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Exploring 5 Popular Animal Motifs Of Pithora Art

Pithora Art: A Social And Spiritual Insight Into The Rathwa Community

Have you ever seen a painting that is so replete with soulfulness that you cannot look away? Spirituality and symbolism feature in many Indian art forms, which makes them not just aesthetically pleasing but also a means of devotion. Art forms such as Mata ni Pachedi and Pichwai are an important part of worship rituals and are considered sacred. Pithora painting is another art form that links themes of divinity with artistic expression. The result is a panorama of motifs that weave narratives of human and divine origin.

The Rathwas, Bhils, and Bhilala tribal communities in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh practise Pithora art. It is a celebration of tribal culture and devotion and a ceremony that speaks volumes about the social connection of rural communities. Let’s explore the rich cultural significance behind Pithora paintings.

Also read: Shape Language And Storytelling In Indian Tribal Art

The History Behind The Ritualistic Art Form Of Pithora Painting

Pithora art
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Pithora painting is not just an art form but a ritual. It was accompanied by a ceremony and a feast for the entire village. Pithora art originated in the Rathwa tribal community of central Gujarat. This ritual is performed when the owner of the house wants to ask for a boon or is facing problems and wants to pray to the gods for help. The deity Pithora is a central motif in these paintings. Earlier, only men would paint Pithora art but now women artists like Bhuri Bai have brought a lot of attention to this cultural art form. Pithora art also shares some similarities with Bhil art.

When a family faces a problem, they request an audience with the Bhadwa or head priest. Once the Bhadwa visits them, they narrate their problems to him, and he gives them a suitable solution. This solution is usually a vow or ritual that the family must perform. After the family follows the Bhadwa’s instructions, a professional painter, or Likhandra, is called. The Likhandra paints Pithora art on the walls of the house, and the family throws a village feast in order to appease the gods.

How Pithora Paintings Are Made

Pithora art
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The Likhandras paint traditional Pithora art on three walls of the house: a central wall and the two walls to its sides. Unmarried girls prepare the surface by applying layers of cow dung paste and limestone or chalk powder. The process is called lipai. The background of the Pithora paintings was usually white or off-white. The vivid hues of these paintings stand out prominently on the white background. Nowadays, artists have started painting Pithora art on bedsheets, bags, tablecloths, and other utility items.

Horses: A Symbol Of Power And Prosperity

Pithora art
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Horses are culturally significant in Pithora art. The Rathvas consider horses to be a symbol of strength and prosperity. They carve wooden horses and place them in their homes or in the fields as an ode to Khatrij Dev. The horses of the gods, goddesses, and ancestors of the community are the protagonists of the Pithora murals. Common motifs involving the horse are:

1. Purvaj na Panch Ghoda is an intricate motif that means ‘five horses of ancestors’. It is a symbolic representation of the Rathwa community’s ancestors. Each family organises a celebratory feast every year to honour their memory.

2. The Saval Dharmi Ghoda are the horses of civic righteousness. They are an important motif of the Pithora painting. The Saval Dharmi Ghoda is a representation of the cultural heroes that are part of Rathwa tradition and depicts the heroic exploits of ancestors.

3. The Meghani Ghoda is an auspicious motif. The Rathwas believe that this horse brings rain to the villages. In Pithora paintings, the Meghani Ghoda is a white, two-headed horse. One head of the horse eats while the other faces Megha Raja (the god of rain). The horse negotiates with the gods to bring rain. The Meghani Ghoda does not have a rider. 

4. A black horse and its rider make up the Kathiyaghoda motif. Horses in Pithora paintings are sometimes depicted with a rider and sometimes without.

5. The deity Nakti Bhuten rides a white horse. The Likhandra draws him very differently from the other gods and goddesses, and he serves as the home’s protector. He has a fierce appearance and is a very powerful deity.

Cows, Buffalos And Goats: A Rustic Reminder Of Daily Life

Pithora art
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Pithora art
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The Rathwa community uses the milk and dung of cows and buffalos for various reasons and considers them sacred. They use cow dung in the rituals that are associated with Baba Pithora. Cow and buffalo milk are used to make buttermilk, curd, etc, and are an important part of the community’s domestic lives. The Likhanas use cow or goat milk to prepare the pigments that they use to paint Pithora paintings. The Rathwa community believes that goats were the first domesticated animals. Rearing goats is an important tribal occupation.

Lions And Tigers: Majestic Beasts Of The Wild

Pithora art
Pithora painting on cloth (image source: Suyash Dwivedi via Wikimedia Commons)

Lions are a symbol of strength and divinity. This powerful beast is the vahan, or vehicle, of several gods and goddesses. The Rathwas would paint a pair of lions above their door frame as a symbol of Vagh Dev. They believed that this would guard the people within the house. A pair of lions are also painted as the gatekeepers of Jhanpo, the entry into the Pithora realm. The locals believe that no one will be able to enter the gate without Vagh Dev’s permission.

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Tigers are also considered protectors and are sometimes drawn above the Jhanpo in place of lions. Some legends state that Pithora painting originated as a method of map-making using codes and symbols in place of geographic markers. Two tigers drawn in a painting were a coded depiction of the mouth of the river Narmada.

Deer: A Symbol Of Grace And Beauty

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In Pithora art, deer are a symbol of naivete and beauty. These gentle creatures love music and serenity. Sometimes the Likhanas paint a two-headed deer in Pithora paintings. This motif is quite rare. A pair of deer also represents bliss and playfulness.

Also read: 5 Popular Motifs Seen In Traditional Indian Art Forms

Weaving Narratives Through A Myriad Of Motifs

Pithora art
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A single Pithora painting can feature up to 165 different motifs. Each motif has significant historical and cultural importance. There are stories and legends associated with each motif. All characters play a part in the unfolding of Baba Pithora’s epic. A key takeaway from Pithora’s story is that we must overcome many obstacles in order to succeed in life. Pithora art references both the difficulties of rural life as well as its simple joys. The reward of chores is celebration, and that of struggle is success. Pithora paintings can thus represent the Rathwa community’s philosophy towards life through the metaphorical retelling of Baba Pithora’s legacy.

Tales of ritual and tradition accompany each motif, theme, and symbol of Pithora painting. Rooftop conducts live workshops on a wide array of traditional Indian art forms, including tribal art like Gond, Bhil, and Pithora painting. Check out the list of upcoming workshops on the Rooftop app to make sure that you catch the next one!

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By Melissa D’Mello

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