The Gonds are among the largest tribes in Central India, numbering about 4 million. Though predominantly centered in Madhya Pradesh, they are present in significant numbers in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha too.
The word “Gond” comes from the Dravidian expression kond, meaning “the green mountain.” Many of the Gonds customs echo that of their Mesolithic forbearers - an obvious example of this is the custom of decorating the walls of their houses, an activity that may originate in cave-dwelling traditions of their ancestors.
Stories and Signatures of Gond Art
From the charm of a tiny ant surrounded by tall grass, to a resplendent deer with antlers that become a flowering tree with birds sitting on it, to horses flying, Gond artists allow themselves the freedom to depict anything their fertile imagination creates. Often, the work is based on folklore or a tribal customs. There may be a seed of reality visible or the work could be abstract. It could even be a combination of the two.
Most Gonds follow Hindu customs, but some are animists. They believe that natural objects – mountains, lakes and animals – are inhabited by a spirit or life force. These spirits should be respected and painting them is a way of showing reverence. The Gonds also have a tradition of painting the walls and floors of their huts during important Hindu festivities. They draw scenes from religion and myth, as well as natural objects. Before mass-produced paints were available, natural pigments were used and the tribe’s artwork was rarely, if ever, committed to paper.
One of the distinctive elements is the use of signature patterns that are used to infill the larger forms on the canvas. A certain sense of balance and symmetry can be observed in the pattern used, such as spiral forms along with trees, leaves, animals and human figures. Painted in several bright colors, the placement of motifs showcasing village life and the blending of human figures with rituals and nature depict the Gonds inherited skills and creativity.
In the eyes of a Gond artist, everything is sacred and intimately connected to nature. Thus, the unique oral narrative tradition of the Gonds is reflected in their paintings as well. The work of Gond artists is rooted in their folk tales and culture, and thus story-telling is a strong element of every painting. However every artist today has a personal style and has developed a specific language within these narratives creating a richness of aesthetic forms and styles.
Hearteningly, Gond art hasn’t escaped the eye of the art connoisseurs in the country. The Indian government is making efforts to preserve Gond painting. Other well-wishers have gone a step further, and created the Must Art Gallery– the world's first art gallery dedicated to Gond art. Unlike so many treasures of Indian culture that have slipped through the cracks of time and were lost forever, the future of Gond art looks as vibrant and colorful as the paintings.
Art by Bhajju Shyam and Suresh Dhurve.