India, at its very mention, brings up one unified mental picture. Diversity. Be it the people, the food, the languages but mostly its art and culture.
Every corner of the country has a unique art form, some that have withstood the test of time and prospered till the recent years. But the sad reality is that the different types of arts in India are facing the brunt of modernization and are slowly shifting into the category of dying art forms of India.
Leaving behind these Indian artworks means forgetting a part of our history. There have been efforts made to preserve these art forms in India by the Government, NGOs and private organizations.
But are we too late to save these art forms? Here is a list of 10 dying art forms in India:
Alright, so the first one on the list is Manjusha paintings. Manjusha paintings are the oldest form of painting art in India.
It is an old Indian folk art of Ang Pradesh, presently known as Bhagalpur city of Bihar. Initially in its earliest days, Majusha painting was done by only two families who belonged to Kambhakar and Malakar communities.
But where did Manjusha painting find its roots from? The term “Manjusha” is of Sanskrit origin which means “box”. So literally, Manjusha painting translates to box painting? Here is why.
The history behind Manjusha painting is a tale of Bihula who saved her husband from the wrath of a higher power and a snake bite and also Bishahari or Mansa, the snake goddess. On her way to save her husband, Bihula had asked for an artist to depict the tribulations of her life along with the flora and fauna of Ang Pradesh.
She also asked for specific colours of sacrifice, determination and happiness to be portrayed.
And so devotees kept their ceremonial offerings in these Manjusha boxes which are made of bamboo, Jute-straw and paper to seek the blessings of Bisahari, for strength and protection.
Manjusha paintings are widely recognised by their distinct colour palette of pink, green and yellow. Pink signifies care, relation and victory, Green for nature and health and Yellow for joy, youth, fun and happiness. Quite some history there, right? Here is another fun fact - Manjusha Paintings date back to the 7th century!
Now, on to something I am sure you have marveled at in your childhood years (at least once).
Puppets! It is quite interesting to know that something that seems like fun entertainment, actually has a huge history behind it.
And for some reason, puppetry seems to have just always existed, like something that has been there all along passing from generation to generation. So, here are some history fact checks as to when it all started.
Although history is uncertain as to when and how the art of puppetry came to be, it is with no doubt that puppetry has been around for a very long time.
Some scholars suggest that it has been around over 3000 years. Puppetry is found in the Mahabharata and Patanjali’s Text which infers that it has some divine origin. But what is puppetry?
To put it simply, puppetry is a kind of narrative theatre, an intersection between storytelling and theatre plays.
The shows are usually accompanied by live music, narration and gestures. Music is the magic that ties the storyteller and the audience. What if I told you that there are many forms of Puppetry? These would include:
- String puppets (the one you must be most familiar with) are correctly known as marionettes. String puppetry is widely spread from North to South of the country, and commonly seen in Rajasthan, Maharashtra.
- Rod puppetry is common in Eastern India i.e Odisha and Bengal.
- Glove puppetry is also known as hand puppets. It is common in Odisha, Kerala, Tamil Nadu.
- Shadow puppet is most well known in South India in places like Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka.
Back in the days, puppetry has pierced its way into elite society. However, now it is viewed as an Indian folk art of rural entertainment. It would be such a bummer to ever lose this ancient Indian art form at the sake of TV and computer screens. What do you say?
One to the next dying art form. Embroidery has been the latest revolving trend. Before the machines, embroidery was done completely by hand (still practiced till today, but relatively much much less).
If you have seen this famous art form in India you would know that Parsi embroidery can stand out even in a crowd. So, what exactly is Parsi Embroidery and how did it become a beloved art form in India?
Parsi embroidery has a multicultural history and originated in Iran (previously known as Persia) during the Bronze Age (3300 BC - 1200 BC).
Through the years it gained the influence of Chinese, Indian and European cultures. Usually you will find Parsi embroidery in rich and vibrant colours with intricate designs.
Imperial purple and other dark shades are favoured by Perisian tradition while Kunku red or vermillion was beloved by Indians especially for the engagement saree.
Sarees with Parsi embroidery (affiliate link) are called Gara sarees. And make no mistake, these designs individually signify something and together they weave a complete story.
The traditional Parsi embroidery has depictions of birds and animals which represent power, protection and purity.
The simurgh; a mythical bird in Iranian mythology and literature and the rooster on these embroidery works stand for health and protection.
Many emblems having Chinese and Turkish influence have also been used. Once you have laid eyes on these magnificent Indian artworks, you will agree that it will be a great regret to lose them!
4) Roghan painting
Now onto something that visually may look similar to Parsi embroidery but is actually nothing close (except for its place of origin).
Roghan painting originated in Persia (now known as Iran) and set its roots in India, in Kutch of Gujarat about 300 years ago.
It is a type of painting done on cloth. In this art form, castor seeds are hand pounded and then boiled to form a paste.
After this, mineral based colours are mixed with the paste. Of the many colors that you see in a roghan painting, only red, blue, green, black, yellow and orange are actually made. All the other colours are obtained by mixing these five colours.
Motifs and patterns are made with the help of a metal stylus or Kalam, which never touches the cloth. Here is something interesting about roghan painting. Brace yourself.
Only half of the original pattern or design is created by the paint. So how does the other side appear? Well, apparently the cloth is folded in half and as a result transfers the other half of the design.
Basically what you see is the original painting and its mirror image. (Brilliant) On a sad note (but also hopeful note) , this dying art form is now practised by only one family in Nironha village near Bhuj.
Now I am going to take you back to your History lessons in School. I promise I won’t be asking questions by the end (I won't bring back the school days terror).
So, remember the Harappan Civilization? One of the most significant things that came out of the archaeological studies of that time, was the advances in metallurgy.
The Dancing girl from Mohenjo-Daro became synonymous with the Harappan civilization and it is marked as the finest and oldest example of metal casting.
In this technique, copper and its alloys like brass or bronze are used. Iron and its metals were not at all used.
In India Dhokra art was originally found in the region Bankura to Dariapur in Bengal. Presently, this famous art form in India is practiced in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana and Chhattisgarh.
Something worth mentioning about Dhokra art is that each piece is unique. You will not find any two identical pieces.
Dhokra art is widely inspired by nature, mythodology, flora and fauna. Nature makes people happy and is undoubtedly the best form of inspiration. The intricacies of Dhokhra art are amazing and to lose them would be devastating.
6) Toda embroidery
Here is a small task for you. Have you ever tried drawing something from imagination? (thinking) For some it can be a difficult task while for others it can be a piece of cake.
And for the Todas, this is a task that they do with ease. Alright, now onto Toda embroidery. Toda comes from the name of one of eighteen tribes living in the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu.
The women of the Toda community weave threads of red and black colour over a white cloth background and create impromptu motif designs (Amazing).
The embroidery work done on their cloaks called “Poot Khuly” is so fine such that it looks like a woven cloth.
Both sides of the cloth can be used and it is draped by both men and women. Here is the amazing part, Toda embroidery which consists of many geometrical shapes are created with utmost precision without the help of a scale or ruler!
These women have truly mastered their craft! But can you believe me if I tell you that the Toda community has a population of only 1600 people spread over 69 settlements, of which 400 of them are engaged in this dying art form? On a happier note, Toda embroidery has received Geographical Indication (an IPR protection) in September 20213. The Toda community has also been given assistance from the Tamil Nadu Government and other NGOs.
Todas Handicraft Sale Emporium which is run by Tamil Nadu Government helps to market these products. Let us hope that with these efforts, the beautiful Toda embroidery continues to live on.
And, could this be a calling to the Nilgiri Hills as your next travelling adventure?
Here is another art form that originated in Persia. Meenakari is a form of enamelling of metals.
What happens in this technique is that metal surfaces are ornamented by painting and decorated with unique designs.
The designs and colours are hardened by frying the metal in kilns. You may wonder what kind of metals are used in Meenakari technique? Gold, silver and copper are traditionally used as they hold the colours better.
But you can almost imagine how expensive they might be with gold and silver being used. Nowadays, a new metal called White metal is used.
If you have roamed the streets of Kamla Nagar, you would have most definitely seen the countless colourless jhumkas.
Yep, those are close to what Meenakari is. As I had mentioned, Meenakari originated in Persia and was spread to other countries by Mongolians.
In India, the Mughals were particularly interested in this art form. Meenakari was popularized in Rajasthan around the 16th century and since then, Jaipur remains to be the centre of Meenakari art in India Meenakari art is stunning, and to lose it would be a huge loss to the art and craft of India.
8) Naga handicraft
I now take you en route to the Northeastern part of the country and dive into the Land of Festivals, Nagaland.
Home to the spectacular Hornbill, Nagaland is blessed with some of the best craftsmanship. Famous for one-of-its-kind cane and bamboo works, wood carving, blacksmith and pottery, Nagaland handicrafts have gained much attention in the country and abroad.
The traditional Naga shawl is a beautiful and unique cloth, known for its quality and durability. But you may wonder, why has Nagaland handicraft landed in the list of dying art forms in India? Rapid industrialization and lack of encouragement and enthusiasm in the younger generations have been the factors leading to this art dying right in front of our eyes.
There is no greater loss than losing the imprints of our identity.
Another beautiful painting form of India is Paitkar painting.
Paitkar painting of Jharkhand, is popularly known as scroll painting of the East. The art depicts the folk art of the State and its neighboring states.
\Paitkar painting is especially influenced by customs associated with West Bengal. So, the word Paitakar is derived from Bangla “pata” which evolved from Sanskrit and means cloth.
Paitkar painting, as literal as it sounds, is done on cloth with natural colours obtained from leaves, stones, soil and lime.
Paitkar paintings are done on scrolls and painted with mostly primary colours like red, yellow and blue. Many of the paintings are inspired bu Hindu epics; stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The paintings also depict themes of social, religious and current affairs of the time.
The painting scrolls of Jharkhand are usually done with narration accompanied with music. The details and storytelling art of Paitkar paintings are remarkable. Would you also agree?
10) Tanjore Painting
The very last dying art form in India in this list is a very popular classical South Indian painting called Tanjore Painting.
Tanjore painting gets its name from the native place it originated, Thanjavur or Tanjore a city in Tamil Nadu.
Unlike all the other art forms, Tanjore paintings are done on wood because of which they are also locally known as Palagai Padam (Palagai means wooden plank while padam means picture) Mind you, these paintings are nothing short of easy to make.
First the sketch is made on a piece of cloth. Next the cloth is fixed on a wooden plank (jackfruit or teak).
The designs are then filled with paints and embellished with precious and semi precious stones, pearls and glass pieces. These paintings bear portraits of Bal Krishna, Lord Rama and are heavily inspired by Hindu mythology.
Tajore paintings dazzle with primary colors red, green and blue and sometimes gold leaf embellishment. Of all the other dying art forms in India, Tanjore paintings still have a broad appeal.
But the decline in quality is one that breaks the hearts of many art lovers. Too late to save? All the dying art forms in India have faced the brunt of modernisation and industrialisation.
The invasive use of machines has made bulk production so easy and tremendously lowered cost prices of products. How have machines, made with the intent to facilitate, become an enemy of traditional artists? Well, I am sure you can guess this right. Bulk production means that products are manufactured faster and sold at cheaper rates. So, who would want to invest extra time and cash, right? The increase in cost of raw materials has also tremendously affected the sale of traditional art. Lack of encouragement and enthusiasm of the younger generation to learn and keep up with the traditional art forms, seeing it as no means of a proper livelihood, has dwindled the hope of sustaining these dying art forms.
It goes without saying that the pandemic has wrecked the livelihood of too many traditional artists who were already scraping tooth and nail to make something out of their craft.
Although there have been efforts made by the Government and various NGOs to safeguard and promote these dying art forms, it is only with collective efforts from the likes of you and me to spread the word and create awareness.
No effort is ever too small. To end the blog, here are a few questions for you. Is losing the cultural heritage of India and pushing out the history of Indian art worth it? Who will save these dying art forms of India, if not you and me? How many of these dying art forms in India were you aware of? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We would love to hear from you and start a conversation.
1) What are the traditional arts in India?
Traditional arts are those that are passed on from generation to generation.
They are largely influenced by culture, tradition, family, ethnicity and era. Five major traditional arts in India are:
- Mysore Paintings.
- Tanjore Paintings.
- Madhubani Paintings.
- Rajput Paintings.
2) Why are Indian handicrafts dying?
Indian handicrafts are dying largely due to modernization and technological advancements.
Many handmade products are replaced with machine made products.
3) What are the features of Indian art?
Indian art forms range from painting, sculpture, pottery to textile. Most Indian art forms are heavily influenced by religion (and politics)and hence, depicts many characters from Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
Many Indian art forms feature mythological, human and animals forms with elaborate ornaments.
4) What was the first form of art created?
The earliest form of art in India are rock paintings of prehistoric times. Dating back 290,000 years ago, rock carvings and drawings on cave rocks surfaced were discovered.
The oldest example of rock art in India are the Bhimbetka rock carvings which have gained the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5) Who was the father of Indian art?
Raja Ravi Kumar is heralded as one of the greatest painters in India and is known as the father of modern Indian Art.
- 9 art forms that could disappear forever in India
- Top 10 lost art forms in India - Medium
- Why traditional Indian art forms are disappearing?
- Dhokra art metal casting technique - Craftsvilla
- Tanjore paintings - Artisera
- Tanjore Paintings - Indian art
- Pata Painting - Banglapedia
- Paitkar paintings storytelling
- Paitkar paintings jamshedpur art
- Paitkar paintings - India Netzone
- Lost Crafts - Nagaland page
- Enchanting meenakari art - Shiprocket social blog
- Cultural India
- Toda embroidery of Tamil Nadu
- Roghan art - A mirror image without a mirror
- Embroideries of India - Parsi work
- Parsi embroidery - A heritage of humanity
- The puppetry art of India - Lonely Planet
- Introduction to Indian puppetry
- Cultural Indian Art - About Manjusha Paintings
- Bihula-Bisahari: Folklore of Anga Region
- Indian art - History, types & styles
ABOUT OUR STAR AUTHOR
Oracle Wahlang is a Botanist by major and a curious learner by nature. A self-labeled introvert who enjoys learning new things and having discussions with friends.
She enjoys reading, sketching, painting, and yes, researching. She also sometimes like to think that she clicks good photographs.