I came across this fantastical painting in the Tribal Museum at Bhopal. It would be easy to mistake it for art. But it is not. It is instead a ritual practiced by the Rathva Adivasis in Madhya Pradesh.
For those unaware of what “Adivasi” means, it refers to the aboriginal tribal people living in India before the arrival of the Aryans in 1500 BC. They presently comprise 8.6 percent of India’s total population. There are 15.3 million Adivasis from 46 tribal groups in Madhya Pradesh alone.
The creation of the above painting is part of a ceremony to either thank or appease Baba Pithora, the Rathvas’ chief deity. In times of trouble and hardship a shaman is called by the husband and wife, and the front facade of their home is prepared with cow dung and chalk powder. Once ready, the surface is painted with scenes centred around a horse: a representation of Baba Pithora. The shaman chants, the lakhara or painter paints, and a composition is created from a choice of almost 165 motifs and natural colours dissolved in alcohol and cow’s milk.
Pithora paintings are an art form and a ritual completely unique to the Rathva Adivasis, untouched and unadulterated for thousands of years. No two Pithora paintings have ever been or ever are alike. Fantastic, indeed, what do you say. 🙂