History of Gond Art
The word ‘Gond’ comes from the Dravidian expression ‘Kond’ which means ‘green mountain’. Gond painting is a famous folk art of the Gond tribal community of central India. It is a form of painting from folk and tribal art that is practiced by one of the largest tribes in India – the Gond – who are predominantly from Madhya Pradesh, but can also be found in pockets of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. The history of the Gond people dates nearly 1400 years. Blended with mystery, pattern, blend of colours and humour, these art pieces depict a modern psyche.
Elements of Gond Art
The paintings use vibrant colors like orange, yellow, blue and red, and are created with articulately drawn lines and dots as the method to bring it to life. With natural colors obtained from various sources like flowers, stones, etc. are used for the creation of these beautiful paintings. Over the years, the Gond artists have developed their own devices to work with various contemporary mediums and materials. They would first make dots and calculate the volume of the images. These dots would be connected to bring about an outer shape, which would then be filled with colours. As they respond to the immediate social situation and environment, each object they come across in life is aesthetically transformed. The images are tattoos or minimalist human and animal forms.
Although Gond paintings have been centuries-old, with the passage of time, this art form has gradually shifted from the mud walls of the houses to canvas and papers. Apart from deriving inspirations from legends and myths, these paintings majorly feature nature as their main subject.
(Gond painting by Venkat Shyam)
Stories and Symbolism in Gond Art
“Trees are very important in Gond art. For humans and animals alike – for animals and for birds too, trees are the most important – in summer, to protect them from the sun and during the monsoon season to protect from the rain. Trees provide nourishment and food too” says artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam.
Ganja Mahua Tree: It tells the story of a Brahman (upper caste) girl and Chamar (lower caste) boy - when they fell in love, society did not accept them. So they renounced everything and went into the forest and later were reborn as Ganja and Mahua trees. Hence, it is said that Ganja and Mahua should not be drunk together as they can never be together.
Saja Tree: The Saja Tree is worshipped by the Bada Dev (Big God) and by the Gond community.
Pakri Tree: When new leaves bloom from this tree, the Gond community eats a dish (saag) made out of these leaves and this protects them from many diseases and illnesses.
Peepal Tree: The Peepal tree is where the Gods (Devtas) reside and thus the Peepal tree is considered the most important.
Tamarind Tree: The Tamarind tree also plays an important role for tribal people because they use tamarind fruit for chutney and sell the fruit for their livelihoods. Many people in the Gond community place a platform for gods or goddess under the trees.
(Gond painting by Venkat Shyam)
Music in Gond Communities
In the past, Gond Artists were responsible for passing on the traditions of the Gond kings verbally through songs with a musical instrument called the ‘Bana’.
They would invoke the god Bada Dev at the Saja tree by playing the Bana and record the Gond patrons’ genealogy in song. In return, they would be offered gifts of grain, clothes and maybe even cattle or gold.
(A small snippet of Bana Player Narayandewn Tekam narrating the story of creation and Bada Dev for one of our workshops)
Similarities between Gond Art and Aboriginal Art ?
“Gond is very similar to Aboriginal art because the Aborigines have their own stories like we do about creation, and they too make dashes and dots. Aboriginal art and Gond art have their connection because we are originally from the same continent of Gondwana when there were just two continents, Gondwana and Laurasia. India and Australia came from Gondwana and America came from Laurasia. The performances, dances and rituals, as well as the drink they serve, is like ours. Their surname is Maravily while ours is Maravi. I spoke at the Monash University in Melbourne and at the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane on the theme, ‘You are my brother, in you I found myself’.” - The Gond Artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam
The paints are usually derived naturally from objects such as charcoal, coloured soil, plant sap, mud, flowers, leaves and even cow dung. That said, due to the scarcity of natural colours, Gond artists have begun to use poster colours and use canvas to paint on. Gond paintings bear a remarkable likeness aboriginal art from Australia as both styles use dots to create the painting. Both art forms feature dots of different kinds. For aboriginal art, the dots symbolise territory and dreaming while with respect to Gond art, the shamans believe that the particles of their bodies disperse into space to join with those of the spirits and form other bodies. This is an ancestral, poetic vision of the atom, of the infinitely small joining the infinitely large.
~ Written by Khushi Daryani