Losing heritage and forgetting history
India’s art heritage is as diverse as its people. India is known for its rich cultural heritage from ancient times, yet amidst all these, there are art forms that are dying.
From the marshy desert of Kutch in Gujarat has emerged one of the most exquisite forms of paintings, Rogan, that is painting fabrics with boiled vegetable dyes. The dyes are applied either with a stylus for painting or a metal block for printing. Once widespread across the large territory of Kutch, this art form has shrunk dramatically and today the situation is so bad that only one family in the area is still practising Rogan.
The situation is hardly any different for Manjusha, another ancient art form, this time hailing from Bhagalpur in central Bihar. The local community that has been practising this art from the 7th century is suddenly struggling to keep it alive. Similar is the story of Warli paintings from Maharashtra or the traditional Santhal painting. Traditionally, almost every region of India has had its own form of art that includes drawings, paintings, embroideries, carvings, handicrafts, handloom and much more. Unfortunately, many of these arts are disappearing and the country is facing a real threat in terms of losing its culture and heritage.
Different art forms arise from different social and linguistic groups. Each art form has its own cultural significance and history. But gradually, these crafts are dying out with increased modernisation and industrialisation. In this fast technology run world, people have started to shift their attention from the traditional handicrafts and handloom to new innovations. With fewer customers, many craftsmen and artisans are getting poorer day by day and forced to take up alternative occupations.
Mercifully, there are some efforts afoot to restore the dying arts to their original glory as preserving and protecting the skills and knowledge of traditional crafts is a very important step in preserving the country’s rich heritage. To celebrate the art of India, Kala Kumbh is celebrated each year on February 18th, the exhibition is showcased in several cities like Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai and they are sponsored by The Export Promotion Council of Handicrafts and organised by the Ministry of Textiles where maestros of different forms come together and celebrate art that has received the Geographical Indication or GI tag. Yet, much more needs to be done to save the dying arts, especially those that are now in a critical state. Here are some of the disappearing arts of India:
Manjusha painting- the art form in a series
Manjusha is believed to be the only art form in India that is displayed in series, each representing a story within it. This art form originated in Anga Pradesh (modern-day Bihar). Back then, they made products only to be used in Bishahari festival, a festival dedicated to the snake god that took place in the district Bhagalpur. This art flourished heartily during British rule in India. However, it started fading away in the middle of the 20th century. Fortunately, the Bihar government is making efforts to revive this craft and patent it as Bhagalpur folk art.
Rogan painting- the lone six survivors
Rogan craft, an art form which is over 300 years old, is perhaps one of the few testaments to this living heritage. The Rogan painting is done only by 6 surviving people in India right now. The Khatri families living in the Kutch area of Gujarat have been the practitioners of the art for seven generations, but they fear that this will be the last surviving generation for the Rogan painting as the future generation isn’t patient or hardworking enough to take it up. This extraordinary form of art is executed on fabric with castor oil, paints and a 6inch thin metal rod.
Parsi embroidery- the embroidery that travelled the globe
Parsi embroidery has been a part of India’s diverse textile heritage. During the Bronze Age, this art form took birth in Iran and with time it drew influences from European, Chinese, Persian and Indian culture. The saris that depict Parsi embroidery are known as Parsi Gara Saris and each piece takes about 9 months to complete. But now, there are very few markets available because of the declining Parsi community and mass production of clothes that are readily available.
Warli painting: Of rice and earth
Indian art forms are recognised for their grandeur and vibrant colours but the Warli painting is exclusively known for its primitive design and use of only two colours. Warli painting was originally a means of decorating walls of the mud houses during special occasions like harvest and weddings. The artisans used rice paste with natural glue to make the white colour which is used as paint on the austere brown mud walls to form a striking contrast. The painting is now available on paper and other forms as well. The beauty of the Warli painting lies in the primitive tribal designs which are simple but have a deeper meaning. The art form is ancient, believed to have originated in the 10th century, even though it is very similar to those done between 500 and 10,000 BCE in the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, in Madhya Pradesh.
Santhal painting- Magic in hues
Santhal paintings are about merry times, whether it is harvest or finding joy in daily activities, the tribal figures manage to lift up your spirits and give a soothing feeling. Santhal Paintings have simple themes like music, wedding, harvest, and daily rituals but the colours and artists’ imagination bring alive the most mundane. These tribal paintings are drawn by a special community called Jadu Patua or magic painters in the Santhal Paragana on the border of Bihar and West Bengal. Dating back to the pre-Aryan period, the Santhal tribe is ancient but their paintings are interestingly modern human figures design. The figures are dramatic yet symmetrical and realistic. Santhal painters mainly remained entirely naive as they hardly came under the influence of the Mughals, Rajput or the British. Hence their designs and style remained original. The painters use handmade paper which is sometimes backed by cloth-based canvas. Natural vegetable-based colours are used for paint as seen in most tribal paintings. Santhal paintings are exceptional but sadly becoming increasingly rare. These paintings originally had numerous genres but cannot be spotted now due to fewer people participating in this form of art. Artisans today are not fetching the right price due to lack of a platform for selling their paintings, so they are shifting towards other livelihood options.
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