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The Intricate Traditions Of Tikuli Art

Dotted Designs And Timeless Tradition

Teep, Bottus, Bindis, Tiklis—whatever you call them—you must be familiar with the dot-shaped facial decoration that Indian women flaunt on their foreheads. Did you know that these dots were the origin of an intricate and detailed art form? We’re talking about the uniquely Indian Tikuli art, of course! The process of making tiklis led to the creation of this woman-centric folk art form.

Many indigenous art forms in India have been lost to time. Tikuli art is one of the few lost arts that underwent a complete resurgence. Let’s explore the traditions, trends, and techniques of Tikuli art in detail.

Tikuli Art: History And Traditions

Tikuli art
The art form has an easily recognisable style (image source: Department of Tourism, Bihar)

Tikuli art originated in Patna, Bihar, and is over 800 years old. The word Tikuli is derived from ‘Tikli’, the colloquial term for Bindi. A bindi is traditionally a red dot worn on the centre of a woman’s forehead. Tikulis were a much more colourful version of bindis that featured elaborate designs. Artisans would add gold foil embellishments and paint fine patterns on a glass base to create tikulis. These tikulis were sold commercially and were extremely popular with aristocrats and royalty.

Tikuli art, which was used to decorate just tikulis, soon became popular as an art form. Around the 17th century, artisans started decorating large glass sheets and selling these pieces as miniature paintings. Muslim artisans would cut the glass sheets into circles and pass them to Hindu artists to add gold foil embellishments. Then women artists would use thin brushes and bamboo tools to paint intricate patterns on the Tikuli art. The artists used natural paints and applied a layer of gond (sticky tree sap used as adhesive) to seal in the colours. The Mughals were loyal patrons of the Tikuli art form, which is why it fell into decline once the British came into power.

The Revival Of Tikuli Art

Tikuli art faced two revivals: the first in 1950 and the second in 1996.

Industrialization reduced the demand for handcrafted products, and Tikuli artists were among many who lost their jobs due to it. Upendra Maharathi revived the lost Tikuli art in 1950. He observed Japanese artists working with hardboard and enamel paints. He experimented with Tikuli painting techniques and enamel paint and was successful in transcending the medium. All 5,000 athletes competing in the 1982 Asian Games received a gift of Tikuli art from the country’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

The art form continued to exist until 1984. Prior to 1984, the Indian government would buy artwork directly from the Tikuli artists and sell and distribute it themselves. This enabled artists to make a living without having to sell their products themselves. The government stopped this scheme in 1984, leaving local artists to fend for themselves. Artists did not have the time or means to market their art and were forced to switch to other means of livelihood. This changed when the artist Ashok Kumar Biswas organised a Tikuli art exhibition at Dilli Haat in 1996. The exhibition was a great success and breathed new life into the art form. Most Tikuli artists today are women, making it one of the many woman-centric traditional art forms in India.

Also read: 5 Women In Tribal Indian Art You Should Know

Tikuli Art: Tools And Techniques

Tikuli art
A painting of the Holi festival (image source: International Indian Folk Art Gallery)

Tikuli art was originally painted on glass sheets and used gold foil for embellishment. Glass was breakable and could not be transported over long distances, whereas gold was very expensive. Hence, Tikuli artists switched to painting on wood and eventually hardboard or MDF board. Enamel paint became a cost-effective alternative to gold foil.

The painting process is time-consuming. Hardboard frames are cut into a variety of shapes and sizes. First, the artist applies 4-5 layers of enamel to the hardboard. After each layer of enamel dries, they polish the surface with sandpaper. The artists begin painting after four coats of enamel. The artists use very fine brushes, and 00 is the most popular brush size for painting Tikuli art. The brushes were traditionally made from squirrel or sable hair, but now most artists use commercially available synthetic brushes.

Art Style And Motifs

Tikuli art
image source:
Tikuli art
image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Tikuli art style is similar to Mithila painting. However, there are quite a few differences. The main difference is that Mithila painting is done on cloth, whereas Tikuli art is painted on hardboard. Mithila paintings are larger in scale than their Tikuli counterparts. Tikuli artists paint scenes from daily life as well as religious and mythological stories. On the other hand, the subject matter of Mithila paintings is confined to mythology and religion. The artists paint bright shades of red, yellow, blue, and green on a dark background to make the designs stand out.

Some artists use Madhubani painting techniques and motifs in Tikuli art. These art forms are women-centric, and the similar styles make the resulting artwork look beautiful and harmonious. Lotus flowers are a recurring motif in this folk art form. Gods, goddesses, village life, as well as festivals, rituals, wedding scenes, and myths, feature in this art form.

Also read: Exploring the Deep Meanings of Madhubani Border Design

Tikuli Today

Tikuli artwork by Ashok Kumar Biswas (image source:

The artist Ashok Kumar Biswas continued to work for the preservation and development of Tikuli art even after its near disappearance. Ashok Kumar Biswas has taught Tikuli art to more than 300 women. The interest and participation of rural women helped revive this forgotten art form. Rural women developed an interest in it as they could work from home and earn a living while taking care of their families. They have also started painting coasters, wall plates, cups, table mats, pen stands, and other such items as per customer demand.

The cities of Patna, Varanasi, and Kolkata are the main centres for buying and selling Tikuli art. Artists charge anywhere from ₹40 to ₹3000 for a single piece. The price varies depending on the size and complexity of the design. Today, artists are able to earn a comfortable livelihood from practising this art form, even though it is not very well known. Creating more awareness about it will help increase demand and encourage more indigenous artists to support themselves through artistic pursuits.

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By Melissa D’Mello

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