Drawing Inspiration from Tradition: Sustainable Practices in Indian Art

Sustainability refers to our ability to maintain ecological balance and meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In essence, it involves living in a way that balances environmental, social, and economic factors to ensure a healthy planet for all. The connection between sustainability and art is multifaceted. Art can inspire people to think more deeply about environmental issues, raise awareness about sustainability challenges, and promote sustainable lifestyles. At the same time, traditional art forms often utilize natural materials and techniques that are inherently sustainable. By engaging in traditional art forms, communities can preserve cultural heritage, promote local craftsmanship, and use sustainable materials and practices. Earth Day serves as a reminder of the urgent need to protect our planet and highlights the importance of sustainable practices in achieving this goal. Here are some sustainable practices that we can learn from traditional Indian art in our daily lives to lead a more environmentally conscious lifestyle.


Going Au Naturel

Many traditional or folk Indian artists have a long-standing practice of using natural materials over synthetic ones to create their art. This is because natural materials offer a unique texture and color that is difficult to replicate with synthetic materials. Natural dyes made from plants, minerals, and other organic sources can create a range of vibrant and subtle hues, each with its own unique character. Natural materials such as clay, wood, and natural pigments are also abundant and renewable resources, making them a sustainable choice for artists. For example, the paint used in Warli paintings is made from a mixture of rice flour and water, which is an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic paints. 


Warli Art on Wall | MeMeraki


Choosing natural alternatives that are ethically and sustainably produced over other options can have a positive impact on the environment and support responsible production practices.


The Joy of Slow-Motion

Traditional art forms often prioritize the process of creation, encouraging a slow and deliberate approach that values the time and effort put into each piece. This focus on process also emphasizes the importance of making things by hand, and producing only what is necessary rather than engaging in mass production. By taking the time to create something by hand, traditional artisans can imbue their work with a unique character and personality that cannot be replicated in mass-produced items. This encourages a slower pace of production, which can help to reduce waste and promote a greater sense of self-sufficiency and independence, allowing individuals to take control of their own consumption habits and reduce their reliance on mass-produced goods. 

Terracotta Artist Dinesh Molela from India


By valuing the process of creation and encouraging slow production, traditional art forms offer an alternative to the fast-paced and often wasteful practices of modern consumer culture.


Nature Knows Best

Folk art, especially tribal art from various cultures often reflect a deep connection to the natural world. Through the use of motifs and symbols, such as animals, plants, and trees, artists create pieces that celebrate the beauty and complexity of nature. This connection can inspire a sense of reverence and respect for the environment, and promote a greater awareness of the importance of sustainability. One example of traditional Indian art that highlights this connection to nature is Gond art. This style of tribal art originated in the Gond tribal regions of central India and is characterized by its intricate patterns and vibrant colors. Many of the motifs used in Gond art are inspired by the natural world, reflecting the deep connection that Gond artists have with their environment. 


Gond Art by Venkat Shyam


Folk art's reverence for nature can also teach us to respect and protect it, promoting a greater understanding of the importance of sustainable practices and environmental conservation.


Going Local

Many traditional art forms prioritize the use of local materials, sourcing materials that are naturally occurring in the surrounding environment. This not only promotes the use of sustainable materials but also empowers local economies by supporting local businesses and reducing the environmental impact of transportation. One example of traditional Indian art that emphasizes the use of local materials is Lippan art. This style of art is characterized by its intricate designs made with a mixture of clay and cow dung, which is then decorated with mirrors and colorful paint. Lippan artists typically source the clay and cow dung from the local area, reflecting their deep connection to the environment and the importance of using locally available materials. 


Kashmiri Papier Mache | MeMeraki


By using materials that are naturally occurring in the surrounding environment, Lippan artists not only create beautiful pieces of art but also promote sustainability and support their local economy. This approach can serve as a lesson for all of us to consider the resources available in our local climate and region, and to tailor our daily practices accordingly to promote sustainability and support our local communities.


From Rags to Riches

Repurposing old textiles is an excellent way to reduce waste and promote sustainability. Instead of discarding old clothes and fabrics, we can find creative ways to repurpose them, giving them a new life and reducing the environmental impact of textile production. For example, Kantha is a traditional embroidery style from West Bengal that involves stitching together layers of old saris and dhotis to create new garments or household items. This technique not only repurposes old textiles but also creates new, unique pieces that are eco-friendly and sustainable. Sujani embroidery is another traditional art form from Bihar, India that involves quilting and embroidery to create items such as bedspreads, wall hangings, and cushion covers. 


Kashidakari Craft Kit


Repurposing old textiles is a simple yet effective way to reduce waste and promote sustainability. Instead of buying new clothes or fabrics, we can look to repurpose the items we already have. By doing this, we not only reduce our environmental footprint but also create unique and beautiful pieces that add character to our homes and wardrobes. This approach can serve as a lesson for all of us to consider the resources available to us and to find creative ways to repurpose materials in order to reduce waste and promote sustainability.

Together We Create

Folk art is often created in a communal setting, with family or groups of artisans specializing in specific parts of the process. For example, in Kavad, a traditional storytelling form from Rajasthan, one person paints, one outlines, one applies the base, and another adds the details. In Mandana, a traditional art form from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the entire village comes together to create a Mandana, which represents peace and harmony in the community. Each family contributes to the creation of the Mandana by placing a diya on it. Community involvement is crucial for promoting sustainability. When people come together to create something, they build a sense of connection and responsibility towards their community and environment. This connection can lead to a greater understanding of the importance of sustainable practices and the need to protect our planet. 


Cheriyal Scroll Painting


By engaging in traditional art forms, communities can also promote sustainable practices by using natural materials and traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations. This approach not only helps to reduce our environmental footprint but also empowers local economies and strengthens the social fabric of communities. Therefore, community involvement in traditional art forms can serve as a powerful tool for promoting sustainability, preserving cultural heritage, and promoting social cohesion.

This Earth Day, MeMeraki is hosting a fascinating free-of-cost online workshop on sustainable practices in Indian art. Join us to learn more about these eco-friendly art forms and how to incorporate them into your daily life for a more sustainable future.



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