Long before the world woke to superheroes, members of the tribal community sought refuge in symbols to ward off malevolent forces and to appease the gods. Arm yourself with a piece of our rich cultural heritage at an ongoing exhibition of 200 artworks and help keep ancient artforms alive

Sambhu Dayal Shyam was painting the walls of his classroom in a village in Madhya Pradesh long before his fellow classmates had learnt the Hindi alphabet. The Gond artist would go on to paint wedding arenas and homes of the village folk for a princely sum of Rs 15 a day. That was 30 years ago. Today, Sambhu paints on T-shirts and saris and continues to depict the gods and goddesses whose stories he grew up listening to.

Sambhu is one of the 40 artists whose works are being exhibited at Aadi Chitra, which translates to 'original painting' from Sanskrit. "The same artistic techniques that have been practiced over centuries have been used, and hence the name," says deputy manager CHV Ramakrishna of TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India), the organisation spearheading the initiative.

Art for art's sake
Aside from Gond art from Madhya Pradesh, the exhibition will also feature Pithora paintings from Gujarat, Saora paintings from Orissa and Warli art from our own state.

The 200 paintings are a reflection of the close relationship between tribal communities and art through images that reflect elements of magic realism and a love for nature. The works chronicle rituals, help cast off the evil eye and express thanks for the simple joys of life, including a good harvest.

According to Rajiv Manohar Vaidya, General Manager, TRIFED, the aim of the exhibition is to help tribals earn their livelihood without having to leave their homes. "Tribals constitute around 10% (10 crores) of our population -- a sizeable chunk, but lack access to education and employment opportunities, and are often exploited," explains Rajiv.

The attempt is to keep tribal traditions alive and ensure fair remuneration for the work done by members of these communities by helping them market products better and build their brand.

Helping empower women
TRIFED also conducts regular workshops across Maharashtra, where women from these communities are taught traditional art forms and how to make handicrafts, so that they can become financially independent and leave behind a life of domestic abuse.

The products and artefacts make their way to Tribes India, a chain comprising of 36 shops nationwide.

Down memory lane
As Ramakrishna takes us through the exhibition, he points out the distinct style of each region: Warli art focuses on white etchings on a brown background, Pithora paintings are vibrant, and Saura paintings depict ways of living in the villages.

"I was impressed by the bamboo wind flute, which creates amazing sounds out of thin air by just being twirled," he shares, recalling one of the moments during the eight years he spent in villages in Chhattisgarh as an official for TRIFED.
Reminiscing about the life lessons he learnt there, he says, "They live for the moment, which is reflected in their choice of themes and in the simplicity of their work. Their art and culture is what makes them rich."
Till December 12
At Nehru Centre, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli.
For Rs 1,500 to Rs 15,000

The Tribes India store is located within the General Post Office in CST and stocks metal crafts, textiles, terracotta items and stone pottery.  jewellery.

Know your tribal art

Gond paintings: The Pardhans, a sub-tribe from the Gond community, smear mud paste on the floors, doors and walls and then paint with a brush fashioned with bamboo, using natural colours. They typically depict folktales.

Warli painting: The Warli tribe inhabitants in Thane and Nashik in Maharashtra use simple, yet vivid imagery. Their paintings are considered part of a fertility rite and are carried out during wedding ceremonies by married women.

Pithora painting: Practiced by Rathwa male artists from Gujarat, these paintings are an act of thanksgiving and propitiation. They use natural pigments made from leaves, flowers and forest produce mixed with milk.

Saora painting: The Saoras from Orissa create 'ittal' paintings, which are made to honour the dead, avert disease and promote fertility. The 'ittal' are believed to come in the artist's dreams.