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Nirmal Painting- Understanding Telangana’s Elegant Art Form

Nirmal Painting: Lost To Time Or A Thriving Art Form?

Artists often seek each other’s company and find solace in community. Like-mindedness, familiarity, and an environment filled with creativity make it easier to create and learn new things from each other. Several artist communities were born in India, and many flourished as ‘art villages’. The town of Nirmal was one of them and is the birthplace of Nirmal painting.

Nirmal has a rich history of arts, crafts, and culture and is one of Telangana’s popular tourist destinations. Several art forms thrive in the form of cottage industries that have gained international recognition. Let us explore the vast world of arts and crafts and their connection with Nirmal painting.

The Origin And Evolution Of Nirmal Paintings

The members of the Naqash community practise Nirmal painting. This art form dates back to the 14th century. Local legends say that the Naqash family migrated from Rajasthan and brought the art to Nirmal with them. Nirmal artists painted mythological and folkloric tales on the walls of homes and pieces of furniture. The Nizam of Hyderabad was so moved by Nirmal paintings that he became a loyal patron. Nirmal paintings were a part of the dowry traditions under the Nizam’s rule. Lady Hydari invited Nirmal artists to Hyderabad and endorsed them.

Nirmal painting gained popularity with the Mughals as well, and Mughal miniature paintings made on wood are popular collector’s items today. Ganjifa cards were also made in the Nirmal art style, but the practise seems to have died out. 

Wooden toys made in Nirmal (image source: dsource.in)

The town of Nirmal is also famous for its handicrafts and wooden toys. The artists use locally available softwood from the Poniki tree to make all their paintings and crafts. The Telugu movie ‘Radha Krishna’ is an ode to hand-carved wooden Nirmal toys. After carving the toys, the artist paints them with shiny paint similar to what is used in Nirmal paintings. Many tourists and artisans visit Nirmal to learn about its handicrafts and the techniques used in Nirmal paintings.

Tools, Techniques And Traditions Of Nirmal Painting

Traditionally, Poniki wood or white sander wood frames were used for Nirmal painting. Artists later began using teak and rosewood frames. They use wooden rippers to make a frame and then attach oil-tempered hardboard to it. The artist sprays the wood 5–6 times with Luppa paint (NC patti), which absorbs moisture and increases the longevity of the painting. They then rub the surface with sandpaper and apply a coat of primer. After one more coat of Duco paint and sanding, the surface is ready to be painted.

In the past, artisans extracted natural pigments from mud, stones, and herbs. Today, artists use a mixture of oil or acrylic paints and glue in Nirmal painting. The artist paints in the background colour, which is usually black or dark brown. Unlike a lot of other traditional Indian painting techniques, Nirmal painting is not a freehand art form. The artist first prepares the design on a tracing medium and uses chalk to trace it onto the prepared surface.

Nirmal painting
Spray painting the wooden surface (image source: dsource.in)

Then they fill in the colours of large areas. They use water paper to sand the surface and finally paint in the intricate details. The artist then adds a touch of gold to the finished painting and covers it with varnish, which makes Nirmal painting durable and waterproof.

Also read: Are Artists Abandoning Traditional Painting Techniques In Favour Of Modern Technology?

The Delicate Themes Of Nirmal Paintings

Themes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana feature in Nirmal painting. Human figures, especially depictions of women, are one of the central motifs. Mughal art and architecture, Rajasthani miniatures, and the cave paintings of Ajanta influenced the Nirmal painting style. We see a strong influence of the Kangra School of Art in the delicate and romantic portrayal of women. Scenes from the epics, tribal women, gods and goddesses, expansive landscapes, and gorgeous scenery are some popular themes of Nirmal painting.

A distinctive feature of Nirmal painting is the use of golden hues over a black background. The dark background makes the human figures look more vibrant. The artists add a decorative golden border, which adds to their beauty. They draw the human figure with graceful lines and subtle expressions. Another feature that makes Nirmal paintings unique is that the artists paint directly on wood. They are also coated with varnish, and the gold colours, shiny paint, and glossy finish give them a unique look and appeal.

Also read: 6 Most Popular Themes in Rajasthani Miniature Painting

Nirmal Painting: Challenges And Solutions

The wood of the Tella Poniki, or white catamaran tree, is traditionally used for Nirmal painting and toy-making. Due to deforestation and the tree’s long gestational period, Nirmal artists have turned to other alternatives. Indian teak wood proved to be an excellent substitute due to its durability, delicate texture, light weight, and strength. Artists would make natural paints from colourful stones found near the Godavari river but have now substituted them for synthetic paints: Duco colours, acrylic colours, and oil paints or nitrocellulose colours.

Artists were not able to find the time to practise their craft as well as market it to audiences. This led to the artists of the Nirmal village uniting to form a cooperative society. Every artist registers with The Nirmal Toys and Arts Industries Cooperative Society Ltd. and works under its influence. They established an inspection board to check the paintings and ensure all quality parameters are met before they are put up for sale. This allows the quality to remain consistent and helps the paintings be sold in private stores and on websites. In 2009, Nirmal toys and paintings received the Geographical Indication Tag.

The State Of Nirmal Painting Today

In recent years, to cater to changing customer preferences, the artists have been combining Nirmal painting techniques with utility goods and modern wooden furniture to create unique and bespoke home decor. They have started selling furniture, partition screens, jewellery boxes, and other hand-crafted utility items. Painters often work on a commission basis and paint the subjects that the client requests. In general, the themes of Nirmal painting have shifted away from mythology and religion. Instead, contemporary Nirmal paintings depict modern themes and motifs.

Government-run organisations like Lepakshi Handicrafts and Golconda Handicrafts help artists sell their paintings by selling them at local art fairs and exhibitions. They are also very popular abroad and are exported internationally. Nowadays, artists are trying to use natural dyes and paints to revive the traditional techniques associated with Nirmal painting. It will help tourism, as tourists will be interested in seeing the process of creating natural paints. This will help in the preservation of Nirmal painting techniques and enable artists to stay true to tradition.

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By Melissa D’Mello

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