India is a land of art and creativity, in terms of colours, fabrics and art forms. Many art forms like Ajrakh, Warli, and Madhubani originated in India since the Indus Valley Civilisation, about 2500-3000 years ago. Millions of artisans from innumerable villages across India are devoted to these art forms as their main livelihood. The legacy of these ancient art forms transcends time, embodying the essence of a civilisation steeped in creativity, spirituality and cultural diversity. Though these art forms continue to enchant audiences worldwide, they witnessed a gradual decline over the centuries, mainly owing to globalisation.
Growing up in a country where women adorn garments that display these art forms, I was deeply inspired to make an attempt to revive them in my own ways. I personally feel, like many others, that they are a testament to the enduring beauty and significance of India's artistic heritage. Hence, when I founded Urbane Essence, I wanted to start a movement - a movement to revive these dying art forms…to prevent the gradual erosion of traditional artistic practices! Ajrakh painting, Madhubani painting, Warli painting and Kalamkari painting are a few art forms on our priority list.
Keep it for the day!
Ajrakh painting originated in the Sindh region of Indus Valley Civilization around 2500-3000 BC. Indus river played an important resource for washing fabric and sustenance of raw materials like indigo dye and cotton, available in copious amounts along the river. The Khatris of Sindh were majorly involved in Ajrakh painting. When they migrated to Gujarat, the influence of Ajrakh painting reached all of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Ajrakh is bold, geometric and denotes the slow, painstaking process in which the artisan proceeds step-wise. He prints one colour of a design and washes the cloth till he gets the colour right before printing the next colour. So the process means Aaj ke din rakh or ‘keep it for the day’, till the colour fastens. In other words: don’t be in a tearing hurry like the modern world! Despite its rich legacy, Ajrakh faced challenges due to the time-consuming nature of the craft, the scarcity of natural resources for dyes, and competition from cheaper, mass-produced textiles.
Nevertheless, Ajrakh painting continues as a testament to the exquisite craftsmanship, intricate designs, and cultural heritage of Gujarat.
Painting Africa in Mithila colours!
Madhubani painting originated in my mother’s hometown, Madhubani, in the Mithila region of Bihar and Nepal, where goddess Sita was born. Traditionally, painting was one of the skills that was passed down from generation to generation in families in Mithila mainly by women. One can find some of the initial references to this beautiful art form in Hindu epics like Ramayana - when King Janaka, father of Sita, asked the best painters in his kingdom to create a Madhubani painting history for his beloved daughter’s wedding.
Paintings from Mithila mostly depict people and their association with nature and scenes and deities from the ancient epics. Natural objects like the sun, the moon, and religious plants like tulsi (holy basil) are also widely painted, along with scenes from the royal court and social events. Madhubani paintings are usually a reflection on rituals or occasions, such as birth or marriage, and festivals such as Holi, Kali Puja and Surya Shasti.
With changing economic dynamics, modernization, and the shift towards alternative sources of income, the younger generation may not always see art as a viable means of sustaining themselves economically and this led to its decline in the last few centuries. The increased commercialization of Madhubani paintings has led to a dilution of its authenticity and quality. Mass production and replication of designs for commercial purposes have often compromised the originality and essence of this art form. However, till date, Madhubani is one of the most celebrated forms of painting globally.
At Urbane Essence, we introduced the concept of African animals in Madhubani style of painting. This is the first time in the history of Madhubani painting that you can see a fusion of Africa and Bihar in this art form. An artist requires one month, if not more, to paint one such saree.
One with Wari, one with wildlife!
Warli paintings can be easily spotted around us due to their unique colour scheme and patterns. They are white/black coloured human stick figures drawn on red/brown backgrounds. The painting's most significant feature is that it represents daily life rather than legendary figures or Gods. The art form is so earthy and adaptable that it can add elegance to a rural mud cottage while also make a five-star hotel lobby look opulent.
India has a long history of folk arts, preserved by the local tribes living in various corners of different states. Warli art is similar to prehistoric cave paintings, and the roots of Warli may be traced back to 2500 to 3000 BCE, based on the book 'Painted World of the Warli' by Yashodhara Dalmia. These paintings motivated tribals to do good deeds and live harmonious lives. According to Warli, wildlife and men should live in harmony. In this painting style, this idea and concept are bold and obvious. Like every ritual painting, festivals and dances are the important elements in Warli painting too. One of the main elements of any Warli artwork is the Tarpa dance, with both men and women surrounding Tarpa players with hands entwined.
We encourage you to drape the ancient Indian garment with Warli art. Not only will this make you feel like you are embracing an entire civilisation but also reflecting on the tribe's approach to life. This art form will make you feel more connected to nature and respect wildlife as well.
Draping the Tree of Life!
Kalamkari painting originated several hundred years ago in what is now Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.Musicians and painters, known as chitrakars, moved from village to tell the village dwellers the stories of Hindu mythology. They illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with simple means and dyes extracted from plants. Kalamkari paintings were also used to portray scenes from sacred texts such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagavatam. These paintings were often displayed as decorative backdrops in temples, depicting the stories of deities. Deriving its name from the word ‘kalam,’ which means pen, ‘Kalamkari’ refers to a particular, intricate style of hand-painting onto cloth. The Tree of Life is one especially popular Kalamkari motif — deeply rooted while growing towards the sky, it connects the heavens, earth and underworld. It is also a symbol of nourishment, with many animals feeding on its leaves, living in its branches and enjoying its shade. Peacocks, tigers and deer also frequently appear in these paintings.
As modern influences penetrate deeper into society, these traditional art forms face challenges in adapting to contemporary tastes and preferences. Younger generations find it challenging to connect with an art form rooted in age-old traditions and may not view it as relevant to their lives. Limited exposure and access to markets, especially for rural artisans, pose significant challenges. Lack of awareness among consumers about the intricacies and cultural significance of these paintings also hampers their demand and appreciation on a wider scale. The absence of proper infrastructure, including training facilities and institutions that can impart traditional skills and techniques, limits the scope for nurturing and passing down this art form to newer generations.
I hope you will join me in my effort to revive these art forms. It cannot be done by one person! Together, I believe we can, and we will, bring more Indian art forms on global platforms!