Gond Ki Gaatha

"Viewing a good painting begets good luck."⁣⁣
This belief is the basis of this centuries-old art form practiced by the second largest tribal community of India - The Gonds from Central India. Traditionally painted to decorate the mud walls of their houses, it was only after the discovery of a young artist, Jangarh Singh Shyam in 1981, that Gond artists took to paper, acrylic paints, and canvas.
Gond art by Bhajju Shyam(Image credit: arts and upturned.google.com)
Gond art by Bhajju Shyam(Image credit: artsandculture.google.com)

The Gonds are one of the largest tribal groups in India. The Pardhans served as the hereditary bards of the Gond community. They were entrusted with the safekeeping of traditions, religious folklores, and oral histories. They were the storytellers of the tribe. They were often invited to sing and play their instruments at religious ceremonies and marriage functions. It was believed that this would invoke and appease the deities. ⁣
The Pardhans would also paint the walls of their houses with themes inspired by their songs and stories.⁣

But during the colonial rule, the Pradhans lost their social standing. In order to survive and support their families, they migrated to cities in search of work and gave up on their role as chroniclers of history. ⁣

This art form would have died a slow death but by some stroke of luck, things changed for the better in the 1980s.⁣

In the 1980s, the artist J Swaminathan was tasked with the establishment of Bharat Bhavan, a multi-arts complex to be situated in Bhopal. During his search for talented artists, he discovered an eighteen-year old boy named Jangarh Singh Shyam. Swaminathan convinced him to come and work as a professional artist in Bhopal. ⁣
A painting by Jangarh Singh Shyam
A painting by Jangarh Singh Shyam⁣

Jangarh, with his talent and creativity, changed the course of Gond art. He was the first to use paper, canvas, and acrylic paint, thereby establishing a new school of art named - Jangarh Kalam. ⁣
Jangarh Singh Shyam
Jangarh Singh Shyam⁣⁣

His first ever painting was showcased at Bharat Bhavan's inaugural exhibition in 1982. Just 4 years later he was awarded the Shikhar Samman - the highest civilian award bestowed by the government of Madhya Pradesh. In 1989 his art was displayed at the prestigious Magicians of Earth exhibition in Paris. Due to his talent and perseverance, he was invited as an artist-in-residence at the Mithila Museum in Japan. ⁣⁣
It was during his second stint at Mithila Museum that tragedy struck, Jangarh Singh was found dead in his room. Engulfed by depression and homesickness he committed suicide. His untimely death caused a gaping hole in the Gond art community. But this prodigy from Patangarh inspired several young artists from his community to create art and keep the tradition alive. His contributions set a precedent for what was to be known as contemporary gond art. ⁣⁣

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