Indian tribal art is almost entirely ‘functional’ and had great utilitarian or social significance. There is very little art for art’s sake in a tribal village. Much of the art has a religious or magical purpose. It has great social importance. There is very little that is simply decorative or that aims at the creation of beauty and nothing else.
Let us look then at this motif of religion or magic that has directed so much creative activity.
In Bastar, the Muria Tribal People offer at their shrines attractive little brass images of horses, elephants, human figures, or magicians in a swing. Other tribes make offerings of birds, horses and elephants of clay.
During Marriage, the beautiful crowns for the bride and groom are made to offer them protection.
It is the Santal people who have lavished the greatest attention on their marriages, particularly on the marriage palanquins, in which bride and groom are carried from house to house. These are elaborately carved and the carvings symbolically represent the joy and comradeship of a wedding and also aim at what one may call an atmosphere of fertility. There are carvings both in relief and in the round of meetings between men and women, and animals. Everything is intended to make the palanquin and the marriage itself auspicious.
Another very interesting way in which religion has influenced tribal art is to be found in the remarkable wall-paintings made by the Soras tribe of Koraput and Ganjam. The Soras have a very strong sense of the reality and power of the unseen world, which they people with a great company of gods, ghosts and ancestors. These unseen beings are continually interfering in human life and it is necessary, therefore, to keep them happy and contented by an elaborate system of sacrifices and by actions calculated to flatter their vanity. Among such actions is the custom of making paintings on the walls of houses. These are made in honour of the dead, to drive away diseases, to promote the fertility of the crops and on the occasion of certain great festivals. For both disease and fertility are controlled by the unseen powers.
In most villages there is a special artist who makes these paintings and he often acts under the inspiration of a dream. On the night before he is to paint the picture, he sleeps on the ground in front of the wall on which he is to paint and he expects to see in a dream exactly what he is to do.
The paintings are of very great variety and some of them are extremely striking. They nearly all tell some sort of story and depict the adventures of the spirits in the other world. Sometimes you will see aeroplanes, motor-cars and trains, for civilization has influenced the other world as well as this, and gods and ghosts now enjoy all the amenities of modern transport.
There is a strange atmosphere in India, an unseen power which down the ages has driven men everywhere to the love of beauty, directing them to a common design and symbolism.
Bamboo drinking mugs were carved with extraordinary skill, but the central motif was always the human head. Wooden heads were carved and brass heads cast on it, to be worn by the successful warrior.
The march of civilization has a paralyzing effect on tribal people. Open a shop – and they will throng to buy the most gaudy products of our factories. For the tribesman, whose taste in his own sphere is so fine and true, both for design and colour, loses all sense of it when come face to face with what they so wrongly conceives to be a higher type of culture.
We should try top promote and save the Indian Tribal Art. The best things in the Indian arts and crafts should be introduced in the modern society.