Pithora Paintings of the Rathwa Tribe
Folk and Tribal visual cultures are more of a ritual than an art form performed or represented either to express gratitude towards local deities or for a boon to be granted. Chhota Udepur district of Gujarat state is a tribal dominated district approximately 100 kms away from Baroda. The tribes like Rathwa, Bhil and Nayak live in this district have several rituals and wall painting traditions called Pithora painting. Recently, I found the same tradition in Dhinkwa village of Halol district near Champaner, Gujarat which was never documented because the activity of painting is performed only during rituals. The lakharas-painters are not professionally involved in Pithora painting. Pithoro is one of the venerate god of the Rathwa tribe. He seems to be very protective and invokes in the badva-the shaman and priest and consults for the problems of the family and village. Due to lacking of written documents and related source material it is difficult to trace the definite time-period of this tradition.
Pithora dev, ancestors, ghosts and other minor deities are generally made on the walls of tribal houses on auspicious occasions followed by ritual performances and sometimes by sacrifice by bhuvas-the priest. These lakharas (one who writes)-painters are traditionally trained and developed the form and painting style after adequate practice. While looking at the painting not only rituals but also narratives of myths and legends associated with their culture are important to understand the intricacy.
About place and people
Chhota Udepur district has several villages around such as Tejgadh, Kawat, Baroj, chorvana, Malaga etc where the tribes are live and perform rituals alongwith Pithora baba’s wall paintings to fulfil their wishes. The same tradition is practiced in Dhinkwa village of Halol district as the Rathwa tribe live there said to be migrated from Chhota Udepur district.
Rathwas also call themselves kolis and put on generally silver ornaments. The girls and boys marry at the age of about 10 to 12 years. They select their life partners in the village fairs and run away with the partner in the next fair. During the marriage ceremony boy’s father has to pay money or goods to the girl’s father and the first delivery of the wife takes place at husband’s house not at father’s house. Rathwas believe in ancestor-worship and evil-spirit. They offer goats, hens, cocks and buffaloes to their local gods. In case of minor illness to be cured they consult Badva or Bhagat-shaman or priest as their local doctor and advisor.
The main occupation of these people is agriculture and many of them are agricultural labourers. Some of them are cultivators in their small pieces of land. After rainy season they go in search of work in other districts and mostly find construction labour work therefore very few of them have taken up Pithora paintings as their principal occupation. They mostly perform such painting activity during rituals only. During the present season majority of them are engaged in agriculture. The rituals alongwith wall paintings would be performed after Diwali or after harvesting time.
Painting, its structure and painted characters
The paintings are not made for wall decoration so that one cannot find the individual expressions of the painter or painters’ creative thoughts to develop conceptual pictorial space.
The upper portion of the painting shows the gods and mythical creatures. Then the marriage procession of Pithoro is depicted. Pithoro is depicted on the horse on standing or sitting position. Sometimes he is shown wearing hat and trouser and carrying bow and arrow, a whip and the reins, or a parrot and a flower. Sometimes a sword or a gun is shown at his waist or on his back. His horse is shown ithyphallic. His wife Pithori is shown on the horse next to Pithoro with head, neck and waist ornaments. She has long hair carries a comb and a flower or a parrot and a fan.
Lower portion of the painting depicts the myths of the earth, the cowherd, the bull, the king, the bania or merchant, the badvo or shaman, creatures of the forest and minor deities. The elephant figure is painted at the bottom of the painting and is usually represented Raja Bhoj.
Sometimes Raja Ravan with multiple heads holding cobra in his hands and placed below the Pithoro’s marriage procession.The Rathwas have tradition to paint Ganesh as a first figure to be installed at the bottom right corner of the painting. Here one should not understand Ganesh as the Hindu god because the Ganesh of the Rathwas is an anthropomorphic deity, smoking hukka, riding a horse on which chequered pattern is made. The figure of Notral (the one who invites), is generally drawn on top right corner of the painting. His duty is to invite all other gods to attend marriage of Pithoro. Under the Notral’s horse a spider, a snake or other insects are drawn to show the dangerous paths.
Myth of Pithoro dev
Pithoro was born to Kali Koyal (black Cuckoo) and Kundu Rano through a premarital relationship. Kali Koyal is a sister of Indi Raja or Babo Ind who is the most important god of Rathwas and associated with the welfare of agriculture. He is also worshipped with young sprouts. Indi Raja also helped Pithoro when he was a child to find out his real father and finally got him married. He also renounced his throne for his nephew.
Rani Kajol, sister of Indi Raja and Kali koyal, was the foster mother of Pithoro. She had brought up Pithoro because his mother Kali koyal was unmarried mother.
Materials and method
The walls of the varandah are dedicated to Pithoro painting. Usually girl-child or unmarried girls apply the mixture of mud and cow-dung on the walls. Afterwards whitening powder or white clay is applied with the help of piece of rag dipped into the mixture of white clay and water for the final coat.
Generally orange, green, blue, red, yellow colours are used for painting. These colours are readily available in the market in the powder form mixed with the local liquor mahudo or milk to prepare liquid pigments. The dagger or knife is used for drawing the figures sometimes with the use of stencils. After the basic drawing the painter makes more details over it with the colour. The Ganesha figure is to be drawn first. After finishing the centre wall rest two walls of both the sides of the varandah should be started.
About the Lakharas-Painters
The lakharas are traditionally trained painters. Most of them are engaged in agriculture and also working as stone masons, construction labours and carpenters. Painting is not a principle profession of them but many of the Rathwas have achieved excellence through painting experience.
Unfortunately, I failed to convince lakharas for conversation during my visit to Dhinkwa villege in September, because of their whole day engagement with the ritual performance and painting. Most of the information which I managed to gather was provided by Shri Dineshbhai Rathwa, the host, who invited badvo-shaman and lakharas. They refuse to give their phone numbers and address because they are involved in the animal sacrifice and consuming liquor during the ritual performance and painting.
Sura villege, Dist. Halol, Gujarat.
Mol villege, Dist. Halol, Gujarat.
Mol Villege, Dist. Halol, Gujarat.
Mol Villege, Dist. Halol, Gujarat.
Chorwana villege, Po. Bhilpur, Dist. Chhota Udepur, Gujarat.
Chorwana villege, Po. Bhilpur, Dist. Choota Udepur, Gujarat.
Note: The present text is based on the conversation with Shree Dineshbhai Rathwa and references taken from Dr. Jyotindra Jain’s works on Pithora.
D. G. Patel, The Gazetteer of India, Vadodara District, Ahmedabad, 1972.
Joravarsinh Jadhav, Lokjeevan-na moti [Guajarati], Gujarat Rajya Lok-sahitya Samiti, Ahmedabad, 1975.
Jyotindra Jain, Painted Myths of Creation: Art and Ritual of an Indian Tribe, Lok Kala Series, Lalit Kala AKademi, New Delhi, 1984.
Jyotindra Jain, Painted Myths of Creation, The India Magazine, ed. Malvika Singh, Vol. V, No. 2, January 1985.