Paintings by Indigenous Tribes

Paintings by Indigenous Tribes

GS1 - Art and culture

Tribal paintings, also referred to as Primitive Paintings, are artistic expressions crafted by tribal communities with deep religious or ceremonial significance.

They serve as a manifestation of creative vitality within rural settings, echoing the artistic prowess of tribal individuals. These artworks span diverse mediums, encompassing wall murals, tribal dances, tribal music, and more. Renowned examples of Indian tribal paintings include Warli Painting, Gond Painting, Madhubani Painting, Pattachitra, Pithora Painting, Rajasthani Miniature Paintings, and others.

About Tribal Painting

  • Tribal Paintings encapsulate the themes and craftsmanship intrinsic to items originating from tribal civilizations, often rooted in rural origins.
  • Archaeological Significance: Archaeologists leverage these paintings as invaluable artifacts for analyzing cultural, religious, and geographical influences on a particular tribal group.
  • Cultural Insights: Tribal Paintings serve as vital tools in researching the habits, traditions, and overall way of life of various tribes, offering a window into their rich cultural tapestry.
  • Historical Roots: The tradition of Indian paintings traces back to approximately 30,000 BCE, with cave art scattered across Central India, showcasing the enduring legacy of this form of expression.
  • Cultural Documentation: These paintings provide a documented visual history, capturing the essence of tribal communities' artistic expressions and cultural nuances.
  • Diverse Themes: The paintings explore a plethora of themes, depicting tribal rituals, folklore, mythologies, and daily life, offering a comprehensive portrayal of their cultural identity.
  • Artistic Craftsmanship: The craftsmanship displayed in tribal paintings showcases not only artistic prowess but also the intricate skills passed down through generations within these communities.
  • Cave Art Legacy: The presence of tribal paintings in caves throughout Central India serves as a testament to the enduring tradition and the historical depth of this art form.

Evolution of Tribal Paintings of India

  • Prehistoric Origins: Tribal paintings have ancient roots, dating back to prehistoric times, evident in rock art found across Central India. These early expressions reflect the primal connection between tribes and their environment.
  • Cultural Synthesis: Tribal art undergoes evolution through cultural exchanges, absorbing influences from diverse regions and assimilating various traditions and beliefs. This synthesis contributes to the rich diversity seen in tribal paintings.
  • Colonial Impact: The colonial era introduces new materials, techniques, and influences to tribal art forms. Colonial interactions shape the artistic expressions of tribes, reflecting both traditional elements and external influences.
  • Revival and Recognition: In the 20th century, there is a resurgence of interest in tribal art. Artists from tribal communities gain recognition for their unique contributions to the artistic landscape. Efforts are made to preserve and promote tribal art forms.

Famous Tribal Paintings of India

Warli Painting

  • Geographical Origin: Warli Painting originates from Maharashtra, particularly practiced by the Warli tribes in the Northern Sahyadri region.
  • Cultural Context: The Warli tribe, one of India's largest, consciously rejects modern culture, preserving their traditional way of life.
  • Artistic Focus: ¬†Warli folk art revolves around natural elements, avoiding depictions of legendary stories or mythologies.
  • Traditional Materials: Painted using a mixture of rice paste, gum, and water, employing bamboo stick brushes for artistic expression.
  • Evolution of Artists: Initially exclusive to Warli women (Savasini), the art form has evolved to include participation from men over time.
  • Iconic 'Chawk' Painting: 'Chawk,' a prominent Warli painting, illustrates married women painting white patterns on kitchen walls, a cultural practice.
  • Religious Imagery: The central focus often includes the depiction of Goddess Palaghat, a fertility deity, within a rectangular space.
  • Daily Life Depiction: Surrounding the goddess, paintings portray daily life activities, men at work, dancers, women's tools, and various animals.
  • Expression of Existence: Warli art captures the essence of the tribesmen's basic existence, reflecting their lifestyle through diverse art forms.
  • Temporal Beliefs: Spherical paintings suggest a belief in the time cycle, providing insights into the tribe's temporal understanding.
  • Celebratory Themes: Depictions of joy, dance, and festivities in Warli paintings convey the tribes' cultural celebration.
  • Nature's Embrace: Warli art's designs featuring flora, wildlife, and festivals underscore the deep connection to nature.
  • Evolution and Popularity: Warli art, initially on walls, has gained popularity and transitioned to paper, becoming a widely sold art form across the country.
  • Timeless Appeal: The rhythmic patterns in Warli art evoke a sense of connection to prehistoric paintings, creating a timeless and nostalgic ambiance.

Madhubani Painting

  • Origin and Locale: Madhubani paintings find their origins in the Maithili village of Bihar, showcasing a rich artistic tradition.
  • Artistic Tools: Typically created with twigs, nibs, matchsticks, and fingers, Madhubani paintings embody a variety of unconventional tools for artistic expression.
  • Natural Paints: Artists utilize natural dyes and pigments in the creation of Madhubani paintings, emphasizing a connection to the environment.
  • Distinctive Patterns: Prominent features include geometrical patterns, characterized by line drawings filled with vibrant and brilliant colors, creating a visually striking effect.
  • Historical Context: Originally, Madhubani murals adorned the walls of homes in the village, serving as a means for women to express their thoughts, hopes, and ideals.
  • Evolution in Usage: Over time, Madhubani paintings transcended domestic walls, finding use in celebrations and special occasions, becoming an integral part of cultural festivities.
  • Themes and Motifs: Geometrical designs, along with floral, animal, and avian themes, contribute to the distinctive style of Madhubani paintings.
  • Color Palette and Technique: Colors are applied flat, devoid of shading or white space, showcasing dark and brilliant hues like lampblack and ochre. Traditional techniques use coal-derived pigments for the bold color palette.
  • Evolution of Tools: While traditional tools such as twigs and matchsticks are still used, contemporary Madhubani artists also employ brushes, nib pens, and synthetic colors.
  • Mythological Depictions: Madhubani paintings often revolve around Hindu legendary characters like Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi, Shiva, Durga, and Saraswati, depicting their life stories.
  • Distinct Styles: Madhubani painting encompasses various styles, including Godna, Kohbar, Tantrik, Bharani, and Katchni, each contributing to the diverse artistic landscape.

Gond Painting

  • Artistic Heritage: Gond Painting is a traditional art form practiced by the Gond tribe in Central India, where life itself serves as the central theme.
  • Celebration of Life: Gond art pays homage to life, depicting elements like hills, streams, animals, and birds, reflecting the tribe's deep connection to nature.
  • Traditional Canvas: Originally, Gond artists painted on the mud walls of their homes, embedding their art into the very fabric of their living spaces.
  • Precision in Execution: Gond paintings are characterized by meticulous attention to detail, with artists carefully delineating both inner and outer lines, creating a profound impact on the observer.
  • Dynamic Imagery: Strategic use of lines imparts a sense of movement to static images, enhancing the visual storytelling within Gond art.
  • Enhanced Movement and Detail: Dots and dashes are incorporated to convey a heightened sense of movement and add intricate details, enriching the narrative.
  • Vibrant Color Palette: Gond art is renowned for its vibrant use of colors such as white, red, blue, and yellow, contributing to the overall visual appeal.
  • Natural Materials: Artists utilize natural materials like charcoal, colored soil, plant sap, leaves, and even cow dung to create the paints, showcasing a harmonious connection with the environment.
  • Color Origins: Yellow is derived from Chui mitti (local sand), brown from Gheru mitti (another type of sand), green from leaves, and red from the Hibiscus flower, reflecting the use of locally sourced pigments.


  • The term "Pattachitra" originates from Sanskrit, meaning "image on a cloth," capturing the essence of this art form.
  • Geographical Origin: Traditionally practiced in Odisha, Pattachitra is deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of the state.
  • Artistic Themes: Pattachitra predominantly portrays themes from Hindu mythology, religious stories, folklore, and deity figures. These narratives are depicted with simplicity using natural paints on fabric canvas.
  • Religious Connection: Intrinsically linked to the religion of Shri Jagannath and the temple traditions of Puri, Pattachitra is believed to have its origins dating back to the 12th century.
  • Representative Styles:
    • Thia Badhia: Depiction of Lord Jagannath's temple.
    • Krishna Lila: Dramatization of Jagannath as Lord Krishna, showcasing his childhood powers.
    • Dasabatara Patti: Illustration of Lord Vishnu's ten incarnations.
    • Panchamukhi: Depiction of Lord Ganesh as a five-headed deity.
  • Natural Materials: Pattachitra predominantly employs natural materials, adhering to a structured art form with established guidelines and limitations.
  • Floral Border Requirement: A floral border around the paintings is a customary requirement, enhancing the visual appeal, and the use of natural hues is integral to the art form.
  • Profile Orientation and Elongated Eyes: Pattachitra paintings are primarily done in profile, with a distinctive feature being the elongated eyes of the depicted figures.
  • Emotional Expressions: The use of prominent solid hues in Pattachitra paintings lends a unique quality, conveying vivid emotional expressions with remarkable clarity.

Pithora Painting

  • Cultural Practice: Pithora Painting is a deeply ritualistic art form practiced by tribes in Central Gujarat, particularly the Rathwas and Bhilalas.
  • Distinctive Wall Art: Recognized for its prominent depiction of seven horses, Pithora Painting primarily manifests as wall art with ritualistic significance.
  • Symbolism of Seven Horses: The seven horses are believed to symbolize the seven hills surrounding the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border.
  • Divine Inspiration: The name 'Pithora Painting' is derived from the tribe's god, God Pithora, also known as Pithora Baba.
  • Role of Lakhara: Lakhara refers to well-trained Pithora artists responsible for the development of Pithora art. They play a crucial role in painting the Pithora wall mural during auspicious rituals.
  • Spiritual Blessings: Hanging the Pithora artwork on walls is often seen as a gesture seeking divine blessings from God.
  • Gallery Setting: Pithora Art is typically created in the house's roofed gallery (Verandah). Walls are prepared with a mixture of cow dung and dirt before the painting commences.
  • Preparation by Unmarried Girls: Unmarried girls usually take charge of preparing the walls for Pithora art, adding a cultural and communal dimension to the artistic process.
  • Color Palette: Colors used in Pithora Painting include white (Clay), orange, green, blue, red, and yellow, creating a vibrant and visually striking palette.
  • Rectangular Composition: The paintings are framed within a rectangular space, where mythological or significant events in the lives of the Rathwas are depicted.

Rajasthani Miniature Paintings

  • Historical Roots: Rajasthani Miniature Paintings were introduced to India by the Mughals, reflecting a synthesis of artistic influences.
  • Intricate Artistry: These creations are meticulously crafted, paying attention to every detail, including lines, particulars, and vibrant hues, forming stunning patterns.
  • Versatile Canvas: Miniature compositions are not limited to paper; artists create them on silk, ivory, cotton, and various other materials.

Palam Qalam Painting

  • Subject Matter: Palam Qalam Painting focuses on depicting daily life scenes of ordinary people, providing a glimpse into the routine lives of the populace.
  • Size and Artistic Dominance: These paintings are characterized by their small size, with male artists predominantly dominating this style. Indo-British influences are evident in this artistic expression.
  • Noteworthy Artist: Sevakram is a renowned painter associated with the creation of Palam Qalam Paintings.

  • Origin and Style: Originating in 19th-century West Bengal, Bazar Painting, also known as Bengali painting, exhibits a fusion of European and Indian influences.
  • Influence of Roman and Greek Figures: European influence is evident as Roman and Greek figures are incorporated into this style of painting. However, Indian gods with multiple arms are often criticized for not conforming to the human image.
  • Themes: Bazar paintings typically depict everyday bazaar scenes and female dancers performing in front of British officers.


  • Art Form and Origin: Kalamezhuthu is a drawing art similar to rangoli or kolam, originating from the Indian state of Kerala.
  • Usage and Depiction: Created at the entrances to temples and dwellings, Kalamezhuthu paintings often depict gods in temple sanctuaries. They are intricate, with measurements and coloring adhering to strict standards.
  • Intricacies of Kalamezhuthu: The moment intricacies, measurements, and shading choices are meticulously chosen in each Kalamezhuthu painting, highlighting the precision and adherence to artistic standards.


In the rich tapestry of Indian tribal paintings, diverse styles such as Warli, Madhubani, Gond, Pattachitra, Pithora, and Rajasthani Miniature reflect the cultural essence and artistic prowess of different tribal communities. Serving as invaluable artifacts for archaeologists, these paintings offer insights into the traditions and daily lives of tribes, with themes ranging from mythology to daily rituals. The evolution of these art forms, from prehistoric origins to contemporary recognition, showcases the resilience and adaptability of tribal expressions. As efforts to preserve and promote these unique art forms persist, tribal paintings continue to serve as timeless bridges between ancient heritage and modern appreciation, celebrating the rich cultural tapestry of India.

Book A Free Counseling Session