If I were to describe our country in one word, it would be ‘diverse’. I love how India is just one big melting pot of cultures, cuisines, languages and of course art. All of it comes together in a beautifully chaotic concoction, each standing shoulder-to- shoulder with the other, yet proud and distinct.

There are those art forms that have evolved over the ages, borrowing the best of what the current time has to offer, always finding a way to remain relevant. And then there are those that remain firmly grounded in their roots, with their secrets passed down from generation to generation in hushed whispers, remaining timeless and unchanging.

But my favourite part about traditional art forms in India is how accessible they all are. It may be frowned upon by art elitists, but I think it’s amazing how these have been mass produced into consumer products. From sarees to bags, coasters to wall hangings, pencil holders to cushion covers, this eclectic mix of different applications really shows how much pride we take in our art heritage.

Here are five of my favourite Indian art forms and a bit on how I grew to love them.

1. Warli: Most of us are familiar with this famous stick-like figures in paintings that
originated in Sahyadri mountains. But did you know that this art dates back to the Mahabharata and Ramayana era? This folk art appears very often in our daily lives. I was fortunate enough to visit a traditional village near Thane a few years back wherein the artists who lived there did exactly that –  depict Warli figures on simple everyday things. For instance, I remember picking up a green lipstick case from them with Warli art hand painted on it.

2. Kantha : Originating from West Bengal, this is possibly my favourite form of embroidery. I love my Kantha sarees and as if having a few of my own weren’t enough, I have one that I’d swiped from my mother, when it was still brand new! I don’t think she knows till this date that I have it.

One of the hotels that I was working with early in my career had hosted a Kantha as Stich Art exhibition. Beautiful canvases depicting this exquisite work that could be proudly displayed in any living room. I even saw one with Rabindranath Tagore’s side profile, entirely in this stitch art!

The organisers were an NGO using Kantha to enable sustainable livelihoods for women in rural Bengal. After all, Kantha was once a rural art form, wherein ladies used it to mend old clothes and bedsheets.

3. Zari : I was on a work trip some years back to Agra, hosting an international media visit. We had a guide take us around the city and towards the end of the tour, he got us to a Zari workshop. I think that was the first time I saw Zari work that up close.

While it originally dates back to the Vedic age, it was exemplified by the Mughal emperors who used this exquisite form or metal embroidery to add a dash of royal glamour to not only their clothing, but also to adorn their horses and elephants.

Traditional Zari is still done with gold and silver threads and it is no longer restricted to just clothing. Like kantha, this art form is also depicted on canvases, created using a timeless technique even today.

4. Tanjore :  I had once visited a Tanjore artists’ centre in Chennai and that’s when I first came across the devotion behind the art. A colleague, also from the same city told me how she had learnt how to create Tanjore paintings from a traditional master. Since she studied it to just pursue it as a hobby, he taught her everything except how to paint the face of the deities, a skill that is restricted to only career artists.

Authentic Tanjore paintings are, of course, made with real gold and precious stones. But I believe there are lesser expensive, faux versions of them if you’d like to collect one without the pinch to your pocket.

5. Madhubani : One of the most recognizable form of Indian folk art, we see a version of the Madhubani art form in nearly every Indian household – as paintings, on notebooks and even coasters.

I love the vibrancy of the colour and simple themes that are so beautifully depicted in each artwork. I believe you can also now make your own Madhubani painting at home with DIY kits – India’s answer to Van Goh’s Paint by Numbers!

We may not all be artists but within all of us, there is a profound appreciation of art and beautiful things made with it. As the artist, Michael Craig-Martin once said, “The art world, of all worlds, has room for everyone.”

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