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Hit the Bhil art trail

As a vibrant new exhibition celebrating traditional art of the Bhil tribe opens in the city today, the guide pays tribute to this intricate art form that has travelled all the way from Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh

The Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh may be drought-prone and economically backward, but this tribal-dominated region is home to many talented Bhil artists including the famous, contemporary artist Bhuri Bai, her son Sher Singh, and Ram Singh. Deeply rooted in their cultural heritage and reflecting the tribal way of life, their distinctive art is now gaining popularity across the country. Starting today, Mumbai, too, can witness their works, which are a part of the exhibit titled 'Painted prayers from the Bhil imagination' at Artisans' in association with the Tata Centre for Technology & Design, IIT Bombay.'

A painting by Bhil artist Sher Singh depicting tribals on a bus journey to visit their deity
A painting by Bhil artist Sher Singh depicting tribals on a bus journey to visit their deity

Bhil art, unplugged
The second largest tribal community in Western and Central India, after the Gonds, the Bhils are closely connected to the land, and believe that painting is the best form of offering prayers and healing. Each painting is composed of myriad dots creating different patterns, and each dot represents a deity as well as living organisms. “While Gond paintings are composed of lines, ours comprise of dots. We make patterns of animals, trees, mythological figures, festivals etc,” informs 28-year-old Sher Singh, who will be present at the preview.

Tribals carrying hunted deer
Tribals carrying hunted deer

Bhil's art showcases everything from human joys of birth to rituals like Ghatlas (memorial of the dead), Gohari (cattle festival), Gal Bapsi (offering prayers post wish fulfillment) and Gal Gadera (harvest festival). On Diwali and Holi, clay pithoras (ritualistic paintings) are created on their walls as an offering to the goddesses. “Paintings are integral to our customs and we offer prayers to them,” shares Singh.

Tribals collecting Mahua fruit commonly found in Madhya Pradesh
Tribals collecting Mahua fruit commonly found in Madhya Pradesh

Using natural pigments
For the longest, the Bhil artists used pigments from the ground for their works. Singh elaborates, “We used neem twigs as brushes and colours were made using flour, turmeric, heated oil, vegetables and leaves. These were mixed with tree gum (gond) to make them stick on walls and the floor. Now that we have started painting on canvas, we use acrylic colours,” says Singh.

On: From today (preview, 5 pm till 9 pm) till January 24
Time: 11 am to 7 pm
At: Artisans', 52-56 Dr V B Gandhi Marg, Rhythm House Lane, Kala Ghoda.
Call: 9820145397

Know your bhil artist

Bhuri Bai
One of the leading contemporary Bhil artists, Bhuri Bai of Zher learnt how to decorate huts with paintings from her mother. While she has transferred these paintings on paper, she continues to decorate the walls at Museum of Man, an anthropology museum in Bhopal.

Sher Singh
Trained in the traditional art of Bhil painting by his mother, Singh’s works depict stories from rituals like Ghatlas (memorial of the dead), Gal Bapsi (offering prayers post wish fulfillment) and Gal Gadera (harvest festival).

Sher Singh

He has developed a distinctive colour palette comprising green, red and black.

Ram Singh
22-year-old Ram Singh learnt painting from his family while doing chores during the festivals. Painting on canvas since eight years, his works focus on Gohari (cattle festival), Ghatlas and the adivasi lifestyle.

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