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 these paintings only appear on their house walls and floors during festive occasions. Traditionally, the male priests or temple would be responsible for the execution of these paintings in the villages.

Also, the Kurumbas are occupationally honey collectors and cattle-gatherers. The documentation of collecting honey is of primary focus and is spoken of elaborately and extensively.


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 their artistic expression. The impact of their occupational activities of cattle-gathering and honey collection is depicted 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 to their socio-cultural fabric. 

Religious significance: The Kurumbas believe in worshipping their ancestors and having their 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 their social, cultural, and religious practices. Their depiction of the human form is stylistic and moderately geometrical, as 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 illustrated largely, portraying themes such as women drying food grains, men collecting honey, cattle gathering, wedding, rituals, and fauna with special emphasis given to 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 to create this art, and encourage the young members of the tribe to take up their traditional art form.