It is true when they say that to know the art form of a particular place, is to know the place itself. One such art form that comes to mind is the unique  and understated art form called Bhil art originating from various parts of India. The article shall cover various aspects of Bhil art ranging from understanding its history to seeing how the art has changed over the centuries.
 
You can see the collection of beautiful bhil art paintings here. 
 
Situated in parts of  Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even parts of Sindh in Pakistan, the Bhil community forms one of the largest communities in South Asia. The Bhil community draws its ancestry from Lord Shiva and consider themselves ardent devotees of Lord Rama while he was wandering the Dandaka forests during his period of exile. They have also been mentioned in the Mahabharata and have been prominently mentioned throughout the last two millennials. Pre-dating the Aryan migrations, they were also known as the ‘bow people’ by virtue of deriving the etymology from ‘villu’ or ‘billu.’ Ekalavya was recognised as the most skilled archer even by Dronacharya, the teacher of the all-time great Arjun. Among all Bhil tribes, the major Bhil tribes are Vasava, Bheelala, Tadvi Dholi, Garasia, Mewasi, Bhagalia and Rawal. In historic reference, Bhils have battled against Mughals, Marathas and British and are know to be great warriors. The Bhils are also known for their superstitious nature, strongly believing in a variety of spirits, ghosts, gods, goddesses, and deities. They created and followed only their designed set of rules and regulations.
 
The Bhil community are known to follow an agricultural lifestyle, living closely with their surroundings. Bhil paintings are beautiful, artistic and imaginative. The art itself is associated to the surroundings that the communities live in. Hence, the  elements such as rituals, folklores, songs and tattoos are a centre point to their artistic expression. The paintings depicts changing seasons, landscape of fields during harvest season and rituals performed to various gods. Bhil art also sees strong influences of the natural environment in it. Traditionally, Bhil paintings are done to decorate their homes. The most important part of the Bhil painting is preparing the wall with plaster and earth. After which, the artists paint the walls in beautiful legends and traditions. Mainly, walls and floors have been painted by women folk with mythological stories and images from nature. The basic element of Bhil art is Story-telling and artists describe various stories on a particular ceremony through their art. Traditionally in Bhil art, especially large but life like shapes of common characters are drawn. These motifs are then filled with earthy but bright colours in plain form.
 
The truly distinguishing feature of these paintings is undoubtedly the dotted patterns used to create the ending beautiful masterpiece. It is rightly said that Bhil Art encompasses the figure of speech that is symbolism. There are primarily two reasons behind this: firstly, about the stories that are symbolised by these paintings and secondly because each dot, which in itself might be insignificant but joined together, make a magnum opus. Every little dot matters in the bigger picture, which is truly something wonderful when you think about it. Another element that is said to stand out is the seeming randomness of the dots but that is because each artist has their unique style and therefore one dot might be within a forest and another in the portrait of a deity. The characters are from everyday life and are depicted using vibrant colours which adds to the allure of the painting. These paintings are such that one cannot miss them and is bound to recognise them immediately.
 
Bhil art imagery encompasses religious rituals, ceremonies and festivals and is strongly embedded within their social and cultural belief, ways of life and natural environment. From simple clay-relief on walls- marking festivity, ritualistic paintings, wood and stone carvings, pottery, terracotta art, rich ornaments and tattooed bodies, the Bhil, Bhilalas and Rathwas have been able to preserve and express their tradition over the centuries. There have been several changes in concept, styles and medium among the Bhils but the central theme remains largely unchanged, some of them are listed below.  
 
THE RITUAL OF GAL-WAPASI/ GOL-GADHELO
This colourful artwork depicts an age-old practice of Gal/Gol celebrated by the Bhil tribe on the second day of Holi festival. This ceremony is observed to appease the presiding deity, Gal Dev, protector and reliever from distress, pain and ailments. In this ritual, the person who prepares to undertake the ceremony as a mark of thanksgiving suspends his body from the pole of Gal, (the pole erected in the name of Gal dev) and take rounds three, five or seven times. A strong pole is erected by the villagers and a structure is raised with supporting pillars to prepare a Machan (platform) for the ceremony. On the top of this vertical pole, a long horizontal log is pegged (Chakri) to attain a balance. One end of the log is for the person who prepares to conduct this ritual service and the other end is firmly tied with a rope for manipulation from the ground. A large number of people gather to view the ceremony. Typically, womenfolk dance in groups, elders take sips of the hukka and people sit on the machan (platform) in support of the performer. The sacrificial rites by the Badwa (religious practitioner) are also depicted. 
 
GAD-GADHERA/ GAD PARVA
In this clay-relief work, Bhuri Bai recalls her younger days when she lived with her parents in Navapara, Khangera, Gujarat and participated in a Gad-Gadhera ceremony. This social ceremony is aimed at the finding. suitable partner. After Holi and on the eve of Akadashi (first day of lunar cycle), the Gad-Parv is organised to examine the physical strength, power and ability of eligible bachelors. A big wooden pole is smoothened and smeared with oil. On the day of the ceremony, the pole is erected and a bag of jaggery, coconut and some coins is fixed on the top. The unmarried girls encircle the pole, holding stick sand brooms in their hands and dance in circles. There is an outer circle comprising of men who also dance and seek an opportunity to break through the circle of girls. Finally, the man who ultimately climbs the pole and retrieves the bag has the right to marry any of the girls from the circle. The artwork also shows puppeteers, a man raising a flag in support of his friend and men playing music and drums. The finale is a sacrificial scene which marks the successful execution of the ceremony. 
 
PITHORA PAINTING
Pithora painting of Rathwa is sometimes referred to as a ritual writing and symbolising life. Every imagery in the painting is significant and shows the benign presence in the marriage ceremony of the Divine beings – Baba Pithora and Pithori, where all creatures - big and small, are invited in the ritual service. Pithora symbolises life and all that comes with it – walls are painted to depict peace and prosperity, they are painted to vanquish illness and bad luck. When a person makes a wish, tipna – five dots – are marked on the wall and if the problem is resolved happily, the pithora painting ritual begins.
The main theme of the painting is the marriage procession of Pithora and Pithori which is attended by all beings and are made by painters called Lakhindra, who are commissioned worshippers. As a part of the ritual, the Lakhindra first prepares douna, small bowls made of Khakhar leaves and fills them with colour. White is made from lime, green from sagaun (Teak) leaf extract, black from the lamp black, and red from sindoor (vermillion), with oil.
First he paints the sacred enclosure, then the figure of Baba Ganesh smoking his hukka. At this point, tobacco is offered to Ganesh and the painter himself partakes the offering. The second figure to be drawn is that of the black horse with a rider, Kathiya ghoda, who is requested to inform everyone that Pithoro is being painted and that everyone is invited for a community dinner. After this four white horses of Pithoro, facing each other, are painted. Finally, the remaining figures including Rani Koyal, a two headed mare of the god of rain and clouds; the animals; bows, the step well; panihari (women carrying pitchers); women churning butter; the one-legged man; the moon, the chhinala (Hussy) represented by a copulating couple are painted. All of these figures are essential and are integral parts of the Pithoro painting which is considered incomplete if even a single detail is found missing.
 
SHRINE OF BAPADEVA
Among the popular votive terracotta figurines, horses and a min used for offering with a miniature shrine called Dhaba. Horses symbolise a vehicle for the divine being, a symbol of prowess is seen in three dimensional existence in terracotta art forms. Horses occupy a significant status in tribal life. As a symbol of power and force, the horse is used extensively as an offering and as a vital motif in tribal art. Gods and heroes are often shown riding horses. A shrine devoted to the village deity exhibit large assembly of terracotta votive offerings. After a wish fulfillment like child-birth, or recovery from an illness, votive terracotta horses are offered at the shrine of a village or forest deity by way of propitiation and thanksgiving. These forms are meant to be offered along with terracotta horse-figurines at the shrine of Bapadeva, as a thanksgiving. Usually made on the wheel, they have an opening for placing an oil lamp inside.
 
 
The traditional art form of the Bhil community is to decorate the walls of their houses, shrines and temples. Artistic drawings and paintings are done one mud walls with natural colour. The colour these paintings is prepared from leaves and flowers. The traditional colours are mostly prepared from rock or clay which are obtained from the surroundings around the village. Neem twigs are frayed and used as brushes to fill in the colour. Another important aspect utilized in these traditional paintings is that the middle or ring finger is utilised to fill in the colours. There are various treaditonal colours that are utilised in bhill paintings. Carbon in used cells is converted into black colour, turmeric is used for yellow colour, black berry is used for blue and purple whereas lime is utilised for white colouring agent. Bhil paintings try to utilise nayurtal ingedients for their paintings. A paste for each colour is create by crushing the raw materials into a fine powder and mixed with warm water. Often, rice powder paste with water is used as paint. Nowdays, Bhil paintings have moved onto more modern canvas for which acrylic and synthetic paintings are being utlisied. Thus, allowing the painting to move beyond walls and onto paper and canvas. 
 
Bhil paintings also utilise a variety of motifs throughout their paintings. These figures are drawn on the walls and are considered sacred. Motifs such as temples, swastikas are seen in various bhil paintings. The concept beind these paintings is to depict feritlity, avoiding diseases and to prevent any harm from inauspicious spirits and ghost spirits. Bhil paintings use motifs that find inspiration from real life such as animal and natural objects. Examples of natural objects are sun, stars, moon and of animals are cattle, snake, elephant, tigers and goats. Along with this, bhil paintings depict sa variety of birds especially peacocks. Floral motifs are an integral part of the bhil painting tradition. Along with this, bhil paintings also feature various day-to-day activities such as hunting, ploughing of field, mulching of cows, carrying of water by females, churning of milk, climbing on trees, children playing in the field and dancing marriage procession. 
 
Due to appreciation for the Bhil Art, it has been adapted in the modern mainstream world as well. Although the medium has been drastically changed with the clay being replaced with canvas, the utilization of acrylic colors instead of those naturally obtained. Still, it is some much needed-recognition to this artform. Today, these paintings are sold for an incredibly high amount both nationally and internationally and it is a point of pride for us to see this art completely blossom to the heights it has reached today.
 
Bhil Art is without a doubt truly breathtaking but what is even more fascinating is that just through their paintings, we see that the tribal community of Bhils brings out such important lessons that everyone could benefit from learning. It speaks to the knowledge of the tribes as well the in-depth meaning that can be portrayed through art which is in a way, liberating because all artistic expression has a story to tell that brings out the personality of the artist and to be able to speak through colors is something liberating. It is rightly said, “Artistic expression is the lifeline to true inner freedom.”
 
Further Reading and References 
  • https://www.caleidoscope.in/art-culture/bhil-art-01
  • https://www.artisera.com/blogs/expressions/bhil-art-how-a-tribe-uses-dots-to-make-their-story-come-alive#:~:text=Bhil%20paintings%20usually%20consist%20of,Bhil%20painting%20are%20not%20random.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhil_people#Art
  • https://bhilart.com/
  • https://www.esamskriti.com/e/Culture/Indian-Art/About-Bhil-Art--1.aspx
  • http://www.artsoftheearthindia.in/artworks/bhil-art/
  • https://www.swadesi.com/news/bhil-art-and-simplistic-symbolism/
  • https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/233619076.pdf
  • https://www.academia.edu/28167044/TRIBAL_PAINTINGS_OF_RAJASTHAN_A_MICRO-STUDY_OF_CONTINUITY_AND_CHANGE
  • https://oaji.net/pdf.html?n=2017/1174-1530957161.pdf
  • http://www.tjprc.org/publishpapers/2-29-1615352735-IJTFTAPR20211.pdf
  • http://ojasart.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/OJAS-ART_Satrangi-2017-catalogue.pdf
  • https://www.ircc.iitb.ac.in/IRCC-Webpage/rnd/PDF/GlimpseIITBResearch/Nov2017/O_108.pdf
  • http://jkk.artandculture.rajasthan.gov.in/content/dam/ArtandCulture/jkk/pdf/Pdf2020/Programs/CCDF.pdf

9 comments

  • Pawan Mohey: April 25, 2022
    Author image

    An excellent and we’ll researched article. Agrima has really put in lots of effort in researching the details of Bhil community. A good learning for me as well.
    A must read for all to know of one of our culture and traditions

  • Pawan Mohey: April 25, 2022
    Author image

    An excellent and we’ll researched article. Agrima has really put in lots of effort in researching the details of Bhil community. A good learning for me as well.
    A must read for all to know of one of our culture and traditions

  • DS Dhillon: April 23, 2022
    Author image

    A well researched article, which brings out not only the Bhil paintings but also the history, social practices and the traditional beliefs of the Community. Well done Agrima.

  • Raman Sahay: April 22, 2022
    Author image

    Excellent post and well researched by Agrima. Appreciable. All the very best.

  • Shiva: April 22, 2022
    Author image

    Wonderful to know about Bhil…👍 Thank you

  • Rakesh Rai: April 22, 2022
    Author image

    Excellent post by Agrima. Very well researched. You should try to get it posted on the website/publications/ Blog post of TRIFED India.

  • Ajay Mishra : April 22, 2022
    Author image

    Hats -off to Agrima..She has brought out intricate details of Indian ancient paintings..Her research is praiseworthy..All the very best to her..

  • KJV Singh: April 22, 2022
    Author image

    Kudos to Agrima this blog post bringing out beauty of this traditional art of India. Well written as always.

  • VARAD : April 22, 2022
    Author image

    A beautifully written and well researched blog. My compliments

Leave a comment

MEDIA COVERAGE