But one should not go to sleep with wet feet….A person who desires to live long should never irritate the following three…. One must shun company of people who criticize the Vedas…. If we are traveling, one must find shelter inside a house…."
Living the Full Life: 50 Instructions from the Mahabharata
"Here is a fragment from one of the most poignant episodes of Indian history…. This piece of history is from the Mahabharata…. She was dying with shame but inside, like a true kshatrani (woman of the warrior race), she was burning with anger…. I have heard that women who follow dharma were never brought before a public court….Greed is the destroyer of dharma. I do not desire a third boon…. Draupadi was as forgiving as mother earth herself…. Just then Arjuna saw his dear friend Bhagawan Krishna approaching him…. “Leave him, leave him. He is a brahmin and worthy of our worship. Their mother should not cry, like I have at the death of my children."
Analyzing the Eternal Dimensions of Dharma Through Itihasa (History)
"We assume that our happiness is the result of an interaction with external objects…. Suppose that an individual is deprived of sleep and food and pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are simultaneously offered to him…. Actually, seeking the answer to this question is the most significant pursuit in life…. The veil comes up again and the duality returns…. In this background, we can now analyse the nature of dukha (grief)."
Ananda: Analysis of Happiness in the Upanishads
"Both the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam give a vivid description of how things are like in Kaliyuga…. The following is a list of features typical to Kaliyuga…. A man will consider only those people to be his relatives who are related to him through….The ashrams will be full of show-offs who are experts in the art of living off the food of others….. We can save ourselves from Kaliyuga."
50 Characteristics of Kaliyuga
"Her epithet in the Devi-Mahatmya is Mahalakshmi. She is the wrathful four-armed goddess of battlefield represented holding in them various weapons…. A form of Lakshmi seated over a lotus laid over a golden seat and a pair of white elephants…. Except in some classical forms in Lakshmi-Narayana imagery Lakshmi is ordinarily two-armed…. Incarnation theory is the crux of Vaishnavism. Vishnu incarnates alone but Lakshmi also incarnates in simultaneity…. Though very rare some enthused artists have conceived on Ardhanarishvara line also Vishnu’s Ardhanarishvara images."
Iconography of Vaishnava Deities: Goddess Lakshmi
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