Folk art has many forms in India but it is only in recent years that it has received its due attention. In a nation that comprises 35 states, each distinct cultural and traditional identity is displayed in the folk art of the region.
Apart from this, each tribe also carries along with its traditions, art forms that are unique to them known as tribal art.
The state of West Bengal was one of the first in the move towards recognizing and reviving its folk and tribal art traditions.
In fact, not one, but several forms of folk art originate from the Eastern region of India comprising West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar.
Santhals are the third largest tribe in India and are known for their unique form of tribal paintings known as Santhal Tribal Paintings. Santhal tribes are sustained by the forests and their occupations – farming, fishing, hunting – revolve around the forests that they live in.
After a long day at work, they retire for the day and find relaxation in music and dance. Their inherent love of dance and music forms an important part of Santhal fairs and festivals.
Themes in Santhal paintings revolve around this community life especially celebrations and rituals. Paintings depict dancing, harvest and merry making through enchanting minimalist images in muted shades.
The paintings are drawn by a special community called Jadu Patuas or magic painters in the Santhal Paragana district of Bengal/Bihar borders. The painters are called magic painters because they paint to preserve the crops, avert diseases, honour the dead and so on.
Chakshudaan Pata, for example, a painting made for a bereaving family, is shrouded in magic and mysticism.
When somebody dies in a village, the Jadu Patua visits the family with an image representing the deceased, but the pupil’s in the eyes of the image are missing.
After the family makes a gift offering or Daan to the Jadu Patua, he then performs the Chakshudaan or ‘Bestowal of Sight’ by painting the iris in the blank eyes of the portrait in order to free the dead person’s soul and send it to heaven.
Almost a world apart are the Kalighat style of paintings which was born in the market places of Kolkata during the 19th century. It is said that Kalighat paintings originated in the vicinity of the Kalighat Kali Temple in Kolkata.
Originally the art depicted Hindu gods and mythological characters and stories and was sold to visitors as souvenirs from the religious sanctuary. In later times, Kalighat paintings also depicted ordinary people and everyday life as well as social changes that were taking place at the time.
Marked by generously curving figures of both men and women, the paintings acquired an essentially satirical style.
The ‘Babus’, as the 19th century British influenced nouveau rich Bengali gentlemen were called by the traditional people, were objects of fun not just for their unorthodox mannerisms but also for their often very tasteless and conspicuous consumption.
Thus the “Babu Culture” portrayed in the ‘Kalighat Patas’ often shows inversions of the social order like wives beating husbands or leading them about in the guise of pet dogs, maidservants wearing shoes, Sahibs in undignified postures.
Ironically, these satirical portrayals were created by artists who were and are rarely educated. Although largely secular, paintings of gods and goddesses continued in much the same de-romanticised way as the humans are.
Santhal paintings are a creative expression of the Santhal tribe from West Bengal. It is a distinctive style of art often revolving around these such as harvest, rituals, family life etc.
The Santhal folk painting, drawn by the Santhal tribes living in Bengal, is a folk art with a distinctive style of their own. Here we see paintings where the tribes are in musical procession or illustration of other simple themes like harvest, family life, and rituals of their life.
The Santhals paint in Pata or cloth. These then form the scrolls which unfurl to tell a story. They take the paintings from village to village not to sell their paintings but to get money in form of donations by singing songs based on the stories. These songs are known as Pater Gaan.
Santhals earlier used natural colours which were prepared from various leaves and flowers. But now they have started painting with synthetic paints on paper in small and medium-size scrolls created by stitching two sheets of paper together.
We know that Jamini Roy, one of India’s great artists was inspired by folk paintings of Bengal.
Though we loosely refer these paintings as Santhal tribal painting or folk painting of Bengal, their styles vary in form and application of colour from region to region. Bankura, Midnapore or Kalighat have very different styles. Even the themes distinctly differ.
Santhal folk Paintings are the historic art of India. This Art is not done only for the profession but also Art is for enjoying and celebration. The main themes of this art are basically weddings, dancing, family life, rituals, harvest, music, nature, daily activities and creatures.
The Santhals painting is done on Pata or cloth. Santhals earlier used natural colours that were ready from numerous leaves and flowers.
But currently, they need to start painting with artificial paints on paper in tiny and medium-size scrolls created by sewing sheets of paper along.
Though we tend to loosely refer these paintings as Santhal social group painting or people painting of geographical area, their designs vary in type and application of colour from region to region.
Bankura, Midnapore or Kalighat have very different styles. Even the themes distinctly differ.
Santhal music and dance are one of the best tribe art in India, which create immense vibrancy and cheerfulness in our body.
Santhal music differs from Hindustani classical music in many ways. Also, they play and enjoy music using Tirio ( Bamboo Flute with the seven holes ), an open chest ( korom ), a short neck( hotok ), Phet banam ( a fretless stringed instrument with three or four strings ), Junko and Singa that evokes the traditional feelings.
The Santhal People accompany dances with two drums – the Tamak and the Tumdak.
This art is performed during fairs, festivals and traditional rituals. They relax with light music and dance after a long day hard work.
Both men and women perform in the festival. Women dress in red-bordered Sari and Men dress in Dhoti, tree leaves and flowers during the dance.
They play the beats of music, to celebrate the glory of nature, raise a message and proposal of quality prayers to the high holiness of their tribe through a dance.
Santhal Tribe enjoys and loves culture which can be seen and felt. The festival is celebrated during springtime and also the month of October. This tribal art show the world about rich tribal culture of India.