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Manas Ghata- The worship of the snake Goddess

For worshippers in India the snake ranks a sacred second only to the cow. So powerful is the image of the snake in Indian mythology that it is encountered almost everywhere. As Lord Vishnu, asleep while floating on the cosmic waters on the serpent Shesha, Shiva wears a serpent across his chest and coiled serpents adorn his hair, neck and arms, Mucalinda the mighty serpent king protects the Buddha as he sits in ecstatic meditation under the Bodhi tree of enlightenment and as the concept of Kundalini, (coiling like a snake.) a mothering intelligence behind yogic awakening and spiritual maturation leading to altered states of consciousness. Snakes are feared and revered and therefore potent symbols in myth and legend. There are festivals in their honour, (Nag Panchami), Snake idols are offered gifts of milk and incense to help the worshipper to gain knowledge, wealth, and fame, temples are made for their veneration.

For other cultures the snake has had other powerful roles. In the Abrahamic religions as a symbol of deceit, tempting Adam to partake of the forbidden Apple in the Garden of Eden, in Cambodia as the guardian of the temples in Angkor, the cosmic serpents of the Egyptians, the Norse , the Aztec goddess Coatlicue as well as serpents coiled around the tree of life typified by one of the earliest representations (2500 BC) of the Sumerian fertility god Ningizzida.

One of the most interesting living traditions is the Manasa Cult in Bengal. It is dedicated to the anthropomorphic (Attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena) serpent goddess Manasa.

Originally an Adivasi (tribal) goddess, Manasa was accepted in the pantheon worshipped by Hindu lower caste groups. Later, she was included in a higher caste Hindu pantheon, where she is now regarded as a Hindu goddess rather than a tribal one and as the mother of all Nagas. By the 14th century, Manasa was identified as the goddess of fertility and marriage rites and was assimilated into the Shaivite pantheon of South India. This indigenous goddess has now been absorbed into the Brahmanical tradition of mainstream Hinduism. However she still retains her cult status as the folk deity in the districts of Bankura, Murshidabad and Midnapore in Bengal.

On the last day of the Bengali month Sravana (JulyAugust) the rural people of these areas celebrate serpent-worship each year. Regardless of their class and station, every family creates a clay model of the serpent deity with two snakes spreading their hoods on her shoulders. This model is worshipped at their homes and a goat or a pigeon is sacrificed for the deitys honor before the clay goddess is submerged in water at the end of the festival. The clay snakes are taken from her shoulders before immersion as people believe that the earth these snakes were made from cured illnesses, especially childrens diseases.

Manasa Ghat is the Terracotta Ritual Pot made by the potters and painted with images of Manasa Devi in the village of Panchmura, in Bankura district of West Bengal. The demonstration will be done by Tarakanath Khubhkar of Panchmuda village, Bankura Dist, West Bengal.



Amma Deivam The Mother Goddess an illustrated talk by Balan Nambiar

Teyyam performance is a living tradition, living in and around homes and villages, with participation from people of every age group, caste and class. The indigenous pre-Aryan cult practices are still preserved in the West Coast of south India despite the onslaught of outside influence. Worship of the Mother Goddess and the practice of fertility cult were in existence in this part of India long before the Aryans came. Worship of mother goddess in her myriad manifestations is the most common practices in this region. All the goddesses in Teyyam are Shivite.

The Mother Goddess is the most widely worshipped deity in Kerala. Every family has its own ishtadeivam, personal deity, every clan-house -- taravatu --has its kuladeivam, the patron deity, and every village has its own gramadevata, the village goddess. Most of these ishtadevatas or kuladeivams or gramadevatas are manifestations of Kali or Bhadrakali and, in Northern Kerala, they are worshipped as Teyyams. The narration of the story of these gramadevatas, sung at the beginning of the performances, though glorifying the manifestations, are, in fact, local legends which, in most cases, have no sanction in the Puranas. At the end of the story, the heroine dies and her spirit is identified with the Adi Sakti. This spirit is deified and worshipped as mother goddess in Teyyam.

Balan Nambiar is a painter, sculptor, enamellist, photographer and a research scholar. He has a Diploma in Fine Arts (Sculpture) from Government College of Arts & Crafts, Chennai.
He has an Academy Fellowship from the Kerala Lalitha Kala Academy, Nehru Fellowship from Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, a Senior Fellowshipf rom Ministry of Education, Govt. of India and State and national awards from the Lalit Kala Akademies.

In the academic field he has done research and documentation of various ritual art forms of the west coast of south India and presented several research papers at seminars in India and abroad. Some of his papers and photographs were published as a part of the books by the MARG, IGNCA, History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilisation, Rientberg Museum, IIC quarterly journal, etc.

During the last ten years he has been doing sculptures in stainless steel and some of his monumental works are commissioned by banks, corporate houses and various institutions around the country and abroad. One of his monumental stainless steel sculptures, "The sky is the Limit" was commissioned by the Indian Oil Corporation and installed at its corporate office in Sadiq Nagar, New Delhi in May 2010. Five museums in India have his creative works.

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Divinity deified- Sholapith of West Bengal


Sola-pith (Aeschynomene Indica) is a milky-white and very light weight sponge-wood which is carved into delicate and beautiful objects of art. The plant grows wild in marshy, waterlogged areas. The shola pith is the cortex or core of the plant and these inner soft milky-white and spongy materials are similar to "Thermocol". They can also be cultivated by planting seeds in February/March in a pit or ditch with plenty of water. The plant is ready to harvest in 6 months. It is dried and outer skin carefully removed and the inner core cut into pieces or other shapes as required. This craft requires no complicated tools, only knives of various shapes and sizes and needle and thread Earlier natural and vegetable dyes were used, now brightly coloured chemical dyes find more buyers.

Two main types of objects are made - Masks, headgear and images of deities, as well as flowers and other ornamental objects. The craftsmen, Malakars (maker of garlands) have traditionally made garlands of shola and decorative headwear for deities. The headgear (Topor) is worn by both Bride and groom during a Bengali wedding ceremony. Temples and houses are decorated with these objects during festivals and other auspicious occasions. The idol makers of Kumortuli who traditionally produced clay idols have taken to making idols of sholapith and fibreglass.

A very interesting early use of the plant has given its name to one of the most enduring signs of colonial times. The Sola Topee is a Shola Pith. The pith, the core of the shola plant was used to make the inner lining of the sun helmet which was covered initially with white cloth, and later in the Boer wars in South Africa it was dyed with tea to use as a camouflage giving birth to the typical khaki sola topee. Versions of this shape have been used by the French, The Americans, and the Germans and they continue to be used by the Royal Marines (see photograph) and the Vietnamese substituting the pith by cork and other materials.


Mata ni pachedi - the ritual painting of Gujarat

Mata-ni-Pachedis are ritualistic Temple Hangings of Gujarat created and significantly popular amongst the semi-nomadic rural communities in Western India. The term Mata-ni-Pachedi in colloquial Gujarati literally means that which enshrines the Goddess. The narrative hangings of epics of Mata or Devi or Shakti are created by the Chitaras using kalamkari technique and are conventionally used by other communities of a similar social status.

The unique feature of these temple hangings was that instead of being hung behind an icon, four to five pieces were erected to form a shrine for the Mother Goddess. These hangings used by the nomadic tribe served the purpose of depicting the epics of the mother goddess as well as forming a temporary shrine for her.

Conventionally the rectangular fabric is divided into 7 or 9 columns which allows for a narrative format and always has an architectural rendering of a temple at its centre which also houses the main mother goddess image. The central image and surrounding figures may vary in size and position, depending on the artists personal creative imagination. These hangings used by nomadic tribes served the purpose of depicting the epics of mother goddess as well as forming a temporary shrine for her.

The chandarvo a square piece of cloth is used in lieu of a ceiling. Here the painted pattern is a representative of the magic circle, the garbha, the ceremonial dance to the goddess, in effect a stylized mirror image. The mother goddess occupies a central position with myths and incidents following a circular patterns around the central figure.

Both the Pachedi and the Chandarvo are always framed with a bold border, which is colloquially termed as a lassa patti. The lassa patti is the outer frame. After this comes a band of decorative linear patterns. Traditionally maroon and black were the only colors used, with the surface of the material as the third color. Gradually other colors from nature started adding to the color palette without having any religious significance. As time went by the community got introduced to pigment dyes which had begun arriving in Gujarat for a fledging textile industry.

The work is traditionally done by master craftsmen from the Chitara family, belonging to the Waghri community of Ahmedabad. For this event Chandrakant Bhulabhai Chitara from Ahmedabad will be demonstrating this kalamkari style of painting and printing.

Each traditional tribal or folk art form in India uses its own technique, process and style which have been handed down through generations. The individual processes can be complex; sometimes the entire family is involved, with each family member responsible for one particular step: doing the outlines, filling in the colour, making the dyes from flowers and minerals. We rarely realize how vital these artists are to the preservation of our countrys cultural heritage.

Demonstration will be followed by a talk by Bishakha Shome

Bishaka Shome is a Graduate of Vishwabharati University in Shantinketan in Textile Arts and a Post Graduate in Rural Development. She is President of the Hutheesing Design Company involved with diverse Art, Design, Heritage and cultural activities. She was a research and design consultant for the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, The Craft Center Development Project for Uttaranchal District Industries Commission, and Kerala Handlooms. She is the co-author of ‘Stone Buildings of Gujarat’. She has presented papers on Mata-ni-Pachedi and Natural Dyes and Block printing.


Dhokra: Tribal Metalcasting for 5000 years

Dhokra is non ferrous metal casting using the lost-wax (cire perdue) casting technique. This sort of metal casting has been used in India for over 4,000 years and is still used. One of the earliest known lost wax artefacts is the famous dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro.
The primitive simplicity, enchanting folk motifs and forceful form of Dhokra horses, elephants, peacocks, owls, religious images, measuring bowls, and lamps are highly appreciated allover the world. The lost wax technique for casting of copper and brass based alloys has existed in many ancient cultures but as in many crafts, other cultures have lost their art forms. In India Dhokra Damar tribes the traditional metalsmiths of West Bengal, extend from Jharkhand, Orissa; Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh as well as in South India.

There are two main processes of lost wax casting: solid casting (common in South India), and hollow casting.(from Eastern and Central India). In hollow casting, a clay core is moulded and covered by a layer of Beeswax. Designs are carved on this and covered with clay leaving drain ducts for the wax. Molten metal is poured into the mould forcing the wax to melt and be replaced by the molten metal. The outer layer of clay is chipped off and the metal icon polished and finished as desired..

The famous metal miniature known as the dancer evokes wonder not only for its perfection as an art piece of exquisite elegance but also for the advanced knowledge of production nearly five thousand years ago.

The perfection of casting images in India was reached in the Gupta-Vakataka and early medieval period when some of the finest examples like the Sultanganj Buddha, the Pophnar Buddha, the Brahma from Karachi, the Jain images of the Akota hoard, the Nalanda and Kurkihar bronzes, and the famous Pallava and Chola bronzes of South India were prepared. (C. Sivaramamurti ex director National Museum of India.)

Sir Mortimer Wheeler excavator of Mohenjodaro says about the dancing girl "There is her little Balochi-style face with pouting lips and insolent look in the eyes. She's about fifteen years old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There's nothing like her, I think, in the world.

Thangka Painting Manifestation of the Divine


A "Thangka," is a painted or embroidered Buddhist banner which was hung in a monastery or a family altar and occasionally carried by monks in ceremonial processions. It is a scroll painting which can be easily rolled and transported from monastery to monastery. These thangka served as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and bodhisattvas. But how does one distinguish one diety from another.

There are gods and goddesses, some benign, others wrathful, some universal, others local, almost always represented in one of the five colours of Vajrayana Buddhism white, green, yellow, red or blue (black, in some cases). What finally differentiates these deities is their asana (posture), mudra (gesture), and their attributes and accompanying symbols. In fact so vast is the array of deities within the Buddhist pantheon that sometimes a monk himself is unable to tell one from another.

Thangka, when created properly, perform several different functions. Images of deities can be used as teaching tools when depicting the life (or lives) of the Buddha, describing historical events concerning important Lamas, or retelling myths associated with other deities. Devotional images act as the centerpiece during a ritual or ceremony and are often used as mediums through which one can offer prayers or make requests. Most importantly, religious art is used as a meditation tool to help bring one further down the path to enlightenment. The Buddhist Vajrayana practitioner uses a thanga image of their yidam, or meditation deity, as a guide, by visualizing themselves as being that deity, thereby internalizing the Buddha qualities.


Madhubani - The folk art of Mithila

Mithila was a kingdom of ancient India whose most famous resident was Sita wife of Rama of the Ramayana. The region was an important centre of Indian history during the first millennium and Maithili, an Eastern Indic language, spoken in Mithila is an officially recognized Indian language. The Mithila region of Bihar is rich in culture and religious traditions and its most important art form is Madhubani painting.

This art originated as ritual geometric and symbolic decorations on the walls and floors of houses, generally done by women before a marriage. In the 1960s a terrible drought lead to the All India Handicrafts Board encouraging the women artists to start painting on Handmade paper and other mediums as a source of non agricultural income.

There is a strong caste hierarchy involved in the making of Madhubani paintings. The Brahmins, depict images of deities using bright colours (red, yellow, blue and lemon). The second in the hierarchy are the Kayasthas, who paint religious themes and motifs, but use only red and black.The lowest caste, the Dusadhs, paint religious themes but use more of the Gondhna or Tattoo art and usually depict flora and fauna in repetitive motifs. The differences between the works of Brahmin and Kayastha women and women of lower castes are apparent. "The Harijan Madhubani paintings appear simpler and less sophisticated. They are closer to the Geru tradition of painting, with emphasis on volume and depth rather than ornamentation,"
Madhubani paintings usually revolve around mythological themes (Hindu deities - Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Sun, Moon and Tulsi) and socio-cultural themes (court and wedding scenes,) The subjects most commonly depicted include sun, moon, birds, fish, and bidh-bidhata (a male and a female bird facing each other), patia (mat woven from mothi), nag-nagin (entwined male and female cobras), pan ka ghar (leaf house) and naina jogin (Goddess with magical powers). Flowers, birds, animals and geometrical designs are interspersed throughout the painting.

Traditionally Madhubani paintings were always made with Natural Dyes - the extracts of locally available creepers and flowers; for example, yellow is prepared from turmeric or from chunam (lime) mixed with the white excretion of the banyan tree, black from burnt jowar or kajal, orange from the palasa flower, red from kusum, and green from the bilva leaf or the saim creeper. For brushes, the artists still use twigs with cotton rags wrapped around their tips.

These paintings may have had their origins in tantric rituals. Mithila has from time immemorial been a seat of the tantric tradition, with strong leanings towards the Saiva and Sakti cults. The contribution of foreign scholars in promoting the art form internationally has also been immense. Starting with W.G. Archer in the 1930s who discovered this art form to Yves Vecaud, who wrote The Women Painters of Mithila followed by the German anthropologist and folklorist Erika Moser and Raymond Lee Owens. Mulk Raj Anand says The sources of folk art of Madhubani lie on the dim areas of silence, of the approximation to the heightened moments of creation itself.


Demonstration will be followed by a talk by Manisha Jha


Manisha Jha is a self taught artist who learnt by watching her mother and grandmother doing traditional Madhubani paintings on the walls of their village home.
Living in an urban setting and under the influence of many artists her traditional Madhubani paintings started acquiring a contemporary look. She is a graduate of Architecture with a Masters in Urban and Regional planning and a diploma in Interior Design. She has exhibited her paintings in many cities in India and has received awards from the Deli Government and The All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society.