Indian Folk Art That Stood the Test of Time

We’re going to talk about a few handpicked Indian folk art forms weaved in tales, and full of vibrant colors!

Folk art created by Indians has always been about expressing everyday life – like the vast cultural diversity, agriculture and rearing, dance and music, entertainment, and some intimate expressions between sexes. Some folk art that has stood the test of time comes from tribal folk and settlements across the country.


Warli Art by Smita Pitre

The Warli art form was mostly used by tribal people who lived in the western state of Maharashtra. The adivasis (tribal people) living in more western districts around the Northern Sayadri area still practice these forms even today! What is intriguing about the Warli culture is how their concepts thrive on Mother Nature as the ultimate force, and they pray and give thanks to nature for their abundance. The Tarpa, a musical instrument popular among Adivasi tribes, is often seen in some of the most common adivasi paintings as the element in the center, along with people standing in arms, dancing around in a spiral. In recent times, the Adivasi Yuva Seva Sangh has also helped registering Warli art to a certain geographical identity to preserve the intellectual property rights of the tribe.


Patta Chitra by Shakti, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons

This cloth-based scroll painting or painting on patta is a traditional form of folk art popular in India’s eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal. These are usually depictions of mythological Gods and Goddesses, and was given out to pilgrims who would visit the holy city of Puri in Odisha. The paintings were made completely using colors from natural sources and ‘Chitrakaras’ were the ones creating these. The style of creating motifs, outlining borders, and expressing the glorious meets of Gods, especially popular with the Jagannath and Vaishnav sects who live in the region.

The art style has also been used on different surfaces besides cloth, including paintings on walls and palm leaf engravings.

You may also like: Futurism in Odisha’s Pattachitra Art


Gond Art by Sumita Roy Dutta via Wikimedia Commons

The Gond tribe in Madhya Pradesh are the ones who created this lovely folk art form, still prominent today for designs on various surfaces. One of the young Gond artists Jangrah Singh Shyam converted all paintings from canvas to paper in the idea of preserving them. The form expresses what the Gond people saw around them – the natural world – with simple lines and dot patterns to fill the outlined drawing.

Natural pigments of color were used for this art form like most ancient traditional folk art, either from mud, to even animal dung, flower and vegetable extracts, and more.


Kalamkari image courtesy Desicraft blog

As the name suggests, kalam-kari (pen-craftsmanship) was the most popular form of art created during Andhra Pradesh’s Golconda dynasty. Kalamkari is also a village where the art form was originally invented, including the block printing on textile that begun here. You’d be surprised to know the art form still exists in Isfahan in Iran, along with the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

There is a very detailed method by which this art was originally produced. Since they also used only natural dyes for this form, it is important for every step, including the canvas to be painted on, is followed precisely. Many mixed methods of producing certain colors like blue are also used, involving wax, milk, and many more techniques.


Kohbar made by Padma Shri Sita Devi via Wikimedia Commons

The elaborate and detailed depictions of the Madhubani paintings or Mithila date back to Raja Janak, who was the king of Mithila, an ancient city in India. The location is still disputed as part of Nepal and the state of Bihar in India, but the art form originates from this region. The art form is full of geometric designs, many lines, straight and otherwise, with symbolic cultural elements, and amazing colors. Like most other Indian folk art, the Madhubani artists featured nature and the Gods as the central theme for elements included in their art. These would be objects like the moon and sun, plants in nature, praise and worship, Gods and Goddesses during festivities, and more, all in natural dyes.

Kerala Mural Painting

Vaikom Temple Sreekovil Murals via Sivavkm on Wikimedia Commons.

The form of mural painting practiced in Kerala was most often used in temples for over 2000 years in Kerala. These detailed, vibrant, and elaborate paintings have still been preserved by local artists, as though they would be carrying on tradition in doing so. Many frescos can be seen depicting stories of day-to-day life, as well as scenes from the Puranas. According to Indian Folk Art’s website, the murals were painted with five colors – black, white, red, yellow and green – some of which were natural dyes, and white along with the warmer colors was derived from red laterite and white limestone.


Folk-deity Pabuji in Pabuji Ki Phad, a Phad painting scroll at National Museum, New Delhi

Originating in Shahpura near Bhilwara, the religious style of scroll painting was practiced in Rajasthan. Holy men who sung religious songs were called Bhopas, and they would walk around with paintings to almost symbolize a moving temple, with all the deities of the Rebari community at the time. Each of the phad paintings would be very very large – 10-15 feet high, and sometimes even 30-40 feet long. The material used as a canvas was cloth or phad. The colors used were all pigments from vegetables.

Tanjore Painting

A Tanjore Glass painting of Venugopala Krishna flanked by Gopikas via Wikimedia Commons.

The ancient town of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu was home to these paintings from the traditional folks who lived there. This art form originated in the 16th century when the city was the capital of the Chola Dynasty. The Cholas were very fond of arts, crafts and mighty sculptors. It is also said to have flourished in the Maratha court in Thanjavur. The paintings would usually be based on portraits of gods, men, and were said to be extremely vibrant and colorful. You could even catch a glimpse of them in a dark room because of their bright glow. Besides natural pigments used, Thanjavur folk used wealthy techniques to make their paintings stand out, including gold foil, a layer of 22k gold applied to the surface of the material. Many semi-precious stones also helped highlight and ornament the paintings.

More folk art related articles here:
Different Forms of Folk Art Around the World
British Folk Music Telling LGBTQ Stories


Information sourced from Indian Folk Art Org, The Better India, and The Artifice. Cover photo sourced from images on Wikimedia Commons. 

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