Chittara Art: Exploring Indigenous Art

Originating from the heart of Southern India, the traditional art form known as Chittara (or Hase Chitra) stands as a remarkable cultural phenomenon within the Deevaru community. The term "Chittara" draws its essence from the Kannada word "Chitra," resonating with the notions of "picture" and "painting." Nestled around the enchanting village of Sirevanthe, Sagar, approximately 360 kilometers from Bangalore in Karnataka, this vibrant tradition thrives amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the Western Ghats. 

The Deevaru community, originally island settlers, holds a deep reverence for water—an essential element woven into their socio-cultural practices. Water plays a pivotal role in their customary rites of childbirth, marriage, and death. Their agrarian lifestyle revolves around the cultivation of rice, sugarcane, and areca nuts, alongside the skilled craftsmanship of mat and basket weaving. While somewhat isolated from the outside world, the Deevaru community is a tight-knit group with a unique cultural identity.

Notably, the Deevaru society is matriarchal in nature, with women occupying esteemed positions central to family and communal dynamics. Mothers, in particular, play a pivotal role in shaping the community's ethos. A unique tradition within the Deevaru community involves widows adorning 'red' bangles and actively participating in rituals. This practice stands in stark contrast to the marginalization faced by widows in some other Indian cultures, underscoring the Deevaru's commitment to integrating widowed women into mainstream society.

 

Women of Chittara Art

 (Picture courtesy: The New Indian Express)

 

At the heart of this community's artistic expression lies the ancient art form of Chittara. This intricate artwork graces the walls and floors of their homes, intricately linked with marriage ceremonies, festivals like Bhoomi Hunnime, and other ritualistic practices. Executed collaboratively, the creation of each artwork spans several days.

"It is not just an art; it is an important aspect of life. In these parts, you associate Chittara right from birth; most auspicious rituals, like the naming ceremony of a child, happen under the wall that has a Chittara painting. This art form has documented how man has evolved and become civilized. And it will continue to do so," remarks Ishwar Naik Ji, a distinguished national award winner for Chittara Art.

 

A Marriage Hall in Yellow: Chittara Art by Ishwar Naik

 

Traditionally, while Chittara paintings are primarily crafted by women, Ishwar Naik stands out as one of the few men who have embraced this art form through his mother's teachings.

Typically, a group of three to four women gathers after completing their daily chores, dedicating two to four hours past midnight to the art of Chittara painting. The artists utilize eco-friendly materials such as ground rice, roasted rice, yellow seeds (guringe), and red earth for pigments. Brushes are crafted from areca nut fibers (Pundi Naaru). Characterized by their predominant use of straight lines, these artworks involve a collaborative process; at least two individuals work together to create these lines. Crooked lines are purposefully avoided, and erasing lines during the painting process is considered inauspicious. The act of creating these paintings is accompanied by collective folk songs, serving as a celebratory expression of creativity and talent.

Beyond the technical aspects, Chittara paintings hold significant social narratives, and their ornate and intricate patterns mirror the general iconography of the Deevaru community, embodying symbols rooted in their local environment. These symbols encompass various elements such as birds, insects, paddy fields, agricultural tools like sickles and ladders, and musical instruments. The polygons and straight lines within the paintings encapsulate the societal and moral guidelines that shape the Deevaru way of life. These elements encircle a spacious central area that often contains a palanquin, an emblem of immense significance. The palanquin visually signifies the opulence and grandeur historically associated with its ownership. This visual representation carries profound symbolism, representing the Deevaru's triumph over past social disparities.

 

Hasegode in Blue: Chittara Art by Ishwar Naik

 

As the winds of modernization and commercialization blow, Chittara faces challenges in maintaining its authenticity and significance. Currently, only a small fraction – around 1-2% – of community members engage in this art form, marking a decline from the 40-50% participation seen in previous decades. These changes extend beyond the art itself, impacting the wider social lifestyle of the community. As Chittara practice diminishes, so do the community's foundational value systems and the essence of Chittara.

Furthermore, modernization has transformed this art form from a traditional custom into a commercial endeavor. What was once confined to the walls, floors, and fields of the Deevaru community is now finding its place in upscale galleries and hotel walls. While this shift offers new opportunities, it carries the risk of diluting the core essence of Chittara as a tradition.

 

Sources: 

  1. Smith, J. A., & Kumar, R. B. (2022). Socioeconomic Status of Deevaru Community with Reference to Shivamoga District, Karnataka. International Journal of Community Research and Technology, 2(2), 41-52. https://ijcrt.org/papers/IJCRT2204413.pdf
  2. Khosla, I. (n.d.). Chittara: How Village Floor Decoration Became Font. https://www.ishankhosla.com/work/chittara-how-village-floor-decoration-became-font
  3. Day, M. World Creativity Summit 2008 Taipei Report
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