Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Indian society offers a prominent place to the living traditions and cultures. There can be no doubt about the fact that traditional art forms reflect the ideals of the society, its determination to survive, its ethos, emotions, fellow-feelings, and so on. Even the people’s routine language seems to have a creativity of its own, though may or may not be based on the roots. This type of creativity is spontaneous and emerges from the circumstances as an expression of the feelings. It is from this natural rhythm that the theatre art was born. Theatre in itself is a complete form of art as it involves dialogues, songs, dance, acting, music and emotions in its framework.

One such theatre form that Gujarat is proudly a home to, since the 14th century is Bhavai. The name of this folk theatre is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhaav’ meaning expression of an emotion or a feeling. While according to some scholars Bhavai means Bhava + Aai where Bhava means Universe and Aai means mother, together it means mother of the Universe, Goddess Amba.


Until the 14th century, Gujarat had a rich tradition of writing and performing Sanskrit plays. This was when Asait Thakker, a folk singer of religious narrative stories, launched folk participatory theatre called Bhavai, using mythological and historical themes and characters, creating awareness in the audiences on the social issues. It is believed that Asait has written around 360 performances out of which around 60 survive today.


The story belongs to Unjha village in North Gujarat. Asait Thakker was an Audichhya Brahmin and a Kathakar (Narrator of Puranic Stories) in Unjha. His host Hemala Patel’s daughter, Ganga was abducted by a Muslim Subedar named Sardar Jahan Roz. Worried, Hemala Patel urged their family priest Asait to free his daughter by using his artistic skills. Asait rushed to the Sardar and pleased him with his songs and performances. He then claimed Ganga to be his daughter and asked Sardar to liberate her.

But the Sardar was not convinced and asked Asait to dine with the girl in the same plate to prove his claim. Ganga belonged to a lower class and during those days it was considered unholy for the upper class to eat with the lower ones. However, Asait obeyed and ate from the same dish with Ganga.

The Brahmins of the village excommunicated Asait Thakker for his ‘unholy dinner’. Asait accepted this decision too and chose to stay out with his three sons and live by his art. He picked upon this living tradition of Bhavai to survive and started improving it.

Since then the caste of performers of Bhavai has been called Tragalas and it is said that they are the descendents of Asait Thakker.


Bhavai is a rare symphony of religious as well as romantic feelings. Each performance is called a ‘Vesha’, meaning ‘Dress’ in literal sense. These are usually episodes from the day to day life of the community. Subtle social criticism laced with sharp humor is the specialty of Bhavai. Also, the incompatible behavior of the high class people is scoffed at in Bhavai, may be due to the anger of the injustice suffered by its originator, Asait Thakker.

Women are strictly prohibited to take part in Bhavai; hence the males perform their roles too, which makes the drama even more interesting. People belonging to various castes and classes are a part of Bhavai, right from the King to the Knave.


Bhavai is staged at any open-air place, generally near the temples. The players enter the village by the afternoon time and announce their presence by playing of the Bhungal. The Bhungal is a four feet long copper pipe that provides a strong note and is unique to Bhavai. The villagers gather as the darkness descends. Different playlets are performed during the night and sometimes even for a longer duration.

Before the performance begins, the Bhavai players place a picture of Goddess Amba and an earthen lamp in the centre of a circle. The lamp is kept burning throughout the performance to keep the blessings of the Goddess alive. The place or the circle is called Chachar. The Bhavaiyas (Bhavai players) sing religious songs to invoke the Goddess’s blessings as well as to settle the audience.

The chief of the group is called a Nayak. He is the one to enter first and mark the Chachar inside which the performance takes place. Next, the actors enter from a distance with lamps in their hands and weaving dance patterns in the air. The members of the orchestra are placed at the edge of the Chachar that includes Bhungal, Tabla, Cymbals and Harmonium.

The start of the Bhavai is marked by the ‘Avanu’ i.e. an entrance song and the Bhungal is played loudly to inform the actor as his cue. This Avanu gives a clue as to what the entire plot of the Bhavai will be. First enters Ganpati, an actor with a bronze plate that covers his face. Lord Ganesh is the remover of obstacles and the God of benevolence. After Him, comes Goddess Kali with two torches in Her hands to bless the villagers and their cattle wealth.
After these appearances, the Vesha actually starts with the entry of Ranglo (also called Jhuthana) who is the main comic character of Bhavai. He is the one who acts as a conscience of the people who satirizes, criticizes and lampoons the doings of the higher authorities. He makes the audience laugh and enjoy, at the same time leaves a social message for them to ponder on.

The Nayak and the Jester always remain on the stage to direct the course of action with their commentary and intervention. The dancing, singing and acting in the colorful clothes goes on till the wee hours of the morning.


Let there be no conclusions! It is observed that Bhavai is dying due to the anglicization of Gujarati theatre and the urban touch to the dramas. Television has become too famous in the rural areas and has taken the place of this traditional art. Also, our times are not aware about the history and the strength of such media. It is time we realize that arts like Bhavai are not just the ‘Ta Thaiya, Thaiya Ta Thai’ that we witness in the movies. Efforts on an extensive scale will be needed to reenergize these arts.

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Art and Craft are weaved along with Gujarat since the time of the nomadic men and the cave age. Over the years, some of the arts were abandoned; some were made more creative while some were perceived as a routine culture and tradition. One such imagination and creativity gave birth to the Terracotta Art of Pottery.

Terracotta can be called a type of clay modeling. Terra means the ‘Earth Soil’ in Latin and ‘Cotta’ means ‘Statue’ in Italian language. Terracotta Art in Gujarat is especially famous for its votive terracotta figures which are found in large numbers in rural Gujarat. It is believed that the communities called the Rathwas and the Bhils of Gujarat are blessed with this art.

An apt amount of refined clay is the main element of the Terracotta. This clay is dried and then cast, molded or hand worked into the desired shape. The drying needs to be thorough. After this assurance, the material is then put into a furnace or on the top of a combustible pit and fired. After firing, the pit or the furnace is then covered with sand to cool. However if the material is fired to high temperature it would be classed as a ceramic material.

The unglazed material can be used for garden ware, decoration, oil lamps or ovens. This is not water-proof. So for other uses like sanitary piping, decoration in freezing areas or table ware, the terracotta needs to be glazed. The color of the Terracotta changes after the firing. The most common colors are orange, brown or orangish red due to the iron content in the common clay. Other colors may also be pink, yellow and gray. Earlier, the artisans were not aware about the use of color. But with the advancement, they started using red and black colors to decorate this earthen material.

Gujarat is a place where every act of life has some special religious or cultural ceremony linked to it. Terracotta is originally a female creation. When the men of the family were busy hunting, farming or in a small scale business, the women engaged themselves in making articles out of clay. The articles included utensils, toys etc. At a later stage, the womenfolk who were wise enough started translating their imaginations into the work of art.
The Terracotta articles in Gujarat are usually prepared to offer to a deity and each figure has a special significance. Terracotta figures are offered to the deities at various ceremonies at the shrines and temples found in the rural Gujarat. Gujarat is full of such shrines on mountains, beneath trees, on a deserted road or barren field. The Terracotta figures add to the mystic and spirituality of the surroundings.

The figures include horses, cows, bulls, buffaloes, elephants, replicas of insects that destroy the crops and also human beings. The horse is considered the most important of these clay figures and offered quite regularly at the shrines. Gujarat is also known for Dhabu, a Terracotta art that is dome shaped houses offered to the spirits of the dead. The styles and techniques of the terracotta figures vary from area to area, and ranging in size from 2cm to 1m high depending on the quality of clay.

The entire process starts when the tribals decide to make an offering to the shrines. That person places an order with the potter and from the initial phase of the work to the time of offering personally rules and governs the action. Small offerings are made at the shrine with the Terracotta, live chicken, rice, coconuts and liquor. For the big offerings, friends and relatives are invited and then together the Terracotta is offered. The villagers, head of the village, the priest, the drummer, the pipe player and others go to the potter’s house. The Terracottas are collected and the potter is paid in rice or maize as well as money, depending upon the size of the order. He is also given coconuts and liquor. It seems to be none less than a celebration. In Gujarat there are many Tribal gods to whom Terracottas are offered, including ancestral gods, gods for crops, field gods, medicine gods and animal gods.

The wide use of metal has adversely affected the use of Terracotta figures as far as utensils are concerned. But on the other hand, the crude and attractive ethnic touch has made the Terracotta figures famous as decoration items in India as well as abroad. But despite the immense potentiality in the art, it is on a decline. Various reasons are held responsible: Disintegration among the artisans, financial hardship, poor infrastructure, dearth of design development, absence of market strategy, scarcity of raw materials, poor packing system, poor knowledge of accounting, ignorance on drinking water system, electrification system, post and telecommunication system and sanitary system, inadequate exposure of art and artisans etc.
Unless and until, we are aware of the immense potential of this art in Gujarat, no blame game can help prevent Terracotta go to Tatters!

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A land with many reasons to celebrate, a land with unparalleled spirit, always on the run; this land of Western India is named Gujarat. Very traditional in its roots yet one of the most forward societies of the country, Gujarat has left many a things behind. But down the memory lane, we realize that old arts are still running in its veins. One such art being the Pithora Paintings.
The Pithora paintings trail back long into history and find their roots in the cave paintings, thousands of years old. This is the most prevalent and characteristic art tradition of the Rathwa community, who live in the Central Gujarat, 90 kms from Vadodara in a village called Tejgadh. The Pithora paintings are crude and it is this crudity that adds to the beauty and simplicity of the paintings.


The main group of tribes who practice this art are called Rathwas. However, the villages surrounding Tejgadh and Chhota Udaipur have other tribes as well who execute the Pithora paintings. These are very religious people and for them the presence of Baba Pithora is of divine importance. The Pithora painters are called Lakharas, the one who keeps an account of all the work is called Jokhara and the head priest is called Badwa. An interesting fact of these paintings is that only men are allowed to pursue this art and not the females of the family.


Most of the Indian Arts have some legends attached to its origin. Pithora paintings are no exceptions. They have two main stories that are as old as time itself. One of the ideas was of a map. This tradition is supposed to have started in the 11th century, when Bharuch was a centre for traders from the North. The roads to Bharuch were real mysterious and even dangerous. So the tribes decided to earn a livelihood by escorting Indian and Foreign traders through this region. And to keep their profession safe, the leader of the tribe prepared a map full of codes. Thus, the seven hills became represented by seven horses and the mouth of river Narmada by two tigers. The leader also ordered the escorts to make the same painting in their houses. The people who agreed to the order were called Rathwas while those who did not were called Talawis. This practice went on and the act of making the paintings became a ritual and Pithora became their God.

The second myth is the story of Baba Pithora. One of the seven sisters of Raja Indra, Rani Kadi Koyal had an affair with Raja Kanjurana. She was still a maiden when she gave birth to a son and due to the fear of her brother; she let the boy afloat in a stream. Indra’s other two sisters found the boy while fetching water and named him Pithora. The story progresses as the boy stays at the palace and one fine day finds out who his parents were.  The King Indra accepted Pithora and invited a Grand Court where Pithora immediately identified Raja Kanjurana as his father. After much rejoicing, a grand wedding ceremony was arranged and Pithora wed Pithori with much aplomb. And so is the story depicted in the Pithora paintings.


The process starts with the unmarried girls grinding the cow dung and the white chalk powder to paint the walls. Powder, earth and vegetable colors are mixed with milk and Mahua flower liquor to prepare the yellow, indigo, green, vermillion, red and silver dye for the Pithora Paintings. Whereas the brush is made by either chewing or beating the ends of a bamboo stick or twigs. Animistic figures – bull, horses, birds and tigers are an inseparable part of each Pithora Painting. But now as the times are changing when one can find the paintings of airplanes, trains, cars and other such modern things.

These paintings are made with the basic intention to appease or thank the Gods or for a wish to be granted. The head priest is summoned and the problems are narrated. Then after the solution is given by the priest, the ritual of paintings start. Generally the painting starts on a Tuesday and ends by Wednesday night. The paintings flood three walls of the house and the main wall of the verandah that divides it from the kitchen is called the Pithoro. The paintings have wavy lines, the marriage ceremony of Pithora and Pithori, and other animals like the white horses that depict the ghosts and witches who need to be satisfied with gifts.
When the Lakharas paint, the others sing and dance. When the paintings are done with, the head priest looks for loopholes and these are also corrected through hand work. The paintings are outlined with the help of a twig and then filled with colors. At the end, they are finished with silver color and bright colored dots. After all this, the sacrificing, singing, dancing and feasting is witnessed by visitors even from far away distances. The Pithora is said to be witnessing all this and whenever one sees a Pithora, more than half of the hut is given over to Him and marked as His presence.

Pithora paintings continue to be realistic and ritualistic as in the past. Today the tribes even paint for commercial reasons due to poverty and great demand of the art. But the Rathwas take care that the compositions are changed a little before they sell them. Today, one can find the Rathwas as farmers, computer graduates and even teachers. When asked they would say they love teaching the art to others as long as it is not misused. Pithora paintings are divine and their form should never be changed. Many organizations work for the betterment of the Rathwas and to give exposure to this dying art and various allied fields.
This varied heritage of the Rathwas should be definitely preserved as they add one of the brightest colors to the wide-ranging colors of Gujarat.

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Tarnetar is a much awaited fair of Gujarat filled with fun, romance and colors. It is organized every year for three days at a village called Tarnetar, in Surendranagar District. Its origin is linked to a legend of Draupadi’s Swayamvar where the great archer Arjun had successfully completed the feat of piercing the eye of a rotating fish with an arrow by just looking at its reflection in the water. This task won Arjun his bride Draupadi. In a similar pattern Tarnetar fair is also an ethnic celebration meant for young tribal men and women seeking their marriage partners. Also, the fair is called Trineteshwar Mahadev fair (the three eyed Lord Shiva) whose temple stands on the banks of a rivulet and opens into a beautiful kund (pond). This kund is believed to be the origin of the Ganges and hence a very pious place. Apart from these, the fair is all about folk dances, glittering costumes, ornaments, music and different arts like tattoo making and photography. The fair is growing in popularity attracting not only tribes but also people from entire country and abroad. A peculiarity of the fair is that the young prospective grooms hold umbrellas specially designed by them with beadwork, patchwork and other embellishments. And the girls wear red zimi (skirt) if she seeks a boy and a black skirt indicates that she is married. The fair is attended by more than 50000 people. This year it is scheduled on 11, 12 and 13 September. What more does one need to walk out from a hectic life to a whirlwind of fun, frolic, romance and colors?

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