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Etymology: Since these paintings are made by the Kurumba tribe of Nilgiri Hills, this art form is named after them.

Origin: Believed to be 3000 years old, Kurumba paintings originated in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. 

Location: This art form is practised by many districts throughout the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. 

Relevance:  It is an expressive art form which illuminates the socio-religious ethos of the Kurumba tribe, and they create these paintings on house walls and floors only during festive occasions. Traditionally, the male priests of the temple would be responsible for the execution of these paintings in the villages.

The Kurumbas are honey collectors and cattle-gatherers by occupation. The documentation of collecting honey is a prominent theme and is depicted elaborately and extensively in their paintings.


Significance:  Since this art is practised in a hilly region, the wildlife and greenery surrounding the Kurumbas impact their occupational activities, their socio-cultural activities, and by extension, their artistic expression. The impact of their occupational activities of cattle-gathering and honey collection is illustrated in their paintings, music, and dances.

Culture and Societies: Apart from their paintings, the Kurumba tribe also indulge in other artistic practices such as music and dance which prove to be a very important element in their socio-cultural fabric. 

Religious significance: The Kurumbas believe in worshipping their ancestors and have their own gods and deities. They also worship Dolmens and Megaliths. They ask for protection from them whenever they harvest honey, believing that their deities would protect them from any injuries.

Understanding the Art

Style: These paintings are abundantly expressive in the depiction of the social, cultural, and religious practices of the Kurumba tribe. Depiction of the human form is stylistic and moderately geometrical and they are outlined and filled in with the same solid colour, which often is red ochre. Textured patterns of dots and stripes are applied to the paintings to add details and decoration.

Central motifs: Daily life activities of the Kurumbas are largely illustrated, with an emphasis on themes such as women drying food grains, men collecting honey, cattle gathering, wedding, rituals, and fauna, especially wild forest animals.


Image Courtesy: Village Square

New Outlook

The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) has been actively helping the Kurumbas by improving their livelihoods and encouraging the young members of the tribe to take up their traditional art form.

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