Our country is culturally extremely rich and a lot of the heritage that we have can be traced back to tribal groups in our country. Tribal art has a huge influence on the contemporary Indian style of painting. Mandana paintings are one type of paintings that are one of the oldest forms of art in the country. Their origins can be traced back to a tribe called ‘the Meenas’. They are present in parts of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In this art form, the world is the canvas. These paintings are done mainly by the women of the family and they can be found on all surfaces like walls and floors both inside and outside the home. It is considered as a way to invite God into the homes and ward off the evil spirits.
Mandana refers to ‘drawing’ in the local language. Its etymological origins can be traced to the word Mandan which is used to describe an item of beautification. These paintings have been painted by women of the Meena community as a decorative means during festivals, religious community worship, and fasts and special occasions like birth or marriage.
Due to their use in occasions of religious nature, the paintings consisted of the main deity of that specific festival. These paintings acted as tributes to the gods and goddesses. The motifs used in these paintings were inspired by symbols that connoted auspiciousness and served as good omens. These motifs were called Shubh Manglik.
The patterns and designs seen mimic the same designs that were used in Vedic Yagnas. This refers to traditional patterns like Vastu Purusha mandalas. The designs were the same ones used in the designing of the floors of temples. Mandana art derives its beauty from geometry and symmetry.
The women followed an elaborate procedure to execute these artworks. The first step was to plaster the walls or floors with clay, this is one of the most crucial steps to the painting. The clay is mixed with cow-dung and water. Due to the origins of this art form being traced to tribes, it is clear that the images were made using very rudimentary tools these include brushes made of a date twig and cotton. First, the outline of the motifs was made which were then filled with colour. Natural paints were used for the colouring process hence the colour scheme of these paintings remains very basic consisting mainly of white and red. The White paint is called Khadiya was made using chalk while the red paint called Geru was made from brick. The drawings were very feminine looking and did not follow any fixed principles of perspective and proportion.
The Mandana paintings that are found in Rajasthan are found on walls and the floor whereas the artists in Madhya Pradesh would usually restrict themselves to the floor.
Mandana usually revolves around elements of nature. It was a depiction of varieties of flowers, birds and animals. One of the most famous motifs was the peacock that was depicted in different and majestic ways. The second most prominent theme in this art form was the depiction of deities, a depiction of zoomorphic creatures, and old forms of human beings. These paintings in this sense, give a lot of anthropological context for the way life was lived.
Tapki Ke Mandanas refers to a specific type of Mandanas that derive their inspiration from architecture. In this variety, the artist a graph-like arrangement of a number of points are joined to result in simple shapes like triangles, squares, rhombus and rectangles coming together to form complex geometrical images. A popular motif under this sub-type is the design of a jaali which is a lattice screen which can be seen in Indian architecture especially in the forts of Rajasthan.
The art form is passed on solely as an oral tradition and learnt only by emulation. This art form is slowly dying in the modern age because it is an artform that focussed more on community sentiments that individual sentiments. That sort of oneness is missing in society these days. Looking at the practical difficulties most houses these days are made of brick and mortar and one of the primary conditions for this art is clay walls because they absorb the colour and add to a certain texture which is characteristic of Mandana.
The art form still remains prevalent in a few villages namely Tonk and Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan. Mandana paintings and motifs are now added to the fabric and this has led to the creation of a separate line of aesthetics.
This art form like any other has evolved over the years and has become a way for Meena women to recording their own experiences. The traditional motifs are used in creative ways to give an idea of the social conditions under which they are made. The paintings still comprise of the trademark peacock but the general message of the design is to convey their experience by using the peacock. Modern designs following similar patterns have also been developed which include images from modern life like motorcycles and tractors. Such paintings also called Mandala are very famous in parts of Nepal.