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History, Mythology and Significance of Baba Pithora Painting

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Interview with Naranbhai Rathva at Vaacha Museum, Tejgadh in 2016

My name is Naranbhai Rathva. I am from Hardaspur Fadiya in Tejgadh. I have completed an MA in Sociology. In 1998, I joined the tribal diploma run in Adivasi Academy. Culturally, if you look into Adivasi society, their way of life is closely linked to religion, and social and economic relations. My father had some land, and since childhood I have been attached to this land. I have had my primary education in the village school. When I came to Adivasi Academy, we spoke about Adivasi lifestyle. During my stay I became interested in the oral literature, which is almost extinct. During this time, my uncle started to make Baba Pithora painting in his home. I was able to witness how rituals and ceremonies are attached with the lifestyle. In three or four other places I witnessed rituals and ceremonies associated with Baba Pithora painting, its celebrations, and started to understand several problems this tradition is facing and what can destroy Pithora of the Adivasis. This sense of possible destruction set root in my heart almost 20 years ago and I decided to help keep it alive and spread its recognition nationally and internationally, through my continuous research and studies. Now I will tell you, what is Baba Pithora.

 

The northern, eastern, and southern belts of Gujarat are inhabited by Adivasis. Adivasi women plaster their own homes during Diwali, and draw on them. Similarly, Chhota Udepur, Kawant, Naswadi, Pavi Jetpur, Bodeli and Sankheda (in the district of Chhota Udepur); Halol, Kalol, Jambhughoda and Ghoghamba (in Panchmahal district), Devgadhbariya in Dahod district; and from Kathiwada to Narmada areas in Madhya Pradesh, the cultural, religious and social traditions of Baba Pithora wall painting can be found. There are several signs of variations in the cultural, economic, religious and social lives of the Rathva. Baba Pithora and Baba Ind are worshipped by most. Baba Pithoro is the chief god in the Rathva society. To pray for the long life of a child, riddance from difficulties in the home, better farming, better health of cattle, the Badva asks the family to undertake vows to this god. The vow is complete when difficulties are over. In case the vow has been taken for a boy or a girl, it has to complete before their marriage. The painting is done on the main wall in the veranda. The bamboo wall is properly thatched before the painting, or plastering for painting on a brick wall. Cement and limestone plaster is applied on the wall before painting. To write a Pithora, cowdung plastering is done for seven days on this and other walls in the home. During this time women sing songs. Only unmarried girls can do the plastering work. On the eighth day, which should fall on a Tuesday, the wall is plastered again which is called ‘Pandu Dholavanu’. The Lakhara, knowledgeable people who paint Pithora, are sent invitations, and come in teams of eight to ten persons. The celebration is communal. From the day the ritual is to be undertaken, the family members and men and women of the neighborhood and village start working. Men send invitations, buy groceries for the ritual, while women undertake the plastering of the wall, cleaning of grain, and other chores. During the celebration, Ghardhani offers several items of food for the communal feast. The Lakhara is offered plain khichadi, oil and chillies on khakhra leaves. The Lakhara also uses khakhra leaves to mix colours and paint with bamboo brushes. The second Lakhara applies paint, the third Lakhara applies the final touches and in this way the painting of Baba Pithora is completed. The main colours in Baba Pithora painting are red, green, blue, orange, parrot green, indigo, scarlet, white, black and silver. The powder colour is mixed with milk of either cows or goats and alcohol of mahuda, which lets the paint remain for longer duration. Some years ago, vegetables and plants were used to make colours while these days’ commercial colours are used. The traditional size of Baba Pithora painting is 11 x 9 feet, and it has a border on all four sides representing four sides of the earth. The main Lakhara draws triangular shapes on the next line, while the assistant Lakhara fills brown and blue colours.

 

In the main painting, horses of the main gods and goddesses along with Baba Pithora are seen along with representations of daily life. The other motifs are horses of other gods and goddesses, birds, animals, insects etc. Motifs in Pithora are mainly drawn in three parts: on each corner of the upper part are the sun and moon, the second and third parts have the horses, in the centre is the elephant of Raja Bhoj along with pictures of several events. In the remaining parts, drawings of bird, animals and insects are seen. The position of certain elements are fixed, which the Lakhara follows while painting. The Badva does his rituals step by step, in a sequence. The painting starts with the drawing of the horse of Baba Ganeh, which is blue in colour with white dots, while the horse rider has a hukka in his hands. The other drawing starts only after painting of the horse of Ganeh. Next comes the horse of Baba Hudol or Baba Ind, which is also blue in colour. Since Baba Hudol escorts all the gods he is painted in front. Under his feet are drawn the snake, scorpion, bumblebee and long-tailed spider. These insects represent various difficulties, which may occur while sending invitations. Another interpretation says that they too are incarnations of gods. Gamdev on a red horse is drawn next; he is the chief god of the village. The red horses of Baba Pithora and Pithori come in the centre. These horses are decorated with white dots. At the end, horses of the three sisters of Raja Ind, Rani Kajal, Rani Makhal and Kali Koyal are painted. Like this, the central line of the main painting is completed. They start the horse riders of the sky, after completing the line of horse riders of the earth. The second line starts at the top of the painting. In between is the limit line of the earth, which divides the painting in two parts and is known as Asad, with the sun in one corner and the moon in another corner. Sun, moon, earth and sky are live gods for the human who lives with nature. These elements are witnesses to birth and death in the Adivasi community. In this line, Ind Dev is the main rider. Then, the green horse of Lilubhai Vala is painted. After this, a lady sowing grains in the farm is painted as if she is giving fruits to humans. The camel rider Handarcha Dev is painted for the good health of cattle. Vadiya Vaniyani, who brings the cart with two horses carrying clothes and grains for marriage is painted, and Damar Dev hunting sabar with bow and arrows.

 

In the third line, events of daily life are painted, with a hen, peahen, a person climbing the tad tree, cows, buffalos, Bar mathano dhani holding a snake in his hand, Kalo Kanbi, Raja Bhoj with a hukka, umbrella, churning of buttermilk, a well, ants, locked food-grain stores, Lakhari-Jokhari, Titiyo Joshi with dhol, suppaad kanno with big ears, two-headed deer and other motifs. Bumble bee, camel, goat, bee, khajuri tree, tad tree, monkeys, koyal, lion, policeman with gun, and in one corner a consorting pair are drawn. Women milking cows and buffalos, women drawing water from the well, a man picking fruits from the tad tree, shepherd with cows, buffalos and goats, farmers in the field and similar drawings are painted. Watchman, gun, train, motor, hand pump, motorcar, train, hand pump, adharyu—which is the name for planes in Adivasi—are also included in this painting. Representation of farming on earth is through Abho Kunbi and wife Pathari bringing rice, red bullocks and farmers. Abho Kunbi gathers rain clouds and is also called lord of the land. When the farmer is in trouble, Pathari ploughs with the horns of bullock, sows seeds and grows grains. This represents mother earth. Two lions are drawn near the door. These Vagh Dev protect everybody and since they are strong they are drawn above the door. Nobody can enter without their permission. Between the doors a man playing the trumpet is drawn. Whenever someone harms nature, the man plays his trumpet. Ancestors are also worshipped with Baba Pithora, and so in their name five red horses are drawn which are known as Khatri. On the other wall or in the remaining space of the veranda, horses and cows of gods and goddesses, and one white horse of Nakti Bhuten are drawn. And similarly several pictures related to life are drawn in Pithora. The Lakhara uses a metal mould to draw these horses. To draw human figures and other pictures the mould is not used. A team of eight to ten Lakhara complete the painting in two days. In Pithora painting, around 80-85 main pictures are drawn, and including other pictures the total can be over 165.

 

The son of Dudha Rajol was Baba Indraj and the wife of Indraj was Hatu Rani. Indraj had seven sisters, Rani Kajal, Rani Makhal, Dharti Rani, Kola Rani, Kalu Rani and Kali Koyal. They had seven cows, namely Jhala Gai, Rata Gai, Ilya Gai, Dharmi Gai, Chala Gai, and a goat. Kali Koyal was the youngest girl who in her youth started menstruating. In their family, two girls were very beautiful. One day she went from Rata Dungar (mountain) to Nara Dungar. She brought two bamboo sticks, one with seven rings and the other with nine rings. Next day when the sun rose, she went to graze seven cows and the goat near the seacoast. She grazed them in the mango farms of Raja Bhoj. She tasted the mango fruit as she was menstruating. She felt that some mangoes were salty, some sweet, and some bitter. She started collecting kesuda, kaikedi branches from the jungle and tied them together. She heard someone walking through the dry leaves and whistling. She saw a very handsome boy carrying 12 mun (measure of weight) of kamthu (bow) and 13 mun of dhakodu (quiver). She recognized this boy as Kandu Raja Sawaria Maulan. She requested Sawariya Maulan to help her lift branches. When Kandu Raja helped her lift the branches, she started to walk. While walking, Kali Koyal and Sawariya Maulan fell in love with each other. Kali Koyal stopped and told Sawariya Maulan that a black thorn of kalsali tree had pricked her. Sawariya Maulan inspected both her feet and found no thorn. Kali Koyal replied, 'Your hand touching my feet is like pricking of a thorn, can you not see, are you blind? Can you see my beauty?' And saying this she ran away in the jungle. Kandu Raja followed her and there they made love. Kali Koyal got pregnant, because it was the time of amavas and poonam. Day by day her stomach got bigger and bigger. After five to eight months, her sister-in-law Hatu Rani taunted her, commenting on how an unmarried girl’s stomach was getting bigger. Kali Koyal covered up the reality by lying and saying that she had consumed the eternal water of mahuda and that was why her stomach was growing. Kali Koyal thought since her brother Ind was a god, if he knew the truth he might throw her out. She said to herself, 'When I look up there is the sky, when I look down there is the earth, and there are seas and mountains, so in such a state where should I go?' After a lot of thinking, she went to the mango farm of Raja Bhoj and there near the sea she dug a big well. As the water came into the well, she started sowing sindhro dangar, ghonghru, kamodi, bantu, banti, tali, tuvar and other grains. She also planted some fruits and flowers. She grew them all from this water. This way Kali Koyal completed nine months and nine days. When the pain in her stomach grew, Harja Bai Hoyan (midwife) came to help her along with Baar Matha no Dhani who protected her. Her first birth was leaves, flowers, and fruits. From her pinky finger, she gave birth to all food grains. Her third birth was of gods of nature, Megh, Varshad, Pavan, Agni, and roots of various trees, animals and insects. Her fourth birth was god incarnate Baba Pithora. Kali Koyal thought that since she was unmarried and had given birth to a child, her brother would throw her out of the house. She wrapped the child in a cloth and floated him in the waters of Ganga-Jamna. The child kept floating on the water on a lotus flower. Rani Kajal and Rani Makhal, sisters of Rani Kali Koyal, came to draw the eternal water of Ganga-Jamna with a decorated hindoli (head-rest for pots) and a golden pot. While filling water they heard the cries of a child. They saw a child floating away on a lotus flower. Rani Kajal swam in to get the child, the water rose to her knees and then to her chest and yet she could not reach the flower. After much struggle she finally reached the child, carried him out and held him before the sun to see him better. She found him to be very beautiful. Rani Makhal and Rani Kajal brought the child back with them to the palace. While bathing the child, they saw several gods in him.  After bathing they began to worry about what to feed the child. Rani Kajal tried to feed the child from her breasts, but instead of milk, blood came out. She got scared and thought that if she had given birth to a child, she would have had milk in her breasts. The mother of this child is someone else, who has left him. She thought a lot about whose milk she could feed. As the month was that of Ashad-Jeth (June-July), when several flowers have milk, she collected milk of Akda and Kada and fed it to the child. The child grew healthy with this milk.

 

 

One-day Rani Kajal left the child in a crib tied to a mango tree and went to draw water. Before leaving she informed everybody in the house about her absence and that they should look after her son. She hurriedly drew water, and returned to find the child missing from the crib. She searched everywhere, asked everybody but could not find the child. Who took her son? Where was he? She thought to herself, Since the arrival of the child to the palace, there have been several problems. She created a podi with khakhra leaves, arad grains and a gold coin, and put it in one corner. She called Brahma and Titiya Joshi to read the podi. They chanted several incantations, invoked several gods while reading the podi. Brahma and Titiya Joshi asked for a dustpan. Titiya emptied the grains into the dustpan and after looking at the khakhra leaves, they asked Rani Kajal about the difficulties at her home. Are people fighting? Does the food rot? Is expenditure on the higher side? Are cattle falling sick? Is farming not good? Both Joshis come to the same conclusion: the child is an incarnation of a god. They tell her that the child is hiding in the wall of the palace and has chosen the wall as his seat. If you agree to accept this seat of the child all problems will be resolved. They ask her to hold a golden water jug in one hand and a jug of coconut water in the other hand, light incense, and take the vow of Humpa Kanben. Rani Kajal declares that if difficulties in her home are solved then she will create a seat in the wall. She also agrees to sacrifice a goat or chicken in all-important festivals. Titiya and Brahma Joshi sprinkle water in the house. As soon as she takes the vow, the child returns to the crib. She runs to the child and holds him in her lap and respectfully bids adieu to the Joshis. A few days later, farming improved, family problems resolved, cattle gave more milk, cooked food did not spoil, food grains in storage never reduced, and this way her home situation improved. Everything was prospering. The child started playing with a diamond ball, silver marbles, golden tops and silver stick. After growing up a little he asked Rani Kajal about his kingdom. She replied saying that he was still small, and not capable of controlling a kingdom. He should first get educated and could then rule a kingdom. He started school, and studied books of gods with a golden pen. He studied about all the 33 crore 9 lakh gods and goddesses, sky, underworld, insects, and returned to his home. After returning he asked permission from Rani Kajal to travel. He carried with him 12 mun kamthu (bows) and 13 mun dhakodu (quivers). During this travel, they came across a big well near Kamjor, where the queen of Ajmer was filling water. Pithora broke the pot of the queen of Ajmer with his bow. The queen of Ajmer in rage scolded Pithora, 'Has anybody taught you anything at your home? You will only get half the share you deserve. Only your uncle can give you your home. You have no father. You took birth from an unmarried woman.' Hearing all this Pithora realized that he did not have parents.

 

He returned home with a sad heart and started looking for his uncle Ind, but could not find him. Someone told him, You can find him in heaven. So Pithora called out to Mama Karodiya (spider) to help him climb to heaven. He could not find Uncle Ind in heaven, someone again told him that he is on earth. He returned to earth with the help of Mama Karodiya. He asked everybody in the palace but still could not find Ind. Early in the morning, the rooster found Ind hiding in the dump of trash. After finding Uncle Ind, Pithora told him about the insults hurled by the queen of Ajmer and demanded half of his kingdom for himself. Ind called for a big assembly of all gods, worried by the demand of Pithora. In the assembly, Ind put forward the demands of Pithora before all gods. He claimed, nobody knew about Pithora’s father. He said, 'We will have to search for him, nobody knows him. For he is asking for half of the kingdom.' All gods start to think, 'Who are his parents? How can Ind dev give him part of his kingdom?'  This leads to a big debate, but without a conclusion. The gods at this time said, 'Podad palo pohalu palo’ (birth given by another, raised by another). How to give rights of the kingdom to a child with no parents?

 

Suddenly Pithora stood up and pointed to his father in the presence of all the gods. The person he was pointing to was none other than Kandu Raja, a servant of Ind Dev. Everybody was now aware that Kandu Raja is the father and Rani Kali Koyla the mother of Pithora. His upbringing was by Rani Kajal and Rani Makhal who are sisters to both Kali Koyal and Ind. Since that day, Pithora was recognized as the nephew of Baba Ind. This also meant that the nephew could demand for his half of the kingdom. This led to a severe fight between nephew and uncle. To resolve this fight, Rani Kajal requested Khoda Gahavin to advise her, who suggested calling Lakhara and Jokhari to write the child’s future. During this time, Rani Kajal, Rani Makhal and Pithora came across the home of Abho Kunbi while travelling. They recognized her house by the karam trees in the courtyard of Abho Kunbi, and this is where his daughter Pithori met them. They return to the palace with horses of Abho Kunbi. After returning, another fight ensued between Pithora and Ind. Finally, Lakhari and Jokhari were invited. Rani Kajal tells them everything. Lakhari and Jokhari start to draw colourful horses after hearing everything. They paint horses of Baba Ganeh, Rani Kajal, Vadiya Vaniya, Ind, Baba Pithora, Pithori, Baba Hundol, Rani Makhal, Kaida Kunbhi, Kanhari, Dhaneri, Jahu Valen, Huta Valen and others. They drew all nine celestial horses on the seat of Pithora. This led several miracles to occur. Several songs about truth were sung, 16 wells came up, everything grew on earth, and so Babo Pithora became a god. After this several kings established the seat of Pithora in their palaces. Once upon a time, there came a big drought, troubles of several kinds arose, animals were left thirsty. During this time, someone undertook the vow of Pithora and a lot of rain poured down. Earth became all green and all difficulties disappeared. They then completed the painting in their homes and undertook several rituals. Since then, in several homes, several communities undertake the Baba Pithora ritual.

 

In the Adivasi Rathva community, there are two types of Pithora painting. When the vow for a Pithora painting is taken, it depends upon various things. The Bhuva reads the vow during the ritual, in a step-by-step manner, and there are five ways to paint this painting. I will talk about two types, one Addho (half) Pithoro, and the other Akkho (complete) Pithoro. Addho Pithoro is done in homes with economic difficulties, where there is no unity among brothers, sisters and children, there are difficulties regarding health, and periodic sickness among cattle and children. The Gharmalik (homeowner) of such house goes to the Badva with a podi. After reading the podi, Badva decides to establish Baba Pithora. Before the ritual, he applies five dots (chandla) on the walls in the name of the ancestors. After this when things start getting better, they take an oath to establish Baba Pithora. In a year or so, when improvements start in farming, animal husbandry, and the state of family members, the Gharmalik tells the Badva about the improvement. The Badva tells him that he will have to establish five horses of Baba Pithora without their riders. According to the improvement, pictures are drawn, for example, if there is improvement in farming, then Kanbi using the plough is drawn. When there is improvement in animal husbandry then the bullock is drawn. Sun and moon are drawn very far away. Peacock, dog, scorpion, snake are also drawn. If there are more improvements, nine horses are drawn without riders. In the next picture, the horse with rider of Baba Ganeh is drawn. Other pictures drawn are pathyari, kothar (storage), baar matha no dhani, elephant, tiger, cow, buffalo, parrot, deer and watchman. At the top there are three monkeys, but the border is not completed. In this way, as difficulties are resolved, pictures are drawn. Until the vow is fulfilled, the Baba Pithora painting is also not completed.

 

The other type is Akkho Pithoro. In Akkho Pithoro, special attention is on life preservation, health, farming, welfare and the progress of Adivasi community. Through this painting different gods and goddesses are also kept appeased. This is why the vow is taken. For what is Addho Pithoro drawn? How is it written? This we have seen earlier. If someone has taken a vow for their home. If everything is content in the home. When the vow for children and unmarried girls are completed, then Akkho Pithoro is written. There are 18 horses on the main wall in Akkho Pithora. Events are also drawn. All horses have riders. In the entire painting, there are gods, goddesses, animal husbandry, animals, birds, etc. According to the painting, Badva does his rituals which includes friends, villagers and everybody else. Village, farm, jungle, gods, goddesses, ancestors, sky, earth, animals, birds, insects, all are worshipped on a grand scale in the celebration of Baba Pithora. After three to five years, Panga Vidhi of Baba Pithora is done. On each and every occasion the Ghardhani does its worship. There are differences in pictures of Addho and Akkho Pithoro depending upon the space as well.

 

On the occasion of Baba Pithora, wall paintings are drawn. The inspiration and way forward for the Adivasi society is their religion. For the society art is one of the pillars and the other pillar is religion. Religion cannot be separated from their lives. In Rathva Adivasi the main god is Pithor who is known as Baba Pithora. In my 20 years of research and study since I have worked in this Vaacha Museum, I have met a lot of people who worked in villages as Lakhara. Though they were uneducated, I felt they could teach even the educated through their art. I felt I would need to do something to exhibit this before the world, to keep this painting alive. Back then I had a lot of these Lakhara, artists, painters from Chhota Udepur coming to meet me in Vaacha Museum and I discussed with them the preservation of Baba Pithoro and its display. In order to showcase these Lakhara as artists, painting was done on canvas. When researchers, academics come to this institute, I used to show them these paintings on the canvas. And sometimes they used to buy these paintings and motivate the artists. In terms of changes, this is one coming on canvas but this is only to create its identity, they have no rituals and ceremonies done on them. When it is done with all rituals and ceremonies it is called saccho (true/authentic) Pithoro. I have also written this book called Adivasi Rathva Bharatiya Aadim Chitrakala Rathva Samajma Baba Pithoro. In a similar way we are trying to expand the identity of Baba Pithora. Now you will find there are several changes in Baba Pithora painting, there is a rail gaadi (train), adharyu viman (airplane), well (kuvo). In older paintings there were step wells (vav). Now people draw wells instead of step wells. There has been integration of these changes which have occurred over a period of time, as can be seen clearly.