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Natural Colours of Indian Art

“Colours are the smiles of nature” and nothing symbolises this phrase better than the vibrant tapestry of traditional Indian art. Natural colours of Indian art are not just a treat to the eyes but are also imbued with profound cultural significance and symbolic meanings. The cornerstone of this vibrant palette is the use of organic things like soil, rocks, plants, dried flowers and minerals. These organic colours provide authenticity and depth to Indian folk art. Would anyone believe, if we were to say that India has more than 400 dye-yielding plants? Yes, it does, and these colours carry the essence of the environment and traditions of the community practising it. This makes India’s every piece of art form a living representation of the perfect blend of nature’s gift and the artisan’s talent.

Natural Colours of Indian Art – Prehistoric Times

The trend of using natural minerals and rocks to obtain colours dates back to 10,000 BCE. Yes, the pre-historic times. The Bhimbetka cave paintings are a testament to the usage of natural colours. Materials like manganese, soft red stone, hematite and wooden coal were used to derive colours. Natural red, black and white were the most commonly used. White obtained from brunt shells. These natural colours of cave paintings have survived the test of time and weather. 

Natural Colours of Indian Folk Art

Warli Art

This art form is truly what its colour signifies. The earthy tones echo the community’s close relationship with nature. Warli art, originating from Maharashtra is known for its rudimentary designs and a palette dominated by earthy tones. 

The artists use brown colour as their background for all their paintings. It is derived from a mixture of cow dung and red mud. Once the paint has dried off, the artists draw different motifs representing their lives in the village with the help of white colour. The white is derived from a thick paste of ground rice and water. The colour white symbolises peace, purity and simplicity that the community truly practices.


Madhubani art was originally done in the Mithila region of Bihar. This generational art was the creative expression of the community’s life, experiences and happenings. Mostly dominated by religious motifs, the art was done by the women of the house to ward off evil.

The hues of Madhubani art are a visual treat. It is known for its vibrant use of colours and patterns. The palette includes yellow, red, green, indigo and black. While yellow is derived from turmeric powder, black is obtained from charcoal and soot, and blue from a flower called Aparajitha . Sandalwood gave a deeper yellow and red whereas dye-yielding plants gave shades of green. All the colours were first mixed with gum or resin from banana leaves, so they could be adhesive. As per the Madhubani artists, red and yellow signify energy and passion. Green denotes mother nature and therefore fertility and prosperity. Mostly the deities were painted blue to signify the celestial being’s power and therefore indigo blue stood for devotion.


Pattachitra is an art form originating from Odisha and West Bengal. It primarily features religious motifs and mythological narratives. Derived from the Sanskrit language, Patta means cloth and Chitra means a picture, this art form has been illustrating folk tales as early as the 12th century and is still doing so. One of the most popular themes is the depiction of Lord Jagannath.


As a state on the borders of the coast, there have been bountiful amounts of sea shells, which helped in making the white pigment. Moreover, the artists used unique green stones or concentrated juices of leaves to derive shades of green, Hingula, a stone for bright red colour, Hartal stone for yellow and Rajavarta stone for blue. The organic materials were ground with mortar and pestle into powder form and mixed with the gum of Kaitha fruit. 

In traditional Pattachitra painting, there are five primary colours, all sourced from nature, that are predominantly used to create these artworks. These colours, known as Pancha Tatwa—symbolizing the five essential elements—are closely associated with the divine hues representing Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sinhasana (The Throne), and Nila-chakra (The Blue Wheel). This association is deeply rooted in the spiritual beliefs of the folk painters and saints of Odisha.


Gond art, practised by the Gond community in Central India, is distinguished by its intricate lines and vibrant hues. The artists use natural materials such as cow dung, charcoal, plant sap, and coloured soil to create pigments. 

The yellow is derived from Ramraj soil a local yellow sand, white from chuii mitti, brown from gheru mitti, light green from cow dung, dark green from bean leaves and red from hibiscus flower. Each colour in Gond art holds a symbolic meaning: green stands for fertility and growth, yellow represents warmth and happiness, and blue symbolizes the gods and celestial beings. The use of these colors reflects the community’s deep respect for nature and their animistic beliefs.

Significance of Natural Colors

The use of natural colours in traditional Indian art is not merely an aesthetic choice but a reflection of a profound relationship with the environment. These colours are derived from the artists’ immediate surroundings, making each piece of art a product of its specific regional ecosystem. This practice of using natural dyes ensures sustainability and preserves traditional knowledge passed down through generations. Moreover, the colours often carry symbolic meanings tied to local myths, religious beliefs, and cultural practices, adding layers of interpretation and significance to the artwork.

In conclusion, the natural colours of traditional Indian art are a testament to the country’s rich cultural tapestry and its harmonious relationship with nature. They are a vibrant thread connecting the past to the present, preserving the essence of India’s artistic heritage for future generations to cherish and celebrate.

By Sayali Parkar

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