• Article tells about the nature of Bhil Art, how to do, what is unique about it and story in brief of Bhuru Bai, a renowned artist, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2021.

It is often said that to know the art form of a particular place, is to know the place itself. If that is true, then to look at Bhil Art, is to enter the house of the artists themselves; to experience first-hand, this intimate art form from Central India.


The Bhils are the second largest adivasi community in India, residing in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Some Bhils trace their ancestry to Eklavya, the archer from Mahabharata.


Traditionally, the art of the Bhil folk would adorn the clay walls of their village homes. Beautiful images would be painted with neem sticks and other twigs, and natural dyes would be used. Turmeric, flour, vegetables, leaves and oil were used to derive brilliant colours to make fascinating frescoes on floors and walls, in a language created by the Bhils, to convey their experiences.

Courtesy bhilart.com 

Moving through Dots and Colours

One look at a Bhil painting, and you will immediately begin to recognize it anywhere you see the art form. Bhil paintings usually consist of large, un-lifelike shapes of everyday characters filled with earthy, yet bright colours, and then covered with an overlay of uniform dots in several patterns and colours that stand out strikingly against the background.


The dots on a Bhil painting are not random. They are patterns that could be made to represent anything that the artists wish to, from ancestors to deities. Because these patterns are solely in the hands of the artists who create them, the work of every Bhil artist is unique, and the dot patterns can be counted as the artist’s signature style.


The dots are the distinct identity of Bhil art and have multiple layers of symbolism. Inspired by the kernels of maize - their staple food and crop - each group of dots often represents a particular ancestor or deity. Additionally, each artist composes the dots in distinctive patterns encoding each artwork with signatures visible to the trained eye.


An Honest Depiction of Real Life

Bhil Art is an instinctive and primordial, born out of an ancient connection with nature. The Bhils are largely an agricultural community whose lives are centred around the land they work on. What makes the art extra special, is that it has travelled down generations, with most artists learning it from their mothers.


Bhil art is also often ritualistic. Every painting is a story of the land told through the depictions of people, the animals, the insects, the deities, the festivals. Even the Sun and Moon are frequent characters in the stories. Legends and lore are told through Bhil paintings. Births and deaths are recorded. Religious occasions remembered. These paintings are even offered as gifts to gods and goddesses at the time of festivals.


Today, we’re getting to see much more of Bhil art in the mainstream. Clay has been replaced by canvas, natural dyes with acrylic paints. The artists who would earlier paint on walls and floors of their village homes, are now recognized over the country and even internationally.


But there’s something about this art form that is so rooted, that a change in medium or even recognition, does not change the honesty of its depictions.

Pic courtesy gallerymuststart.com

Let us create Bhil art

People of all ages should try tribal art. They are bright, simple yet so detailed. The figures and animals might not be technically perfect but one should easily understand the motifs and the story behind the painting. See how animals, trees, birds, humans are nicely tied together to show a village scene. The community and the culture are beautifully depicted in these paintings.


Supplies needed

You would need Watercolour paper or canvas and Acrylic art supplies. Have a background color on your sheet. Let the paint dry and then draw something of your choice. Show the figures in action and they should be bundled together.

Pic courtesy artsoftheearthindia.in 

Once you have drawn, start putting the base colors. Since we are using acrylic, you can easily paint one color above another. Apply two coats till you have a flat finish. Once the base color has dried, use a thin brush, and start applying dots in patterns. If you are not comfortable using brushes, you can use acrylic markers or coloring pens. The dots should be closely packed so the total effect of the color in that area changes. Slowly complete the entire picture.


What can you learn from Bhil tribal art?

Think of your community. Show birds, trees, people, and animals to represent your surroundings. Paint a happy picture with animals, birds, and people in action. Paint flat with bright colors. Use the primary and complementary colors. Do not try mixing colors.


These paintings represent pointillism art. They are detailed and fill the entire area. Think of patterns to fill the base. 


Fill and balance the entire picture with colors and figures.


Symbolism of Bhil Art

Bhils have a primordial relationship with nature which gives importance to the changing seasons and elemental worship so as to have a successful harvest. Even the materials used for the painting generally are naturally obtained pigments, neem twigs as brushes on clay walls, a form of frescoes (mittichithra).


This skill was a part of the informal education which has become part of the cultural identity of the Bhil community. There has also been a gradual introduction of modern life and technology that has found space in modern interpretations of Bhil art.


The simplistic imagery of this art that reflect the purity of nature and life make imperfections something to be desired and teach us to enjoy the fundamental symbolism of life.

Pic courtesy indigoarts.com

Bhuri Bai: The Pride of India

From painting on rocks with twigs to having her artwork displayed in UK and USA and being conferred with a Padma Shri for her immense contributions in preserving the traditional Pithora art form, Bhuri Bai from Madhya Pradesh has definitely come a long way.


Madhya Pradesh-based Bhuri Bai had experienced acute poverty first hand. When she was ten her house was burnt down in a fire, so her family built a makeshift house from hay and lived there for years.

Bhuri Bai. Pic courtesy indigoarts.com

She was a child bride and post-marriage survived on a meagre income of Rs 6 per day. When Bhuri finally found a breakthrough with Pithora painting, an enriched folk art, her Bhil tribe condemned her for it as women weren’t allowed to indulge in art forms. They even played the patriarchal card by suggesting her husband was not man enough to earn as much as Bhuri was earning through her paintings. Notwithstanding this Bhuri continued to move forward and let her innate talent blossom.


When more than 40 years back, Bhuri Bai, then in her teens, set off for Bhopal from her village in Jhabua district in search of work, she could not have dreamt that someday she would become a renowned artist. As luck would have it, she got work at the construction site of Bharat Bhavan as a labourer, where she came in contact with painter J. Swaminathan, who spotted her talent. And the rest, as they say, is history.


The 52-year-old Bhil artist was declared a winner of the Padma Shri this Republic Day. She is also a recipient of the Madhya Pradesh Government's Shikhar Samman, among others. From Lucknow to London, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad to the United States and the United Kingdom, her paintings have travelled far and wide.

Pic courtesy saffronart.com/artists  


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Purpose of article is to only share information about the wonderful Bhil Art and Bhuri Bai. Photo credits given. The purpose of this compilation is to document and promote. We have given credits and reference links in this compilation. In case some are missed, it is not with malafide intent. 

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