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The painted stories of the Gond of Central India

Tucked down a freshly swept lane in a basic two-roomed white-washed house lives Santosh, an artist.

Like his father before him, after working in the fields he sits on the floor of his home and takes out his brushes to paint dancing peacocks, holy trees and the greatest of gods, Badadev who created the earth and every creature on it.

Santosh is a Gond, a member of one of central India’s largest indigenous communities who for centuries inhabited central India's deeply forested hills, worshipped nature and the gods of trees, rivers, hills and lakes who protected them. Gond folk-lore and tribal stories were passed from generation to generation in song and the songs transcribed into art.

During weddings and other festive occasions, using vegetable and mineral dyes collected from the forests and a twig from a neem tree tied with a rag as a brush, village houses were painted with geometric patterns, animals and plants for good luck.

Though the Gonds were gradually deprived of their kingdoms and land, and young men in search of work left in droves for the cities their ancient tribal culture clung to survival through festivals and rituals, songs and dances.

When Gondi art was finally discovered by the outside world the artists transposed their work from mud walls to paper and canvas. Myths and folklore, images of daily life and dreams, pictures from the memory and imagination fill the canvas, their outlines crammed with tiny fine lines, dense dots and dashes of multi-coloured intricate designs in acrylic paint.

Each artist has his or her own unique patterns or way of detailing - fish scales and drops of water, a line of creeping  spiders, the mark of a plough on a field, the crescent moon, young shoots in a paddy field. That pattern becomes their signature and reveals the Gonds’ continuing bond with nature, a reflection of their culture where life and spirituality are inseparable from the forest and its inhabitants.

From simple beginnings Gond art is now highly in demand and has encouraged the Gonds to take up painting stories once again. Santosh is just one of them and though he now lives on the edge of Bhopal his heart remains in the forest.

If you're interested in visiting rural India take a look at our website or get in touch to book your tailor-made trip.

Posted by: Andrea Hulme

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