Creative expression of the Meena women
The origin of folk and tribal art traces its roots in the primitive society, while its persistence is attested by the survival of Indian tribal communities. Meena being one of the oldest tribal communities residing in eastern Rajasthan and parts of Madhya Pradesh has succeeded in preserving their cultural identities even today. Art of the Meenas is that of a collective community art, where every member of the community, predominantly women have honed their Mandana painting skills. It is primarily a non-professional art practiced by the community women in various realms of life which is learned from the elders without any formal training or apprenticeship. This art of embellishing the mud house with beautiful Mandana paintings is learned rather then taught. This art is functional, no matter whether its objective is to give aesthetic shape to tools and articles of everyday use, or to bolster the ideology of social structures. The continuity in its practice closely knits the mundane activities of daily life and the production of utilitarian objects.
The continuity of painting Mandana has persisted among the Meena women through generations, passing from mother to daughter by mean of social exchanges. These women are highly skilled and well ‘educated’ in terms of their long and rich experiences. For these women artists, simple shapes like squares, circles, triangles and the likes become the alphabets for an exercise in picture writing. When asked of the reasons of these creations, the answer comes very simple and spontaneous – “chokha lage che” (i.e. it feels good to make them). But it draws many parallel stories for its reason to be practiced so religiously when one goes into the details of this art.
Kotha (mud storage structure for food-grains) in interior of the house painted with Mandana.
Looking to the technical aspect of Mandana we notice that it does not follow any principles of perspective or proportion. Its figures lack physical modeling. The effect is ‘white on red’ surface; involving only two basic earth colours easily available in the surrounding i.e. khadiya (chalk) for white and geru (red-ochre) for red. The drawings are flat in treatment and bear integrated designs. Being women dominated art its line looks to be very feminine. In the Mandana done on wall surface the distinguishing features in its forms are mostly suggestive; there is an unintended effort of simplifying realistic presentation of the Nature elements. The internal filling of the body of the form is textural rather physiological.
The themes of Mandana are mainly variety of birds, animals and plants, anthropomorphs, zoo-morphs and exquisite decorative designs which are highlighted with dots and dashes. Amongst all these forms, their forte is moradi (peacock) painted in a variety of magnificent styles and shapes mostly on front exterior walls. In Mandana paintings the Meena women record their past and present experiences; thus we see the drawings of such animals, birds and objects that no more exist in their present surroundings but the images of which still haunt their memory and are accorded a place in these visual expressions. Occasional images of a tractor, bus, motorcycle, or a bullock-cart also features in their art which shows ever-growing vitality of their imagination and the desire of inculcating the elements of contemporary happenings.
Front wall of a Meena house painted with Mandana of moradi.
The emerging problem with the Mandana tradition
Today, all the traditional art forms are endangered. Deterioration of traditions, disparity of economic pursuits and achievements, and influence of mass-media and development of ‘official’ culture left nothing to exist originally. Meena man driving a tractor and using factory-made fertilizers and chemicals does not need the same tough leather foot-wear and rugged clothes and same plough as his forefathers. Women who once sang songs on their way to the well, sharing the days happenings with each other, now at some places merely have to open a tap in their backyard or just operate hand-pump. Children continue to learn in the absence of the time-tested informal education that nurtured the wit and wisdom of ages.
In past few decades, the art of Meenas like those of the other tribe is loosing its vitality and vigour. Perhaps it is inevitable, because now their whole culture is disintegrating with constant in-roads of modernization. Their confidence in their own ethos has been undermined, for they have been exposed to the higher culture of city with materialistic life.
Due to socio-economic development, this art form has tremendously suffered. Today we only see traces of this vital art left in few remote villages of Tonk and Sawai Madhopur districts. In majority of the villages pucca concrete houses have come up which do not have any space or ground left to be decorated with the Mandana because its medium and requirement are totally different. Cement walls do not lend themselves to clay relief, and also the modern literate generation has no time and inclination to mess about in mud anyway. The tradition finally dies out and its continuity among the future generations stops.
Meena women painting Mandana on the occasion of Diwali festival.