Folk Paintings

Our country has always been a repository of indigenous knowledge, which has been transferred from one generation to another. Artists in each generation have created the best of works out of available material and technology. These art works are famously referred to as the Folk arts. These art forms have existed from time immemorial. In this section, we will look into some of the famous folk art work related to paintings

  • It derives its name from Mithila, the ancient Videha and birthplace of Sita
  • It is presumed that for centuries, women living in this region have painted figures and designs on the walls of their mud houses for ceremonial occasions, particularly, weddings.
  • People of this area see the origin of this art form at the time of Princess Sita getting married to Lord Rama.
  • These paintings, characterised by bright colours, are largely painted in three areas of the house— central or outer courtyards, eastern part of the house, which is the dwelling place of Kuladevi, usually, Kali, and a room in the southern part of the house, which houses the most significant images.
  • Various armed gods and animals or images of women at work like carrying water pots or winnowing grain, etc., are vividly portrayed in the outer central courtyard.
  • The inner verandah, where the family shrine— devasthana or gosain ghar is located, griha devatas and kula devatas are painted
  • In the recent past, many paintings are done on fabric, paper, pots, etc., for commercial purposes.
  • The most extraordinary and colourful painting, however, is done in the part of the house known as the kohbar ghar or inner room, where magnificent representations of kohbar, a lotus with a stalk in full bloom having metaphoric and tantric connotation along with images of gods and goddesses are painted on freshly plastered walls of the room.
  • Mithila artists do not like empty spaces. They fill in the entire space decoratively with elements from nature like birds, flowers, animals, fish, snakes, the Sun and the moon, which often have symbolic intent, signifying love, passion, fertility, eternity, well-being and prosperity

Women paint with bamboo twigs to which some cotton swab, rice straw or fibre is attached. In earlier days, they made colour from mineral stones and organic things, such as phalsa and kusum flowers, bilwa leaves, kajal, turmeric, etc

Indian Paintings

Figure: An example of Mithila painting

The state of Odisha is famous for this form of folk painting. Some of the features of this form of painting are:

  • Pattachitra is a picture painted on a piece of cloth.
  • This form of art is closely related to the cult of Shri Jagannath and the temple traditions in Puri.
  • It is believed to have originated as early as the 12th century
  • Some of the popular themes represented through this art form are Thia Badhia– depiction of the temple of Jagannath; Krishna Lila – enactment of Jagannath as Lord Krishna displaying his powers as a child; Dasabatara Patti – the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu; Panchamukhi – depiction of Lord Ganesh as a five-headed deity. More than anything, the themes are clearly the essence of the art form, conceptualizing the meaning of the paintings.
  • Most of the materials used in this painting are natural substances
  • It is a disciplined form of art with a set of rules and restrictions. A floral border is a must around the paintings, and so is the use of natural colors.
  • The paintings are executed primarily in profile with elongated eyes, as well.
  • With the use of such prominent solid shades, the paintings end up depicting stark emotional expressions with great detail. 

Over the years the art form has evolved and has experienced discernible changes. The Chitrakars have painted on palm leaves and Tussar silk and have also created wall hangings and showpieces.

Indian Paintings

Figure: Pattachitra painting

  • It originated in the 19th century in West Bengal, India, in the vicinity of Kalighat Kali Temple, Kalighat, Calcutta
  • From the depiction of Hindu gods, god, and other mythological characters, the Kalighat paintings developed to reflect a variety of subjects, including many depictions of everyday life
  • Paintings on the life of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is also quite common in this form of painting
  • Contemporary events like crime were also the subject of many paintings.
  • The artists also chose to portray secular themes and personalities and in the process played a role in the Independence movement. They painted historic characters like Rani Lakshmibai, and Duldul the famous horse of Imam Hussain of Karbala.
  • The use of water colours on mill paper, with brushes made of calf and squirrel hair is characteristic of this school of painting.

These simple paintings and drawings, which could easily be reproduced by lithography influenced even modern artists like the late Jamini Roy

Indian Paintings

Figure: An example of Kalighat painting

  • Kalamkari is a type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile produced in Isfahan, Iran, and in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
  • Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari, which involves twenty-three steps
  • To create design contours, artists use a bamboo or date palm stickpointed at one end with a bundle of fine hair attached to this pointed end to serve as the brush or pen
  • There are two distinctive styles of Kalamkari art in India – Srikalahasti styleand the Machilipatnam style.
  • This style flourished in temples centered on creating unique religious identities, appearing on scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners as well as depictions of deities and scenes taken from the Hindu epics (e.g. Ramayana, Mahabharata and Purana).
  • The style owes its present status to Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay who popularized the art as the first chairperson of the All India Handicrafts Board.

Indian Paintings

Figure: An example of Kalamkari painting


  • The Warli community inhabit the west coast of Northern Maharashtra around the north Sahyadri range
  • Married women play a central role in creating their most important painting called Chowk to mark special occasions.
  • Closely associated with the rituals of marriage, fertility, harvest and new season of sowing, Chowk is dominated by the figure of mother goddess, Palaghat, who is chiefly worshipped as the goddess of fertility and represents the corn goddess, Kansari.
  • The cord goddess is enclosed in a small square frame decorated with ‘pointed’ chevrons along the outer edges that symbolize Hariyali Deva, i.e., the God of Plants.
  • The central motif of Palaghat is surrounded by scenes of everyday life, portraying acts of hunting, fishing, farming, dancing, mythological stories of animals
  • These paintings are traditionally painted with rice flour on earth coloured walls of their homes.
  • A very basic graphic vocabulary like a circle, a triangle and a square are used in these rudimentary wall paintings which are monosyllabic in nature.
  • The circle and the triangle come from their observation of nature.The circle represents the sun and the moon, while the triangle depicts mountains and conical trees.

Indian Paintings

Figure: An example of Warli painting