Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mythology and tribal motifs come alive in terracotta

The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS) museum in Mysore, an autonomous organization, Ministry of Culture, of Government of India, is not only a museum housing tribal artifacts, but also a visual history book depicting the evolution of tribal culture across various parts of India. It is a knowledge centre that houses numerous art works of various tribes. This unique anthropological museum though sanctioned in 2000, started functioning only from Oct. 2001. Traditional tribal art forms like paintings, terracotta’s, murals, stone sculptures and other art forms are on display here. There are a little moe than 400 ethnically different tribes in India.
The IGRMS headquarters is located in Bhopal (MP), while the Regional Centre IGRMS is in Mysore at Wellington House on Irwin Road. In an attempt to showcase the diversity and richness of our culture the Mysore IGRMS conducts various workshops, seminars, hands-on training programme, throughout the year.

The Terracotta sculpture outside the entrance to IGRMS is much more than an artistic work, it is actually narrating a mythological story of the tribals and is part of an open air exhibition called, “Janapada Kathe”, folklore stories, where each work of art on display here is narrating a story. The various art works displayed here are the creation of artists from different States, working on their local folklore stories, their songs and dances, their community deities, tattoos, myths and lore and transform-ing them into art-works. The exhibition was opened in April 2008, on the occasion of the eighth anniversary celebrations of the Sangrahalaya.
The exhibition is also a record of the folkways and mores of the tribals, their myths and legends. The striking feature of this exhibition is that all these exhibits are actual dwellings built by the tribals themselves, using the same materials and architectural style employed by them. It is for this reason the exhibits are in the open exposed to the elements of nature and is a permanent feature.
Whether it is a mural, or painting, terracotta art, stone sculptures and even photographs each of them narrate a story of local traditions and rituals practiced by the tribals of a particular region. Using these exhibits IGRMS has been successful in creating awareness among the people to many of our lost cultures and traditions. At present there are 21 exhibits, representing a particular tribe. Here is a brief introduction of them:
‘Gotul’, this castiron mural shows the communal dormitory of teenagers, both boys and girl, who are expected to live in harmony and togetherness, among the murals of Bastar in Chattis-garh. Gotul a mural cast in iron, illustrates a youth dormitory of the Muria tribal people in Bastar, Chattisgarh.
The tribal Gond painting of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, tells you the story of the disappearance of God from the Earth, with a message that death will be sudden for all and it is the soul that goes to heaven, without the body.
Bhil paintings also from Madhya Pradesh, depicts the worshipping of their local deity, Pithora and the installation of a memory stone, ‘Gatla’. The materials used for the painting are simple homemade pigments made from the leaves and flowers of various plants. The brushes made of rags or a cotton swabs and fastened to twigs of neem. The paintings are done in a single day by the Bhils, praying for the prosperity of their lands and families and worshipping fertility.
Warli folk paintings by one of the largest tribals found in the northern outskirts of Mumbai, in Thane, Maharashtra, do not depict any mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life, like the marriage “chauk” drawn on the walls of their dwellings using only rice paste and smeared with red ochre. It also narrates the “Tarpa” dance and celebration of “Simgha” festival.
Mural painting from Kozhikode, Kerala, tells you the story of the slaying of two demons, Nalakuvara and Manigriva, sons of Kubera by Lord Krishna as Balagopala, who tied to a stone mortar by his mother, goes crawling on his knees and the mortar gets caught between the two Arjuna trees and uproots them, thus liberating the two demons from the curse.
The story of Raja Shailesh, Reshma and Kushma has been depicted on terracotta from Dharbanga in Bihar district.

The Par or Phad paintings from Rajasthan, depicts the tradition of worshipping ancestors and historical figures. Among the five ancestors commonly worshipped in Rajasthan, the life of Devnarayan (Takhaji) and Pabuji Rathor are the most popular. He is usually pictured seated on a horse along with various animals like cows, snake. The legends are painted on long rectangular cloths usually 35 feet long by 5 feet wide for Devnarayan pars and 15 feet by 5 feet for Pabuji-ki pars.
The Subarnapur artists from Orissa, have beautifully depicted episodes from Ramyana on terracotta pots using clay coils. That is, there are not kiln-baked but sun dried. Incidents such as the birth of Seetha, the breaking of Shivadhanus, Vanavasa, Lankapuri Hanuman, Rama’s arrival to Ayodhya, Pattabhisheka are elegantly depicted on the pot.
The Vijayanagar school of paintings called Surapur paintings managed to survive in Surapur, Gulbarga. The ‘Dasoha Gnana’ painting by a Gulbarga artist narrates the history of the 12th century Sharana Basaveshwara. The sage’s entire life is narrated as a ‘pawaada’ or ‘miracle’ in the Surapur traditional paintings.
Terracotta pottery both for ritualistic prayers and everyday use have been found inn almost every archeological dig. The famous gray ware pf the Indus Valley or the Blue ware from the Harappan period are well known. The usual votive figures in the tribal hamlets of Bastar, Jhabua, Sarguja, Raigarh, and Mandla are elephants, serpents, birds and horses. Huge terracotta horses with noble-like figures are still found in several of the Tamil Nadu villages. These terracotta semi-divine deities are the guardians of the villages. Terracotta votive placed at the boundaries of the villages are also said to ward off disease. Terracotta votive placed at the boundaries of the villages are also said to ward off disease. Votive terracotta figures of Bonga Hathi, Bankura horse, Raja Hathi, Owl, Kalli Buri, Ganesh and Manasa Kalash can be seen here. Man’s primordial fear of snakes resulted in making minor deities of them. Manasa becomes the snake goddess daughter of Shiva and is worshipped in West Bengal, Assam and Orissa.
Even the Patua from Midnapur, West Bengal, narrates the story of Snake Goddess Manasa and how she wanted the people to worship her, like her father, Shiva, was worshipped.
Terracotta offerings for “Gramdev” or the village deity is a common practice among the Jhabua tribals in Madhya Pradesh. Once in twenty years, families belonging to Bhil, Bhilala, Rathwa and the Koli tribes offer a ‘Jatar’ at the shrine of Gamdev or the village deity under the saagwon or teak tree. Each of these ‘Jatar’ comprises of 120 terracotta horses, known as ‘the army of horses’.
The Cherial scroll paintings of Andhra Pradesh is truly an exciting exception, practised mainly in Cherial of Warangal district. The painting is widely used for wall decorationsThis traditional art form is inseparable part of the profession of the story telling community known as Kaki Padagollu. They utilize the scroll paintings as visual aids to tell their stories. The stories come alive by paintings on clothes, which come in the form of scrolls. Each scroll can run into several meters. However to meet the modern art lovers’ and public demand, the Nakkash or smaller versions are made at affordable prices.
An artist from Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, has beautifully narrated an interesting story about the creation of universe by Badadev.
The famous Chittara Art or Hasegode Chittara paintings done by the women of Devaara tribe in Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts on walls and bamboo baskets. During marriages and other festivals, using only rice flour can also be seen here.
Lillari Koti of Madhya Pradesh has an interesting story. Inspired by an anthill, the Gond tribal women made the Koti, a mud granary, to store the grains safely. Snakes are depicted on the Koti, signifying that it brings health and prosperity to the family and also devours rats. Almost every member of the Gond community has a granary.

Rangoli is one of India’s oldest traditional art form. According to legends, Lord Devendra has eyes all over his body in order to be vigilant about the happenings in this universe. The innumerable eyes of Devendra are depicted in this Rangoli motif by Mysore artistes.
Stone sculptures in the manner of the Ajanta and Ellore bas-relief in black marble are well depicted by the Bidadi artists.
The tribal communities of Bastar Region consider Mohuajhad is a auspicious tree and a branch of the tree is required on all the rituals. Highly ornate votive terracotts elephants embellished with bells, figures of lion, horse, etc are offered to the shrines of village deities, these rituals of Mendka Bihav, Kham and Votive terracotta elephants and lion are well depicted by the artiste from Chattisgarh.
Artist from Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu have fabulously narrated the heroic character of Ayyanaar, the main protagonist in the local region. Ayyanaar complex developed in the exhibition consists of 12 figures Ayyannar the chief deity Pushpakala, Purnakala, Kali, Sanyasi, Nondiveeran, two horses, two elephants and two cows. Various forms of the Ayyanaar including are in ‘Policeman’s uniform can be seen in sense of the interior villages of Tirukoillur, Tamil Nadu.
All these features give the visitor a glimpse of the rural life by boosting the morale of traditional artisan groups by creating general awareness among general public.

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