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The Diverse Tapestry of Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms

Discovering the Diverse Forms of Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms 

India is a land of diversity, replete with multi-cultural communities, rich customs, and elaborate traditions. Almost every community came to express its unique perceptions and rituals through visual art forms. Through the passage of time, society developed, and factors such as religion, geography, politics, economic conditions, and social norms all moulded the communal perceptions of art. This led to the development of many Indian folk and tribal art forms, each with distinct styles, motifs, and legacies.

Let Rooftop walk you through this land of art and heritage and take you on a breathtaking journey to discover the hidden gems of Indian art.

Delve into the Rich Heritage of Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms!


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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Pithora art uses animal and human motifs to share mythological and folk stories. It is practised in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh by the Bhil community.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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This rare art form of Gujarat is practised by only one family. Rogan artists create thick paint with castor oil and use a metal rod called a kalam to paint intricate designs on fabric.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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The women in the villages of Jharkhand paint Sohrai art on the walls of their mud homes. It is a form of celebration and decoration and often features floral and animal motifs.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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This art form evolved at the Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh. These intricate murals contain depictions of religious figures, musicians, dancers, etc. and a warm-toned colour palette. The attention to detail while painting clothing and jewellery is worth noting.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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This art form is prevalent in parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. Manjusha artists traditionally use only pink, green, and yellow to paint scenes of folklore, flora, and fauna.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
Painting by Vijay Chitrakar (image source:

Paitkar paintings of Jharkhand have a flat, two-dimensional style with thick lines. They tell stories of social and religious importance.


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Chittara artists paint geometrical patterns freehand to create symmetrical compositions and scenes of daily life. This art form originated in Karnataka.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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Tikuli originated in Bihar. It was traditionally painted on melted glass sheets through an extremely complicated and time-consuminG process. The British provided immense patronage to this art. Today, artists practise Tikuli art on hardboard or MDF boards.

Assamese Manuscript

Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
(image source: Meghna Baruah via Sahapedia)

Manuscript painting in Assam began in the 16th century. These paintings feature two-dimensional compositions, simple landscapes, faces in profile, and rich and brilliant colour palettes.

Nagaland Cloth Painting

Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
Tsungkotepsu headband (image source:

The artists of Nagaland usually paint on scarves and other items of clothing. These cloth paintings are a means of providing honour and social status in accordance with tribal customs.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
Kurumba painting by R. Krishna (image source:

Practised by the Kurumba tribal community of Tamil Nadu, this minimalistic art form shows the traditions and tribal occupations of Kurumba people through expressive stylisation.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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The Pichwai art form developed at the Shrinathji temple in Nathdwara, Rajsthan. Pichwai artists create delicate paintings of lotus flowers and cows with Lord Shrinath as the central motif.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
A Phad painting by Kalyan Joshi (image source:

Phad is a 700 year old Rajasthani folk art form that was traditionally accompanied by a performance. These long scroll paintings were also used as portable shrines.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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Mandana paintings are symmetrical compositions with mythological, floral, and geometric elements. It is practised by the Meena community of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
A Warli painting by Vijay Mhase (image source: Rooftop)

Warli art is practised by the Warli tribal community of Maharashtra. These artists show the beliefs of the community, such as the balance of the universe, by integrating them into compositions in the form of motifs like the tarpa dance.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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This tribal art form originates from Madhya Pradesh. The Gond community’s close affinity to nature is celebrated through frequent depictions of elements of nature and man’s relationship with them.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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Bhil art is practised by the Bhil tribal community. This Rajasthani art form shows the links between nature, spiritual beliefs, and religious traditions of tribal communities through motifs from folklore and mythology.

Mata ni Pachedi

Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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When the Vaghari community of Gujarat was not allowed to enter temples, they decided to invite the goddess to their homes instead. Mata ni Pachedi are intricate cloth tapestries that are testament to the strength of spiritual devotion and religious expression.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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Originally called Nakashi art, it was renamed after the village it originated from. Cheriyal scrolls of Telangana emphasise storytelling and contain scenes of daily village life as well as stories from the Indian mythological epics.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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Nirmal painting originated in the art village of Nirmal in Telangana. These paintings contain beautiful and glowing illustrations of mythical characters and delicate and graceful depictions of women.

Kerala Mural

Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
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Kerala Mural art dates back to the 2nd century B.C. These highly imaginative paintings feature vibrant colours, intricate ornamentation, and simple but powerful facial features.


Indian Folk and Tribal Art Forms
A Madhubani painting by Bhuri Bai (image source: Rooftop)

Madhubani art originated in the Mithila district of Bihar, India. This woman-centric art form shows day-to-day situations as well as mythology and nature through highly artistic expressions.


Kalighat paintings originated in the 19th century, when certain Pattachitra painters began selling small devotional paintings as souvenirs to visitors to the Kalighat temple in Kolkata. They later evolved as a form of satirical dialogue and social commentary on the class divide in Bengal.


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Pattachitra is the art of cloth painting that originated in Orissa and West Bengal. It flourished under the cult of the Jagannath Temple at Puri.

Arayash Fresco

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The Arayash fresco art of Rajasthan uses the wet fresco technique. It was used as a form of decoration, simple plastering, a means of artistic expression, and a cheaper alternative to marble.


White Tara Thangka
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The Thangka paintings of Tibet are painted on vertical panels of silk or cotton cloth. Thangka artists must follow a strict set of guidelines, which add even more meaning to the spiritual imagery.


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Tanjore painting developed in Thanjavur, in Tamil Nadu. Tanjore artists use thick gold leaf, glass and precious stones, and bold colour palettes to create captivating high-relief gesso paintings.


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Mysore painting developed in the state of Mysore in Karnataka. It evolved from the Vijaynagar School and is characterised by low-relief gold leaf gesso work and intricate linework.


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This Persian card game gained popularity when the Mughals introduced it to India. Ganjifa artists would hand-paint each circular card with mythological motifs and royal symbols.


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The monochromatic Saura paintings of Odisha carry strong religious meanings and feature tight compositions with minimal negative space.


A Santhal painting by Bama Charan Roy (image source:

Santhal paintings are free-spirited depictions of human connections and relationships with backgrounds of leafy plants and animals. Santhal artists encapsulate tribal customs and folklore in these simple yet lively paintings.

The Rajasthani Schools of Miniature Painting


An illustration from the Ramayana, Jaipur Miniature, 19th century
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The Jaipur style originated from the Amer School. It is characterised by life-sized portrait paintings and the vast amount of art that was created under it.


Bani Thani, Kishangarh Miniature, c. 1750
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Kishangarh paintings are well known for their delicate depictions of human figures and their highly stylized portrayal of female beauty.


The Coronation of Maharaja Man Singh, c. 1804 (image source:

Miniature paintings of Jodhpur combine the refined technical skill of Mughal painting with the bold and vibrant Rajasthani style. It gave rise to the depiction of highly stylized backgrounds and flat compositions with detailed and delicate figures.


Ravat Gokul Das II at Sing Sagar Lake Palace, Deogarh Miniature, 1806 (image source: The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

The defining features of the paintings of the Deogarh Miniatures are the introduction of an aerial view in compositions, beautiful depictions of landscapes, and accurate representations of court life.


Krishna lifts Mount Govardhan, Ustad Sahibdin, c. 1690 (image source: The British Museum)

These paintings feature mythology and court life. They are closely linked to the Mughal School and also contain Deccani elements, distinguished by their intricate linework and vibrant colour palettes.


The School of Kota was relatively short-lived, and artistic activities shifted to Bundi when it became the new capital. This led to Bundi paintings adopting the Kota style at first. Both Kota and Bundi paintings feature magnificent depictions of nature and exceptional detail.


Rama and Lakshman Search in Vain for Sita
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Mewar Miniatures features flat patches of saturated colour and simplified compositions. The famous Chawand Ragamala is a product of this school.


Tilkayat Damodarji II Performing Arati on Sharad Purnima, Nathdwara Miniature
(image source: Amit Ambalal Collection)

Nathdwara Miniature painting developed at the Nathdwara temple in Rajasthan. It features the child form of Krisha, Lord Shrinathji, as the central motif, flanked by lotus flowers, cows, and peacocks.


A king receives Krishna in his palace
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Malwa Miniatures often have dark backgrounds and large swatches of a single colour. They include depictions of classical Malwa architecture and its individual elements.

The Pahari Schools of Miniature Painting


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Chamba paintings are known for figures with long physiques, depicting Krishna with a square-shaped head and curled hair at the nape of the neck. The border is chocolate brown, along with a cusped archway and an ivory background.


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Kangra paintings exhibit a strong influence of Vaishnavism, in which the relations between the lover and the beloved symbolise spiritual experience. Kesavadas’s Rasikapriya inspired a large number of Kangra paintings.


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Guler Schools employs flat red planes, which provide sharp contrast to the suavely rendered figures. The artists portrayed the physical charm of the ladies in their paintings with a conscious delight, fluid movements, and rhythmical grace.

Jasrota Miniatures

Mian Mukund Dev of Jasrota out on a ride, Nainsukh, c. 1740–1745
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The palaces of Jasrota were elaborately painted with murals, and the Jasrota style is also associated with the Dogra School of Painting. The Miniatures of Jasrota gained prominence when the famed artist Nainsukh worked for Raja Balwant Singh of Jasrota.


The Birth of Krishna, Basohli Miniature, early 18th century
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Basohli is the earliest miniature style of the Pahadi states. Its vitality is seen in its exaggerated elements, large eyes, receding foreheads, and usage of fragments of beetles’ wings to represent jewellery.


A miniature by Mola Ram
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A synthesis of various styles, Garhwal Miniatures depict scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, historical events, and royal portraits. A romantic and exaggerated portrayal of feminine beauty is a defining feature of this style.

Indian art contains a rich cultural heritage with varied styles and formats of painting. As visual art evolves, it will continue to develop new styles, meanings, and associations.

Interested in learning more about traditional and folk art forms? Download the Rooftop app from Google Play or the App Store to experience Indian art like never before. Stay tuned to Rooftop blogs and follow us on Instagram @rooftop_app!

By Melissa D’Mello

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