Earlier confined to the inside walls of the huts of Rathwa tribals in Gujarat, the dying art of pithora painting now adorns Vadodara’s longest wall, conveying the message of conserving and growing trees. Thanks to Vadodara Municipal Corporation’s Million Trees campaign, eight Pithora artists from Chhota Udeypur and students from the fine arts faculty of Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda painted the wall.
“We have done the traditional tribal folk art while fine arts students have painted trees and other elements on the wall opposite S T Bus Depot in Sayajigunj and railway station,” says Haribhai Mansinghbhai Rathwa, son of Pithora artist Mansinghbhai Dhanrajbhai Rathwa.
It took them 10 days to complete the work on the 1-km wall. Though all Pithora artists belong to the Rathwa tribe, all Rathwas do not paint Pithora. The artists who paint Pithora are called Lakhadas.
Working with these artists is city-based art curator Sachin Kaluskar. “Fusion of modern and Pithora art is to show city people the rich heritage of Pithora,” says Sachin.
The wavy line across the paintings represents the Narmada river, and the tiger’s open mouth represents the river’s origin. The number of horses is always seven in these paintings.
Apart from boosting the art form, the government is giving monetary benefits to painters who find it hard to eke out a living just by painting Rathwa huts. They were even forced to do hard labour to feed their families till the state government intervened.
“Every Lakhada child knows how to paint. I hone their skills to help them understand the use of colours, drawings and traditional aspects of the art,” says Mansinghbhai. Though artificial colours are used for commercial paintings, ceremonial paintings are made with natural ones from Kolkata.
If a household is surrounded by problems such as agricultural losses and severe sickness, they vow to perform Baba Pithora paintings if things improve. “Unmarried girls are only allowed to plaster the wall with cow dung, mud and water, which is done seven times. “In these rituals, natural colours of kesari (saffron), red, yellow and other deep colours mixed with cow’s milk and mahua (countrymade liquor) are used,” says Haribhai, who earns Rs 300 per square foot by painting.Each image is a story, and their homage to Baba Pithora, who does not have a specific form.