Originating from pre-historic cave paintings, the Pithora painting style, closely connected to divinity and considered a divine process, is more than thousands of years old. Practiced by the Rathwa, Bhils, and Bhilala tribes, who are part of the larger Bhil community, the hallowed Pithora art, can only be created by an artist who is able to channel the spiritual aspect of nature. These paintings are the narrators of the socio-religious history of the tribe, and nowadays also a journal of current times, which are not too fair towards the artists. The Pithora-painting tribes live in both Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and they begin painting only if they have a good first harvest, and that too after the festival of Diwali has passed.
These formulaic and revered paintings depict the Bhil&rsquos main god, Pithora, and a pageant is always depicted exhibiting his actions. Pithora painting is also supposed to bring peace and prosperity to the home. The auspiciousness of the painting is invited into a home by locating it at the osari or threshold of the home. The entire community is sectioned by the roles they play in the creation of a Pithora painting. The artists are the lakara, the ones who keep track of the progression of the painting are known as the jhokara, while the priest who sings and chants as the painting is being made is called the badwa. Once the artwork has been completed, the badwa checks it to look for inconsistencies and incomplete work, which is then corrected. In case of serious illness or misfortune, the family will pray to their god Pithora, and upon getting relief, they paint a Pithora painting under the guidance of their priest. Special ceremonies are planned around the completion of a painting.
Considered to be an ancient method of making a map since it was these tribes who escorted merchants to and fro as they plied trade from the coasts to the interiors of Gujarat and onwards to Madhya Pradesh and ahead. It is believed that to keep the skill of mapping to themselves, the Bhils devised the elements of the paintings as a code.
Being intellectual depictions of the world, the tribes live in, these paintings are made as the artist perceives his or her surroundings. Therefore, you may see modern elements in the paintings apart from the traditional ones, along with the portrayal of nature. Painted-in by hand, it is exclusively the adult married men of the tribe who paint, and the skill is passed on to them by the older males. The tribe will not recognise any work not done as per the rules.
It is reported that no more than seven to eight true Pithora artists now work. Art is a secondary occupation for most Bhils now. Adjusting to the pace of the modern world takes away the time for reflection and focus needed for the divine process to implant itself in an artist. Many have stopped painting due to economic hardships, migration, lack of motivation, and poor retail rates.