Mandana art, a captivating folk art from the regions of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in India, holds deep cultural and symbolic significance. It is often associated with the Meena community, but its practice extends to various rural areas as well. While artists may initially claim that the symbols and patterns in Mandana art lack specific meanings, these intricate designs are actually imbued with religious and spiritual connotations that go beyond their surface appearance. Mandana art serves as a channel for people’s aspirations, beliefs, and desires for luck and well-being.
Material and Techniques in Mandana Art
Instead of the usual rice paste, women in Rajasthan use white lime because paddy cultivation does not happen on the dry lands of the region. Other ingredients like sorghum flour, Turmeric, Kumkum, red clay, Khadiya, stones, and clay are natural pigments. Women use different tools to paint, such as sticks, animal hair brushes, cotton balls, etc. The most used method is dipping a cotton rag into a bowl of white pigments. When a colour-soaked rag squeezes, the white pigment trickles down to the fourth finger and then to the surface.
The Main Places to Make Mandana Art
The purpose of Mandana art is to decorate houses and complete significant rituals. The art gives the homes of artists immense beauty, joy, and happiness. People believe that the Mandana designs evoke Gods and Goddesses. Usually, women make Mandana art near the wall of the house or in the corners of their courtyards. Other important places to make Mandana motifs are near the Tulsi bed, outside the door, platform, or the altar, beside the threshold, and in the temple area of the house. Religious significant patterns are meant for special occasions. Since the water is scarce, frequent resurfacing of the walls with mud becomes impractical. Only during Diwali, women recover the rough stone bricks with gober mitti and paint geographical designs over them. Cleaning is important because they believe Lakshmi only appears in clean houses.
Main Motifs of Mandana Art
Several motifs that are made on the walls to beautify the homes include flowers like Lotus, leaves, floral patterns, birds, and animals. Geometric shapes like triangles and squares, along with horizontal lines are often made in Mandana Art. Special motifs of religious significance are made on festive occasions like Diwali, Dev Probodhini Ekadashi, and Makar Sankranti.
The motif means footprint, a symbol of arrival, very much revered among Hindus. This tradition of worshipping the feet prepares the home for the arrival of Goddesses, ancestors, guests, and good paranormal energies. This motif also signifies the feet of Vishnu and Lakshmi. On Lakshmi Puja during the Diwali festival, Paglya Mandana is made on the stairs near the entrance to the place of Lakshmi Puja. Near the entrance, footprints of both feet are together, but on the threshold, one foot moves ahead of the other.
Chariot of Goddess Lakshmi
The Mandana motif of Lakshmi’s chariot is made at the place of Lakshmi Puja on Amavasya or the no-moon night of Diwali. It consists of 16 boxes, and in each lit divas or earthen lamps are kept. Women decorate the border with a four-petalled lotus flower, surrounded by curves of different types. The Devi Jot is also part of this motif. It symbolises the light of earthen lamps.
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You can find Threshold Mandana inside the main entrance of the house. Its purpose is to invoke gods and goddesses. It brings auspiciousness to the home and drives away negative influences, especially during special festivals like Diwali. Eight-petalled flower Mandana belongs to other festive occasions like Makar Sankranti, Dev Shayani-Dev Uthani Gyaras, Holi, etc.
You can see the Lotus motif in the house, Courtyard, or temple area. These designs herald the birth of a child, puberty rites, engagement, and marriage.
A sacred shrine painting on the wall brings fertility and health to those inside the house. Within the perimeter, the imprint of two hands, one brown and one yellow, represents the union of male and female. Swastikas, an ancient Hindu symbol of evolution and good fortune, are painted to avert the evil eye. Tapki ki Mandana motif includes geometric figures like triangles, rectangles, squares, and the jaali, often found in Indian architectural designs. Isn’t it amazing to see women without formal training can be highly skilled? Especially when their art has the symmetry and accuracy that requires years of practice to appear.
Cultural and Social Context of Mandana Art
The Hindu community follows a strict code when it comes to marriage. Women often marry in different gotra from their own. Hindus usually marry within the same caste, social stratum, and same professions. Women always move from their homes and often travel great distances. Many communities on the surface might seem stagnant, but if you observe the gradual changes in designs made in their homes, you will know a lot about innovation as a result of the exchange of information, techniques, and styles.
When a bride moves to a different home, she brings with her traditions of motifs she has inherited from her mother. In their new homes, they use existing household styles from their Mothers-in-Law. As the Bride gains seniority and confidence, they tend to express individuality in their designs which symbolised interwoven legacy. These decorations on the mud dwelling convey a blend of classical and tribal artistic sensibility.
In Rajasthan, societies are governed exclusively by men, and modesty is forced on women. They often wear veils to hide their faces from any male other than those in their immediate families. With a history of warfare that required defence strategies, Rajasthan produced self-contained and self-reliant households with a strong suspicion of outsiders. Walls divided courtyards for different activities of men and women. Most architects, artists, and craftsmen in Rajasthan are men. Women often add decorations to the base products men make. For example, the wife and daughters of a weaver or a cobbler will embroider or decorate the clothes and shoes he makes. If men build the house, women make it beautiful with a variety of designs. In the image, the woman is painting the pots made by her husband.
Stephen P. Huyler, an art historian and cultural anthropologist who spent 51 years surveying Indian Folk Art, defined Mandanas as ‘magical diagrams and symbols, contained within an enclosed framework that draws God’s attention to a specific intent’. Mandana art preserves culture while allowing the creativity of the artists to flourish. These symbols and motifs give us a deep insight into the inner worlds of these women and give them the limelight they often lack.
“Mandanas are my prayer. I drew the big circle, the seven stars, and the centre lotus according to how My mother taught me. I can fill the space the way I want, with the design I choose,” said Kalidevi from southeastern Rajasthan in a conversation with Stephen P. Huyler. Kalidevi made this Mandana to bless her daughter with a happy marriage. According to her, for Mandana to be effective, each part of the whole has to be precise. It is often a debate in the art world, whether to separate art from the artist. Mandana art stands on the side where to understand the art you have to dive deep into the lives of the women who make them.
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