The peace and tranquility of Uttaranchal laid the foundation for a treasure house of paintings and art. The culture of Garhwal and Kumaon have their rich and definite contributions to the ocean of great Indian Culture. The art of Garhwal and Kumaon can be divided in five parts :
Due to its inaccessibility, this region (Garhwal and Kumaon) was least disturbed by the political upheavals that occurred in the plains due to wars. Temple architecture was patronised under the powerful and wealthy kings of Paun, Katuyaris, Pawars and Chanda dynasties who encouraged the construction of big stone temples, wood carvings, ornaments, pattas, aipans etc. Big stone temples were erected with highly intricate and ornamental carvings, having beautiful stone and metal idols. In later periods, however the Temples and Temple complexes remained not only a place of religious practice but also became the meeting points of intellectuals. Here artists used to gather to display their best art works, poems and pundits to debate over complicated philosophical issues. The archaeological heritage of Garhwal-Kumaon is represented by clusters of Temples scattered all over the region. Among the important places of these Temples are Lakha Manadal, Adi Badri, Dwarahat, Jageshwar, Baijnath, Gangolihat, Champawat and Almora.
Found in abundance in the hills, the crafts persons of Garhwal & Kumaon mastered the art of wood carving. The wood carving of Garhwal & Kumaon are famous for its simple and beautiful designs. In the past, houses were beautifully ornamented with carved wooden doors and it was considered to be a reflection of a man's status. The wealthier a person was, the bigger was the front wooden door and more complicated were the carved designs. Even today the wooden front doors of many houses of Garhwal are beautifully carved with floral designs, animals and fishes. Ornamental wood carvings on front doors are known as Kholi in the local language. These beautifully ornamented doors and windows still attract art lovers. In Garhwal & Kumaon, the facade of the upper storeys of the dwelling units are usually made of wood, and often artistically carved. The traditional small window-aperture resembles pigeonholes, cut in wooden panals. Designs of creepers and floral forms based on lotus, pomegranates and grapes, images of humans, birds, animals and other sacred signs and emblems find expression in the wood carving on door panels, windows and ceilings. The motifs, ordinarily of the Gods or Goddesses, add to the richness of the carvings. The crafts persons also used to do specific latticework to fill in the open space of the windows in order to give a screen like effect.
Garhwal was always considered a safe heaven for wanderers, adventurers, political sufferers, philosophical thinkers and nature lovers. About the middle of the 17th century A.D. Suleman Shikoh, a Mughal Prince, took refuge in Garhwal. The Prince brought along with him an artist and his son who were his court painters and well versed in the Mughal style of Miniature painting. After nineteen months, the Prince left Garhwal but his court painters enchanted by the environs, stayed behind. These painters settled in Srinagar (Garhwal), the then capital of the Pawar dynasty and introduced the Mughal style of painting in Garhwal. With the passage of time, the successors of these original masters became expert painters and also developed an original style of their own. This style later on came to be known as the Garhwal School of Painting. About a century later, a famous painter, Mola Ram, developed a style of painting equaled in romantic charm, only by few other styles of painting. He was not only a great master of the Garhwal School of Painting but also a great poet of his time. We find beautiful poems in some of Mola Ram's paintings. There are definite influences of other Pahari Schools reflected in these paintings, but the overall originality of the Garhwal School include beautiful women with fully developed breasts, thin waist line, soft oval shaped face, delicate brow and thin nose with definite nose bridge. Poet cum artist Mola Ram was undoubtedly an exceptional personality of his age, for, he wrote poems, made notes, collected data and painted a diverse range of subjects. From painstaking research work undertaken by eminent scholars and art historians, we know the names of various painters of that time. Shyam Das and Har Das were first in the family tree, probably being the first ones to come to Garhwal with Prince Suleman. Hiralal Mangat Ram, Molaram, Jwalaram, Tejram, Brijnath were some of the great masters of this school of art.The masterpieces of the Garhwal School of Painting include the following : - Illustrations of Ramayana (1780 AD)
Special images of Gods and Goddesses were made since idol worship played an important role in the lives of the inhabitants of Garhwal & Kumaon. Dekaras are the clay images of Gods and Goddesses either in relief or in three dimensional from and are meant solely for worship. They are prepared out of fine clay mixed with colour. Then they are coloured with different hues to make them attractive. The festival of Makar Sanskranti is an occasion for making garlands of wild pigeon or Ghugta (which figures prominently in the romantic folk songs of Kumaon) from sweetened wheat flour. The children feed crows with these Ghugta models. On Kartik Sanskranti the images made of Lord Shiva are known as Dekara which depict the marriage of Shiva with Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya.
In every part of Garhwal and Kumaon, traditional Swarnakaras or goldsmiths used to make traditional ornaments using design and patterns which are thousands of years old. The ornaments were made in gold, silver & often copper was overlaid in brass.
The folk art represents the religious sentiments, and socio cultural traditions of the region. It also represents the collective experience of the artists through many generations and the expression of historic events which the land of Kumaon has witnessed.
On the bank of the suyal River near Barechhina in District Almora, two painted rock shelters have been discovered. They reveal paintings of animals, humans and also tectiforms done with fingers in black, red and white colours. There is circumstantial evidence for regarding the Barechhina paintings as prehistoric and representing the starting point of art in Kumaon. The womenfolk of Kumaon have played a major role in perpetuating the traditions of folk art. The style of painting is locally known as Aipan. Using their nimble fingers and palms, the Kumaoni women have not only preserved the memories of past events and the styles, designs etc., but also have given expressions to their own ideas and concepts on aesthetic values. During ceremonies and festivals the women set themselves to decorating the floor and walls of their houses with designs and patterns. The floor paintings are usually associated with some ritualistic figures. The floor of the worship room and specially the seat of Gods and Goddesses, are decorated with specific tantric motifs called Peeth. The kitchen walls are painted with animalistic motifs. The entrance doors are done with symbols boding good omen. The material used is the paste of rice mixed with ochre. For the namkaran Sanskar, a ceremony when the child is given a name, the Aipan on the wooden Chauki comprises motifs of sun, moon, bell, conch shell and the utensils used in Puja. In the Janeu (sacred-thread) ceremony initiating a boy of the social rituals, the Aipan shows the zodiacal sign of Great bear (Sapta Rishis) arranged in hexagons. This is to invoke the blessings of the very learned and sagacious Sapta Rishis. In the Byah (Vivaah or marriage) ceremony the Dhuliargh Chauki (wooden seat for the groom) bears a design of big water-jar, symbolising primordial water from which the universe emerged. The upper portion has a crown and at the centre is a motif drawn by four horizontal and bisecting lines making nine squares. This motif is encircled by lotus petals.
There are two traditions of wall painting-one for the kitchen and the other for the ritual ceremonial places. Twice in a year the wall are re plastered with a mix of cow-dung and mud. They are then painted red with geru (ochre) and motifs are drawn with fingers, using rice paste. The kitchen walls have motifs of Nata, Chatu and Lakshmi Narayan. The Nata patterns consists of cereal saplings in a row enclosed by a rectangular frameworks done in dots. The motif symbolizes prosperity for the family and unity among kith and kin. The design just structure on raised platform. At the centre is a triangle with a dot. This pattern bears stylistic similarity with the Buddhist architectural structure Chaitya - the hall of meditation. Six months alter the Chatu pattern is replaced by the Lakshmi Narayan Pattern. It consists of two tactiform human figures inside a square framework of dots. On the occasion of domestic ceremonies such as marriage, the outer door-walls are decorated with alternating motifs of bells with conch shells known as Mohhal. The motif symbolizes primal sound during cosmic evolution and carries implication that all elemental sounds and forms are interdependent.
Legendary and Puranic myths connected with rituals and ceremonies used to be painted on the walls of rooms for the places of ritual and ceremonial activities. The common practice is now of printing of big sheets of paper known as Pata. The subjects or themes of the Pata paintings done in red or multi colour, are Jev-Matrika, Shri Krishna Janmashtami, Lakshmi and Durga. In every ceremony Jev-Matrika and Ganesh are invariably worshipped. For this, the three Jev-Matrika along with Ganesh are painted. The empty space on the two sides of the Jev-Matrika is covered with symmetrical geometrical patterns comprising dots placed horizontally and vertically at equal intervals. The dots are joined by lines to form different geometrical patterns called Barood. The tradition of mural painting is still followed by the painters of the Shah (sah) community. It is a time-consuming exercise-and the womenfolk work for months together. The walls of the Puja room of the house are decorated with flowing geometrical patterns.
The tradition of colourful ornamentation on Aanchal cloth is a unique Kumaoni tradition, rooted deep in its long history. In all ritual ceremonies women wear the colourful Pichhora, also known as Rangwali or Kusumia. It is a piece of muslin cloth, three mts. in length and one to one and a half mts in width, which is dyed yellow and dried under shade. It is then spread on the floor and printed with design. This is done with a padded wooden stick, using red colours. At the centre is the sign of Swastik, and the motifs of sun, moon, bell and conch shell. Around this motif, red concentric circles are stamped with the help of padded small coins. The outermost ring ends up in zigzag ornaments. In one tradition, the lemon yellow background bears pink, or red rose patterns, whereas in the Kusumia, the traditional yellow base has crimson or red patterns embossed on it. The red colour is the symbol of abiding conjugal life Suhaag, the warmth of fire and sun, health and wealth, the joy of spring and the golden colour means attachment for the material world. The combination of the two colours is symbolic of the focal theme of a functional life.
The Kumaonese are fond of music, folk dance, and songs accompanied by local musical instruments like murli, bina, and hurka. The hurka is played by the "jurkiya" and the dancer accompanying him, known as "hurkiyari," is usually his wife or daughter. They go from place to place narrating folklores, singing the praise of their gods and goddesses. During fairs and festivals and at harvest time, the Kumaonese often dance the Jharva, Chandhur Chhapalior, and many other forms of folk dances. The popular folk songs are Malushahi, Bair, and Hurkiya Bol. Popular folk dances are:
Jhodha dance is the most famous folk dance of Kumaon. People belonging to different caste or creed, perform this dance, irrespective of any discrimination, in almost all festivals.
Chanchi is also one of the famous folk dance of Kumaon. It takes place only in fairs. Mostly this dance is based on religious songs, something related to nature etc.
Cholia is one of the famous folk dance of Kumaon which is as old as 1000 years. Swords are being used by dancers in this dance.
Major dance forms of the region are Langvir Nritya, Barada Nati folk dance, Pandava Nritya, Dhurang, and Dhuring.
The region of Kumaun hills is rich in folk lore and the folk tales of Ajua-Bafaul, Narsingh and Ghana, Purukh Pant and the tales of Chivalry of Gangnath, and the mythical tales of Haru-Sem, Golu, Bin-bhat, Ganwara, Kalsem, Churmal Airi, Pari and Anchari are prominent. Many of these tales in the form of lallads are sung in diverse melodies and Nyoli, Bhagnaula, Chapeli, Jhorra, Chanchari, Barrey, Shakun Geet and Banara belong to this group. The folk songs of this region make a poetic description of the glory of the Himalayan Region, the inherent charm of Nandadevi, Panchhchuli, Trishul and Chiplakot and the beauty of various aspects of nature including the luxuriant vegetation and the dense forest of Deodar, Banj (Oak) and Shiling Kafal, Burans (Rhododendrone) etc. The folk songs also frequently allude to the fields, forests, rivers, streams, rivulets, fauna and the snow clad peaks.