A Glimpse Of Devotion In India’s Sacred Folk Forms

The finest lines connecting folk and contemporary Indian art are drawn from the heart and soul of tradition. Kalighat and Pattachitra, two of the many forms nurtured in India’s villages, around temples and under the mothering shade of our oral and visual heritage, blend sophistry and simplicity to say stories in a universal mother tongue. Storytelling – in lines, motifs and the honest depiction of scenes and episodes from our epics and daily life. Storytelling that pulls a wide audience. The two art forms represent a narration – of divine and human conquests, celebration, tragedy, despair, heroism, birth, death, devastation, love and compassion.

The impact on the viewer is quick and powerful. Jatayu’s nails (work shown above) tear into your viewing before they go into Ravana’s skin in this Pattachitra interpretation of Jatayu Vadh; the drama shifts from Sita. It stretches between the compassionate bird’s attacking beak and the two pairs of eyes. The sky moves swiftly. The pallu of Sita’s sari remains on her shoulder. Ravana’s grip on his weapon and on Sita holds the composition and the viewer.

The Devis, Lord Ram, Lord Hanuman, Lakshman and Sita have motivated artists for centuries. As Creative India celebrates Navratras and Ram Navami, Tulika Kedia, owner, Must Art Gallery, New Delhi, shares Kalighat and Pattachitra works celebrating the Devis and scenes from Ramayana from her personal collection.

Last year, she showcased Chronicles from Rajasthan: Art of the Jogis, at the gallery. A selection of works from her book, Contemporary Expressions – Art of the Jogi Family, the art of the Jogis, “originally a group of wandering minstrels who earned their livelihood by singing devotional songs and ballads”, was shown at the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, Bhutan, 2016. Prakriti, a tribute to Mother Nature, featuring more than 150 works by 80 folk artists from different regions was displayed and published in March.

Sita in vanvaas. Ram leads. Stay firm, Lakshmana’s comforting banana leaf. (Kalighat)


Bhawani-Dayani. Mahishasura makes the last effort. The lion goes for His chest. (Kalighat)


Lord Hanuman in asana. The gadaa rests.


The beautiful Panchvati – in Pattachitra.


Lord Hanuman brings the Sanjeevani. The mountain is thick and light. The eyes and gadaa — not calm. (Kalighat)


The Goddess. Mahadev and His serpent. Mahadev’s awareness. (Kalighat)


Ravan and his golden tricks. Ram’s bow and arrow are ready. Lakshman is alert. A thick line divides the scenes. (Pattachitra)


The Devi and Her celebration. In Pattachitra.



On the art forms:

The folk and tribal arts of India are very simple, and yet colorful and vibrant. The simplest visual descriptions in these works interact admirably with the onlooker. Words cannot convey the insights and the outer effects of these artworks. There are feelings that touch your soul. The subjects and motifs slowly and repeatedly make us think about the great mythologies which are part of our rich cultural heritage.

Every region in India has its own style and pattern of art. Other than folk art, there is yet another form of traditional art practiced by several tribes or rural population, which is classified as tribal art. Many international journals have published India’s tribal art works. Folk and tribal art speak volumes about the country’s rich heritage. Indian folk art has a great potential in the international market because of its traditional aesthetic sensibility and authenticity.

On her introduction to Indian folk art:

I belong to a traditional Marwari family and grew up in Kolkata — one of India’s most culturally-rich cities. Painting, books, music, sculpture and beautiful objects were part of my external and internal landscape. When I got married, I felt the need to bring along some of the art works to make myself feel equally at home in my new abode. I was lucky that my husband shared similar aesthetics. My husband had business interests in Madhya Pradesh. My frequent trips with him led me to another culturally-rich state. It was (in some ways) a very different experience. My love for art propelled me to the world of Gonds, the artists, and their art forms. I had never seen work like this before. The fascination for these works and folk and tribal art led me to other states.

On her vision regarding the showcasing of works Must Art Gallery has collected:

The gallery promotes traditional art practices and has an extensive collection of tribal art. What makes the idea of the gallery so potent is its commitment to these captivating conceptions — not only the unique visual language of these images, but the fact that they preserve and perpetuate an entire way of life, enshrining the wit and wisdom of generations, as also the cultural and aesthetic traditions of a people. It is my sincere hope that through these collective efforts, and by extending support to projects with a shared spirit, the larger feminine principle of revival and rejuvenation will lead to a better world. We, at Must Art Gallery, have all authentic certified works of artist who are well known. Art should be a passion – not just a business.

On Prakriti, the series:

Prakriti has given a larger platform to the artist, and the artists have given all their support and efforts to bring the feminine attributes of life through their artworks. I am woman entrepreneur. This publication and exhibition holds a special place for me. It is an extension of my concerted efforts towards inclusively partnering on women-centered issues on the many social and entrepreneurial ventures I undertake. While sometimes the focus is direct, and other times diluted, the sustained efforts have marked my professional trajectory over decades.

On the visual language in these works: 

The artists draw from a vast repertoire of oral narratives, working with acrylic on canvas and pen-and-ink on paper, and transform an oral tradition into a modern art form, with a unique visual vocabulary—richly expressive in its imagery and rooted in the local tradition.

On the lesser-known art forms:

To be honest, all tribal art was lesser-known to the world till many years, especially Jogi Art, Chaksudan Pat, Rogan Art, Baiga Tattoo Art, Sohrai and Kohvar — a few magnificent art forms of our diverse and vast country. These are our heritage.

Do the artists get fairly paid for their work?

Must Art gallery has strived to provide a sustainable platform to these artists, encouraging them to transcend cultural barriers and present an alternative way of perceiving the world. The gallery has, in a way, endeavoured to protect the artists from the demands of the lucrative art market, which not only renders their style rigid, leaving little space for experimentation and innovation, but also alters the natural lifestyle that in the very first place inspired these images. Through its enterprising zeal, Must Art has provided the artists a stable and sustainable niche for their works, enabling them to continue creating and conceiving the world through their surreal dream-like imagination, independent of economic pressures.

On the gallery’s shows and initiatives outside India:

The gallery sent artworks to be showcased at Sakahan – in an exhibition of international indigenous art. It had an exhibition at Penn state University with Professor Stephen Hirshon. The exhibition was a roaring success.

 — Sumati Mehrishi