Art is rightly considered to be perhaps the most beautiful way to express yourself and tell your story to the world. It enhances your imagination and it is cathartic for oneself. A similar case can be seen with the tribal people of the Bhil community who have beautifully incorporated artistic expression into their life that preserves their legacy. The Bhils have generally inhabited the state of Western India such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Apart from being known for their proficient archery skill, the culture and art of this tribe are what makes it one of a kind. The infamous Ghoomar folk dance, which is considered as a rite of passage for every young girl of the clan, the Pithora paintings are all the gifts that have been bestowed upon us by the clan’s unique culture. Prominent and one of the most popular among the same is the wonder that remains to be Bhil Art.
Bhil Art Background
Bhil art is a truly unique and understated folk art form of India. These simply spell-binding paintings are created that convey the stories of the Bhil’s ancestry which is said to be traced back to Eklavya, a great archer during the epic of Mahabharata as well as tales of everyday life. It is important to note that most tribal communities like the Bhils do not pen down their scriptures, teaching, and details of how they lived. They are rather passed down from one generation to another through ballads and spoken words as well the art of a tribe and therefore, Bhil Art contributes towards the continuation of the legacy and the values of the tribe.
The mesmerizing Bhil paintings and the style of art, in general, have one very significant attribute to it which remains that the paintings and the colours used are derived from nature. A common belief among tribal communities is the view of nature as their provider and it therefore that they live in seclusion from the mainstream society and preserve Mother Earth. The use of twig leaves to create such marvellous art is beyond one’s greatest imagination. They further use natural dyes to extract colours such as flour for white, turmeric for yellow, leaves for the natural colour of green as well as oils to create frescoes which we praise. Even in their art, the Bhils teach us a valuable lesson of staying close to nature, our original provider.
A most organic query that arises in one’s mind is that where can we find the wonder that is Bhil Art? Well, these paintings are mostly found on either the walls or the ceilings of Bhil households, adding such colour to their lives, both literally and figuratively. Apart from that, there are various exhibitions of Bhil Art, particularly in anthropology museums. For instance, there exists the most entrancing display of the same at the Museum of Man, which is situated in Bhopal, the very capital of Madhya Pradesh, a state that the Bhils generally inhabit, as aforementioned.
Bhil Art Style
The truly distinguishing feature of these paintings is undoubtedly the dotted patterns used to create the ending beautiful masterpiece. It is rightly said that Bhil Art encompasses the figure of speech that is symbolism. There are primarily two reasons behind this: firstly, about the stories that are symbolized by these paintings and secondly because each dot, which in itself might be insignificant but joined together, make a magnum opus. Every little dot matters in the bigger picture, which is truly something wonderful when you think about it.
Another element that is said to stand out is the seeming randomness of the dots but that is because each artist has their unique style and therefore one dot might be within a forest and another in the portrait of a deity. The characters are from everyday life and are depicted using vibrant colours which adds to the allure of the painting. These paintings are such that one cannot miss them and is bound to recognize them immediately.
The scenes depicted are primarily in appreciation of nature as the Bhils are mainly an agricultural community. Apart from that, they also include scenes from legends and mythological stories in which the Sun and Moon often play a major role. The theme may or may not be religious and the variety of stories that play out through the artistic expressions of the clans is astounding. It is their way of recording what is important to them in life and so you can often see paintings of births, deaths, weddings, and even festivals.
Bhuri Bai from Madhya Pradesh surely has gone a long way from painting on rocks with twigs to her artwork being displayed in the UK and the USA and being presented to a Padma Shri for her significant accomplishments in maintaining the indigenous Pithora art. Acute poverty has been faced directly by Bhuri Bai. She was a child bride and survived a low salary of Rs 6 per day after marriage. When Bhuri eventually got a breakthrough with enriched folk art, Pithora paintings, her tribe criticised her because women could not take on artistic forms. Despite that, Bhuri went forward and let her innate skill flourish.
When Bhuri Bai left her hometown in the Jhabua area for work, over forty years ago, she did not dream of becoming a renowned artist one day. Luckily she obtained work on Bharat Bhavan’s construction site as a worker, where she met the painter J. Swaminathan, who found her talent. The rest is history, as they say.
On the occasion of Republic Day, the 52-year-old artist was proclaimed a Padma Shri winner. She is also, among other awards, the recipient of Shikhar Samman from the Madhya Pradesh Government. Her art has travelled far and wide from Lucknow to London, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad in the U.S. and the U.K.
Lado Bai is employed as a painter at the Adivasi Lok Kala Academy. Almost at the same time as Bhuri Bai of Pitol, she began painting on canvases. After a long period, she has returned to painting as her art was hampered by financial restraints. Over the years, the renowned artist J Swaminathan has given her support and encouragement. Her work as an artist now makes it possible for Lado Bai to draw all the images she has wanted for a long time due to the patronage of Adivasi Lok Kala Academy. The animal kingdom and the rituals and festivals of Bhil are the principal motifs employed by Lado Bai. She belonged to a village known for its ritualistic murals of God Pithora, a custom that was mostly a man’s domain over the years. Lado Bai continues this contemporary legacy while forging a strong individual visual language at the same time.
Sher Singh has been trained and prepared in the traditional art of Bhil Painting, which has been passed down through many generations. He was born in Jhabua, Madhya-Pradesh district and began to study at the age of seven and was already sketching on canvas when he was fifteen. The tribesmen and women paint the walls of their dwellings at holidays such as Holi or Diwali. This practise of painting is very similar to their prayers.
He paints stories of ceremonies such as Ghatlas, Gal Bapsi and Gal Gadera. A distinctive colour palette has been established by him. Sher Singh weaves his daily life into his paintings rather than submitting to a mere tradition. He continually looks for inspirations, for stories that he converts into fascinating paintings.
After marrying Bhuri Bai of Pitol, Jor Singh started his paintings and artworks. While Bhuri has taught art to many people over the country at painting workshops, she claims Jor Singh was her first pupil and he has rather quickly taken it up since he can relate to the themes easily.
Aquatic life is the main motif employed by Jor Singh. He often goes fishing in Bada Talao in Bhopal (Big Lake), which he represents in his paintings. His other favourite motifs are jungle creatures and pillars of memory.
Jor Singh works in the Madhya Pradesh Government’s Department of Public Works.
The key motifs of Gangu Bai include gatla, gal bapsi, gad bapsi and gohari. She remembers her ancestors who were still there to protect her when she painted the gatlas, as the memory pillars are called. Gangu Bai painted many times the gohari rite, with bullocks going over the backs of the gods and goddesses of Bhil men.
Gangu Bai’s favourite themes, like other Bhil painters, focus mostly on nature. Subjects such as deers peacocks, and weddings are her favourites.
Gangu Bai is a daily wager at IGRMS. She was inspired to paint on paper and canvas from Bhuri Bai of Pitol. Also from time to time, Gangu Bai organises painting workshops for the public.
Bhil Art in Recent Times
Due to appreciation for the Bhil Art, it has been adapted in the modern mainstream world as well. Although the medium has been drastically changed with the clay being replaced with canvas, the utilization of acrylic colors instead of those naturally obtained. Still, it is some much needed-recognition to this artform. Today, these paintings are sold for an incredibly high amount both nationally and internationally and it is a point of pride for us to see this art completely blossom to the heights it has reached today.
Bhil Art is without a doubt truly breathtaking but what is even more fascinating is that just through their paintings, we see that the tribal community of Bhils brings out such important lessons that everyone could benefit from learning. It speaks to the knowledge of the tribes as well the in-depth meaning that can be portrayed through art which is in a way, liberating because all artistic expression has a story to tell that brings out the personality of the artist and to be able to speak through colors is something liberating. It is rightly said, “Artistic expression is the lifeline to true inner freedom.”