Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gond Paintings

         Beginning a personal exploration and experience of Indian traditional and folk arts and crafts, I tried my hand at the famous Gond paintings of Madhya Pradesh.
         Gond paintings or ‘Painted Stories’ are unique works of painted art originally made by tribal communities in Central India.  Initially painted on dwellings and houses as images of good fortune, this art form is now widely recognized as a contemporary unique art and done in bright hues.

        The Gonds were the revered storytellers of the community and they were entrusted with the responsibility of passing down folk- lore and tribal stories in the form of songs. Gond Art is a translation of these songs into images of good fortune. The signature feature of these paintings is the distinctive ‘filling in’ of larger forms. Though each artist has their own inspired style and patterns, they also draw inspiration from day to day life like patterns inspired from dry cracked earth or cross section of cut lemon. Still the most distinct and recognizable pattern of these paintings is the filling in of forms and shapes using dots and dashes. And the rich dark outlining of the forms. The subject matter of these paintings extends from myths and folklores to images of daily life, memories, dreams, and imagination. They are drawn in a whimsical and imaginative form rather than a realistic nature.

        Many gods and goddesses, strange and exotic birds and animals, beautiful flora and fauna that were subject matter in the age old songs are translated beautifully into these paintings. What originally existed as notes and lyrics and nuances of storytelling using traditional music and instruments has evolved and manifested onto paper and canvas medium in vibrant colors and an inimitable distinct style.
       The result is a rich visual narrative with a beautiful juxtaposition of forms from folklore, the signature motifs, and infilled patterns.

Here’s my Gond painting! I decided on a village center scene done on canvas paper using acrylics, a very very thin brush, and a toothpick.

     I chose to use only dots and dashes for my infill. Zoom in to see them. It was tedious and time consuming partly because of the scale and also as the Gond painting demands the infill be small, precise, and very detailed...I enjoyed every minute of it! In keeping with the whimsical nature of Gond paintings, I drew this scene as might be seen centuries ago when man and animals lived together. Gond art reverberates with stories of Gond traditions and mythology. I drew in a mystical flying elephant in keeping with the ‘Udata Hathi (flying elephant)’ folklore told in famous Gond paintings.  There is also a folklore related to the peacock. Read on!

The folklores:

Udata Hathi (Flying Elephant)
       According to Gondi folklore, the winged elephant (Udata Hathi) was used by Gods and Goddesses in heaven, to transport them from place to place. One day, when the Lord was resting he told the elephant to take a break. The elephant decided to fly to the earth. Upon reaching the earth, he was delighted to find fields of sugarcane and banana trees. As soon as he started eating the sugarcane the villagers came and tried to scare him off. But the elephant would not move. The villagers then called the Lord and asked him to intervene. The Lord was displeased with the Elephant and asked him never to go to earth again.

      A few days later, the Elephant went back to Earth to eat the sugarcane, he had loved the lush forests and the bananas. The villagers were upset, they asked the Lord to help .The Lord was furious and told the villagers to organize a feast and the Elephant was invited to join the revelry too.  After enjoying a hearty meal the elephant fell asleep. Whilst he was asleep, the Lord cut off his wings. He gave one to the Banana tree and one to the Peacock. From that day the Peacock has a beautiful Plumage and the Banana tree has large leaves.

The Peacock and its ugly feet
       According to Gondi folklore, God resolved to create the universe in all of fourteen days. Over the first seven days, he fashioned the earth below and the skies above, and colonized the space between them with all the creatures, plants and beings we see today. God desired that the universe be a place of beauty and grace, and so decided to spend the next seven days crafting a masterpiece creation of unsurpassable majesty, which he would adorn the universe with. After much thought, he finally decided upon the design of the creature we know as the peacock.

       It was tedious and time-consuming work - three and a half days were spent on just the creature’s peerless, resplendent feathers. The making of the body, covered with a shimmering plumage which dazzled the eye, took yet another three days. When the body was almost done, to his horror God saw that he had only half a day left in which to forge his new creature’s feet.

       Racing against time, God now worked with a reckless haste and his craftsmanship suffered. He managed to finish just as the fourteenth day was ending. The faultiness of these last parts of his creation showed – the feet were both ugly and ungainly. But they looked even more repulsive and out of place when seen on a creature of otherwise matchless beauty.

       However, like all things, even these ugly feet served a purpose – they kept the vanity of this prized creation of God reigned in. Now whenever the peacock unfurls his feathers and struts about, swelling with pride at his own magnificence, the sight of his ugly feet humbles him.

Shiva and the Mahua tree
       The story talks of one of the many earthly travels undertaken by Shiva, the Lord of Destruction, and therefore of new beginnings. While walking through a forest, lord Shiva was tempted by the shade of the Mahua tree and longed to rest a while. As he settled himself under the tree, tired and thirsty as he was, he happened to see some water that had collected in one of the hollows of the tree. The Mahua fruit is well known as an intoxicant. The hollow in the tree also contained some over-ripe mahua fruit and when Shiva drank of it, he quickly became mildly and pleasantly inebriated. The ‘water’ tasted delicious - cool and sweet and scented by the mahua fruit, and soon Shiva was drinking from it again and again!

       As his intoxication grew, Shiva went from babbling like a parrot, to becoming aggressive and intimidating, like a tiger, and then finally lost all control and rolled in the dirt like a boar, grunting and growling without a thought to his standing or position….It is an interesting tale, and not just at one level…it cautions one of the dangerous effects of over-imbibing alcohol, persuading you to consider that if Shiva himself was reduced to an animal, what chance have you, a mere mortal, to have dominion over yourself when under the influence of intoxicants.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Gond Paintings as much as I enjoyed exploring them.

My reference and study for this write up and all the specific information on these paintings was sourced from

For some more information on these paintings, check out

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