Chitrakathi is an ancient folk tradition and a unique style of painting, dating back to the 17th century. It is practiced in Pinguli, a small village in the district of Sindhudurg, in the Indian State of Maharashtra.
“Chitra” means picture and “katha” means story. Together, the term “Chitrakathi” was originally used to describe storytellers who narrated stories using visual aids accompanied by music. Broadly, Chitrakatha is identified in three forms, leather puppet shows, stringed wooden puppets and picture stories. Only the latter, Picture Stories, narrated using a series of paintings, are now identified as Chitrakathi.
History and Origin:
Chitrakathi Art has been a long standing tradition of tribal life and is an almost extinct art form practiced by the Thakar tribal community of Maharashtra. The Chitrakathi artists are a community of migrating storytellers found all over Maharashtra, some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
It also known as Paithani art and is used to narrate stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This ancient art form was a hugely popular source of entertainment among village crowds in Maharashtra. The signature musical accompaniment was usually given by Veena, with Duduk and Taal as supporting instruments.
Chitrakathi artwork is created as a series of single sheets of paintings. All paintings belonging to one story are kept in a bundle called “Pothi”, which is set of pictures containing 30 to 50 pages arranged in chronological order. These pages are unbound like the pages of ancient Indian epics. Some Pothis date back to around 300 years whereas some, more recent, are 50 to 60 years old.
The themes of Chitrakathi paintings include stories on local versions of Ramayana, Mahabharata, various folk tales and stories from the Puranas. The paintings are usually created on paper or canvas sheets, with brushes and natural, hand-made water colors. The use of brownish tones of stone colors gives an exceptional effect to the artwork. Figures in paintings are generally stylized portrayed using bold colors and expressive strokes.
Even though Chitrakathi was a popular recreational source among the older tribal generations, very few performers of this art are present today in Maharashtra. With the increasing urbanization and changing lifestyle of rural people, traditional art forms do not get a sufficient audience.
The Thakar tribe, who kept the Chitrakathi tradition alive for centuries, is finding it difficult to carry on in the absence of patronage. Earlier, one artist would keep about 40 to 50 Pothis but today, unfortunately, only 15 to 20 Pothis are found to be in good condition.
The government of Maharashtra state and other cultural organizations from the central government are coming forward to extend a helping hand. Several workshops, seminars, and orientation training programs are being organized to make it popular. Scholarship programs and financial assistance is being extended for those who want to be torchbearers of the tradition.
With the help of the government, non-government organizations and educational institutes Chitrakathi is sure to continue with full-fledged glory in the coming decades.
In the year 2006, Shri Parshuram Gangavane took upon himself a task of revitalizing this 400 year old Chitrakathi art at both domestic and international levels. With this goal in mind, he founded the TAKA museum & art gallery, which showcases Thakar Tribal folk Arts of Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra.
He has also carried out many Workshops, Exhibitions & Presentation programs across India. Under his guidance, his sons, Eknath & Chetan Gangavane, are also contributing towards the development of Chitrakathi Paintings and to preserve the Ancient art form of Pinguli. More than 1000 students & Research Scholars have been taught so far by him and his two sons.
He founded Vishram Thakar Adivasi Kala Aangan Charitable Trust in 2007, with a vision of conserving age old Thakar Tribal and Folk art and spreading it to various parts of the country and overseas. Through this trust, he accepts donations from Samaritans all over the world, who would like to lend a hand, in helping him carry out this wonderful work. The trust also helps him conducts various training classes for schools, colleges and for art lovers too.
Parshuram Gangavane received an award from the Maharashtra state government in 2009 for the preservation of folk arts.
The Gangavane family has also initiated a homestay scheme, a project undertaken by the social tourism organization Culture Aangan.