Pithora painting is an ancient art form popular among the Rathwa tribe of western Madhya Pradesh. These depictions of nature are believed to bring good luck and prosperity into homes, so much effort goes into crafting them.
At a painting ceremony, members of the community take part. Painters (lakharas) paint, the badva (priest) performs rituals, musicians play music, women cook huge quantities of food and friends and relatives come and go. All are united by this joyous activity which takes place in an enjoyable atmosphere.
Painters create an elongated rectangle, divided by a wavy line into four sections. The top section features images of gods, goddesses and ancestors while the lower part depicts creation myths, natural elements and animal representations.
One of the most prominent figures in a Pithora painting is the horse. This animal represents both ancestors and gods, with seven horses representing each tribe’s region’s seven hills.
Paintings often include a rogue or wild horse, though it does not need to be part of the herd. Other animals like lions, snakes and deers also make an appearance along with images of trains, cars, aeroplanes and bicycles.
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Some painters even include an image of a gun or bow and arrow to their depictions. These accessories are added to the artwork based on client requests.
Therefore, these paintings are more durable and glossy compared to their older counterparts that were written directly on mud walls.
Another change of style is the addition of sex scenes to the painting. This marketing move appeals to villagers who may purchase it.
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The modern styles of painting are driven by a variety of cultural and political forces. These include an aim to attract a larger audience, changes to local belief systems, and the desire to make an improved impression.
These modern styles, grounded in the contemporary context, have implications for how Pithora is seen. They could be seen as a modernization of the tradition that dates back to Adivasis appropriating elements from royal processions for their own purposes [Jain 1984].
However, these changes could also hinder and limit the art’s capacity to mediate between kingly traditions, divine traditions and modernity. As such, they could affect creative and political projects taking shape within and around these tribal villages.
Anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya has noted that Pithora acts as an “ethnographic text” through which Adivasis “visualize their world.” This is particularly true of Pithoro, son of Rani Khajal who happened upon him while tending her animals and saved him.