The Gods and Goddesses of Indian Folk Art

India is a country with diverse heritage and rich culture. It is home to some of the most beautiful folk art traditions! Its folk art is colorful, vibrant, beautiful, and elaborate. You may have noticed that there is a huge amount of Indian folk art that depicts Gods and Goddesses.

Religious and mystical elements are essential features of folk art that are not only seen in elaborate paintings but also in other forms of folk art. Some tell their stories, depict their environment, others praise their miracles and valorous deeds. Let’s take a look at a few handpicked Indian folk art that depict Gods and Goddesses.

Madhubani Painting

Goddess Kaali and Tara via Sarmaya

This traditional mural art form from Madhubani district, Bihar, is a Mithila painting that is known to be a woman’s preserve. It has roots in the wedding rituals of the Maithil community. Today, its canvas is filled with depictions of religious Gods and symbols. It also includes socio-political issues as well as rural and natural life. Over the years, Mithila art and artists have acquired tremendous popularity not only in India but also among international audiences.

The above painting has been created by Krishnanand Jha, as per Samarya. It showcases the Goddess Kali and Goddess Tara (Ugratara), both four-armed Goddesses. They stand on top of a corpse of a man in the image with the Goddess on the left, Kali, holding a severed head of a demon. Goddess Kali’s tongue is perched outwards. The forehead of the corpse on the left is painted indicating the third eye – a representation of God Shiva. Another symbol of the snake near the man’s arm places him as Shiva.

According to Samarya, the Goddess on the right can be identified as Tara. She is the second goddess from the Mahavidyas (Ten Goddesses of Wisdom). Goddess Tara is painted in a darker shade. Her complexion gives her the name ‘Ugratara’ (Fiery dark goddess). Among the weapons, you can see Her holding motifs like the blue lotus and the drinking vessel. The lotuses painted (beneath the Goddesses) with geometric symbols in the center are commonly seen as tantric symbols, as per Samarya.



Pattachitra: Manasa Goddess via Sarmaya

The Bengal Pattachitra is a visual and oral art tradition that is practiced by the Patuas or Chitrakars of West Bengal. They earn their livelihood by telling stories from Hindu Mythology, local folklores, Sufi tradition, and contemporary themes through paintings and songs, and the unfolding or playing of the Pata is called ‘Pat Khelano’. The song through which the divinely painted narratives are sung is called ‘Pater Gaan’ which flows in three stages.

The first stage is the Kahani (story), the second – the mahatmya (glory), and the third – bhavita (introduction). This particular scroll in the above image depicts the Hindu snake Goddess Manasa. She is an important local deity in Bengal. According to Samarya, a Snake-Goddess aka Vishadari, the cult of Manasa is widespread in Bengal and the neighboring regions, especially in the rural settings. Goddess Manasa is often worshipped to cure diseases as well as to beget a child. Manasa Devi, a folk deity, is one of the popular themes portrayed on a Pata.

Portrayed as having the third eye, bearing multiple hands, majestically sitting on a snake throne, and wearing gorgeous jewelry, her stories are usually picked from the medieval text – Manasa Mangal Kavya, as per Samarya. This scroll shows the image of Manasa. Her image repeats across the scroll. In the background, we see a tiny figure of Shiva accompanying her.



Kalamezhuthu via Organikos

This (essentially a temple art) is the art of creating very large pictures on the floor and is a unique form of art found only in Kerala. “Kalamezhuthu is an ancient art woven into the ritualistic mores of Bhagavati, Naga and Ayyappa temples in Kerala,” explained a traditional Kalamezhuthu artist, Suresh, to The Hindu.

“It refers to the pictorial representation of deities on the floor (kalam) using colored powders (kolappodi) during ceremonies. When combined with the singing of specific songs (kalampaattu) and dance movements related to the puja (kalapradakshinam), it becomes a ritualistic performance known as ‘kalamezhuthum paattum’ or ‘kalamezhuthupaattu’.”

The drawings are done by hand, without any tools and their pigments are derived from natural sources. Usually, the items used to prepare the powders in colors are Charcoal (black), rice (white), turmeric (yellow), a blend of turmeric and lime (red), and green leaves (green). The chief deities depicted in this ritual include Bhagavati, Bhadrakali, Ayyappa, Vettakkorumakan (Siva putra), Darika (asura killed by Bhadrakali), and Sarpa (Naga) with each of them being assigned a specific sloka, sung for about 15 minutes.

It is sung before the drawing commences. During this time, the priest (melsanthi) performs a puja. The actual drawing is an elaborate, three-dimensional, rendition of eyes, nose, bosom, and gold ornaments and is positioned on the floor outside the sanctum, to the right of the main deity.



Pabuji ki Phad via Sarmaya

We now look at a form of folk art which is a tradition of creating religious scroll paintings. It is practiced by the Bhopa tribal community of Rajasthan and the paintings are primarily made for two folk deities. They are – Pabuji and Devnarayan. Creating a Phad is just one part of the whole process. The folk art’s cloth is actually the main prop of a larger ritualistic performance, as per Sarmaya.

Singer-priests roam through villages with the Phad. According to Sarmaya, towards the end of the day, as the sun sets, they open their scroll out for a night-long performance. This includes music, dance, and storytelling. The stories that are narrated are explanations of the scenes depicted on the cloth. It eulogizes the miracles and valorous deeds of Pabuji/Devnarayan and in a way, these Phads become mobile altars for a tribe constantly on the move.



Pichwai Paintings via Living Art Life

Hailing from the state of Rajasthan, more precisely from the Nathdwara town in the state, the Pichwai paintings are believed to have originated about four hundred years ago. The word generally came from ‘Pich’ meaning back and ‘Wai’ meaning ‘textile hanging’ with the paintings originally being used to decorate the Shrinathji ki Haveli in Nathdwara, near Udaipur. These intricate and detailed paintings were made on cloth.

The stunning Pichwai paintings are famous for their spectacular depiction of tales from the life of Lord Krishna and the common subjects found on the Pichwai paintings are Gopis, Radha Krishna, Cows, Rasleela, Govardhan Puja, Diwali, Holi, Lord Vishnu, etc, as per Living Art Life. Artists working on this folk art take several months to complete the masterpiece as the painting demands intense focus and immense skill.

The colors and brushes used for the Pichwai paintings are all made up of natural materials and intense and bright colors are used for the same. These include red, yellow, green, black. Furthermore, it includes a border of gota, swarovski, or dabka work, and they are also beautified with gold.

What is the motive behind the making of the Pichwai painting? According to Living Art Life, joy and happiness in Vrindavan during Krishna times. With modernization, the Pichwai paintings are not confined to the temple walls but are also used as home decors. They are available in smaller sizes too.

Find More Folk Art-Related Articles Here:
Different Forms Of Folk Art Around The World
Indian Folk Art That Stood The Test Of Time
Epic Of Gilgamesh: The Oldest World Folk-Epic


Featured Image credits:

Pichwai Paintings via Caleidoscope | Phad Painting via Caleidoscope | Kalamezhuthu via Outlook India | Pattachitra via Asian Art | Madhubani Painting via Deccan views

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