Unsung Heroes of Indian Art

Does Independence solely encompass honoring the contributions of the valiant freedom fighters who played a pivotal role in our nation's liberation? Independence Day encompasses so much more; it's a time to recognize and celebrate the remarkable individuals who dedicated themselves to rejuvenating what we had lost under British rule: our culture, traditions, and the art of India. It's a day to pay heartfelt homage to these unsung heroes who wholeheartedly worked to revive the traditional art forms, deserving not only our utmost respect but also our profound admiration. Through their unwavering passion, expertise, and dedication, they have tirelessly worked to bring traditional art forms back into the limelight.

Let us come together this Independence Day to shine a spotlight on these unsung heroes, acknowledging their invaluable contribution and extending our deepest appreciation.


Once upon a time, India's art, craft, and culture thrived and flourished, with numerous kings and rulers contributing to their growth and prosperity. However, the advent of foreign invaders and the subsequent colonization by the British brought about significant transformations in India's traditional art and craft scene. The British administration did not prioritize the promotion and support of indigenous arts. The British period witnessed restrictions on self-expression and public gatherings, which had a detrimental impact on traditional artforms. As a result, India experienced a shift from a thriving society of artisans, traders, warriors, and merchants engaged in complex commercial networks to an agrarian society dominated by peasants and moneylenders. The art of that era vividly reflects these societal changes. Art mirrors the society in myriad ways and it can be safely assumed that colonization left an indelible mark on India’s native art forms.

Any discussion about the traditional culture, the Dharohar of the country was prohibited. British rule introduced Western aesthetics and artistic styles, which influenced Indian art forms. Traditional art saw the incorporation of Western techniques, subjects, and materials to cater to the evolving tastes of the British rulers and the emerging Indian elite class. The very essence of the artforms started diminishing. Many artforms ceased to exist, such as the Kerala Murals. Mughal Miniatures were replaced by company paintings. 

Despite so many challenges faced during the British period, there were few people who took it as their responsibility to revive these traditional artforms. The Atma Nirbhar Bharat that the Prime Minister talks about today, these artists were the torch bearers to that in the past. They took it on themselves to make the artists, the people of the country stand on their feet again and start practicing their age-old heirloom. They acted as that ray of hope in the lives of all Indian artists. A good leader is not someone who leads masses, a good leader is someone who takes the masses along with him, who motivates people, who first shows what is to be done, ‘Jo pehle khud karke dikhaye’. There were many such leaders who followed the saying and did it before anyone else. 

This can be seen by heroes like Jivya Soma Mashe who worked on the resurgence of the Warli art form. During the British colonial period, traditional art forms like Warli faced neglect and marginalization. However, in the post-independence era he emerged as a pivotal figure in reviving Warli art. He made a solemn vow to bring back the art form to its former glory, driven by his profound love for his cultural heritage.


Jivya Some Mashe  (Picture Courtesy: Vartha Bharathi)


Jivya broke new ground by introducing innovative forms and compositions, challenging the established norms of Warli art. His fresh approach to Warli painting inspired and influenced aspiring artists within the community, opening new possibilities for artistic expression. His workshops and mentorship programs provided opportunities for younger generations to learn the traditional techniques, motifs, and cultural significance of Warli art. Through his teachings, Jivya nurtured a community of Warli artists who continue to carry forward the art form with pride and passion.


Goddess Palaghata in Devchauk painted by Jivya Some Mashe c.1990s (Picture Courtesy: MAP Museum)


Another such glorious personality was Sita Devi who worked on reviving Madhubani art which the Britishsers had prohibited to practice along with many other arts. One inspiring anecdote about Sita Devi is that she used her creativity and resourcefulness to make Madhubani art more accessible to a wider audience. In the early days, Madhubani art was primarily passed down through generations of women within the community. Sita Devi broke barriers and started teaching the art form to both men and women, enabling more people to learn and practice this ancient craft.


Sita Devi (Picture Courtesy: The Saffronart Blog)


Sita Devi's dedication and hard work soon attracted attention beyond her village. She participated in national and international exhibitions, showcasing the intricacy and beauty of Madhubani art. Her captivating artworks garnered praise and recognition, opening doors for Madhubani art to reach a global audience. Her legacy as a trailblazer and guardian of Madhubani art continues to inspire artists and enthusiasts worldwide, ensuring the enduring presence of this magnificent art form for generations to come.


Unnamed painting by Sita Devi (Picture Courtesy: Mutual Art)


From the land of Bengal rose another inspiration whose name was Jamini Roy. He played a pivotal role in the revival and reinterpretation of the traditional Kalighat art form in the post-independence era.


Photograph of Jamini Roy (Picture Courtesy: DAG)


Instead of merely replicating the old style, he sought to infuse it with his own unique vision. He experimented with various materials and mediums, eventually settling on using natural pigments and indigenous materials like earth and chalk. One remarkable incident that showcases Jamini Roy's commitment to the revival of Kalighat art is when he simplified the forms and removed unnecessary details. He believed in focusing on essential elements to capture the essence of the art form. His adoption of a more linear style, emphasizing bold lines and flat colors, gave a fresh and contemporary touch to the traditional Kalighat paintings.

Another interesting anecdote about Jamini Roy is his emphasis on accessibility. He wanted his art to resonate with the masses and be affordable for a wider audience. In line with this vision, he shifted from using expensive materials to simpler ones like mud and natural pigments. By doing so, he made his art more accessible to people from different walks of life.


Boating painted by Jamini Roy (Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia)


The journey of Indian traditional art and craft from the stifled period of British rule to the vibrant post-independence era is a tale of resilience, perseverance, and the enduring spirit of creativity. Despite the challenges faced, it was because of the above mentioned heroes that these traditional craft revived. They motivated people across the nation to not give in to what the Britishers left behind but to pick up where we left our traditional art before the British period. Their legacy acts as a trailblazer and guardian of all these traditional artforms and continues to inspire artists and enthusiasts worldwide, ensuring the enduring presence of this magnificent art form for generations to come.

This Independence Day, we should admire and cherish these art forms and pay homage to the indomitable spirit of those who fought to keep the flame of creativity burning bright even in the face of adversity. 

Jai Hind!



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