Art & Craft of Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh is an ancient crucible of art and culture, home to some of the rarest artistic treasures of India. Through the centuries, a rich amalgam of ethnicity, tribes and traditions and an equally astonishing wealth of biodiversity have combined to stitch up an enormous tapestry of art and craft.

The elaborate stone carvings at Khajuraho, a site that symbolizes the abundant artistic glory of Madhya Pradesh’s rich history is evident to it's opulent past.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Madhya Pradesh’s earliest brush with art goes back some 35,000 years – in a little known site just outside Bhanpura in Mandsaur district, hides a remarkable 12 km long rock art gallery, filled with seemingly countless prehistoric paintings. The state is, undeniably, a work of art in motion with the medieval sculptures of Khajuraho steeped in erotic mysticism, the multitude of historically important temples in the old megalopolis of Ujjain (eulogized in Kaldasa’s epic poem, Meghdootam, as “Avanti”) and magnificent palaces such as the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior with its opulent, three ton chandeliers and endless carpets. But Madhya Pradesh is no museum of fusty old treasures. Instead, it’s myriad art traditions have continued to evolve, assimilate and thrive, well into the present.

Malwa Art of Madhya Pradesh

Of the 17th century style of miniature painting centered largely in Malwa and Bundelkhand, Malwa paintings are flat compositions on black and chocolate brown backgrounds. Human or mythical figures are painted in bright colours against a solid colour patch.
A fascinating blend of French and Irish architecture, the Pachmarhi Catholic church was built in 1892 by the British. Its Belgian stained glass windows are one of its most loved attractions
Madhya Pradesh has been a hub of stone carving since medieval times. The Gateway decorations leading to the great Stupa at Sanchi are but a small example of this craft, still passionately practiced around the state.

Laxmi Narayan Temple


The walls of the Lakshmi Narayan temple in Orchha display and elaborate collection of mystifying murals based on mythological themes. The temple was built by King Bir Singh Deo of the Bundela Dynasty in 1622 and also houses the famed post-mutiny paintings.

Famous art and crafts of Madhya Pradesh

Mandana Art of Madhya Pradesh

The Bhils of Jhabua and the Bhilalas are known for their Pithora paintings. Ritualistic and ranging in size from half-a-foot to 10 feet, these wall paintings are interpreted as a sacred omen, as the story of creation or as arcane maps depicting the geography of the Bhil world. In the Mandana homes in Malwa and Nimar, tribal women cover floors and walls with white drawings made on a surface of red clay and cow dung. Mandana art is a beautiful expression of geometric patterns and symbols such as the peacock, the lion and the swastika. Ceremonial wall murals and floor paintings, including a type of finger painting called lipai, are visible across Bundelkhand, Malwa and Nimar.

The Bhils of Jhabua and the Bhilalas are known for their Pithora paintings. Ritualistic and ranging in size from half-a-foot to 10 feet, these wall paintings are interpreted as a sacred omen, as the story of creation or as arcane maps depicting the geography of the Bhil world. In the Mandana homes in Malwa and Nimar, tribal women cover floors and walls with white drawings made on a surface of red clay and cow dung. Mandana art is a beautiful expression of geometric patterns and symbols such as the peacock, the lion and the swastika. Ceremonial wall murals and floor paintings, including a type of finger painting called lipai, are visible across Bundelkhand, Malwa and Nimar.

The vast forested areas of Madhya Pradesh, particularly its eastern parts boost abundant bamboo groves. Two indigenous communities, the Basods and the Nistaris, make out a living from the bamboo cultivation and processing. In create addition to creating tools of every day life, artisans cum farmers from the Basod, Baiga, Korku and Gond tribes transform bamboo, cane, chhind and sheeshal into beautiful ethnic products that appeal to urban sensibilities – table lamps, furniture, kitchen objects, laptop bags and baskets.
A peacock motif on textile printing from Gwalior, a city famous for its fabric art.

For the indigenous tribes of Madhya Pradesh, art is an integral part of life. Folk paintings from Bundelkhand, Gondwana, Nimar and Malwa are not merely decorative, but are an expression of the social cultural and spiritual identity of the communities. From the extensive tattoos on the bodies of Baiga tribeswomen to wall murals in the homes of the Mandanas, folk art in Madhya Pradesh is immense and astounding in its complexity and breath.

The art of the gonds who inhabit central Madhya Pradesh, celebrates the wonder of nature and the magical inter connectedness of all things of humans with birds, animals and trees. The flat, two dimensional paintings which are made on paper with ink and acrylic paint use the language of lines, dots and waves, luminous colours and surreal imagery to convey myths and legends. This art form developed further under the patronage of well-known artist Jagdish Swaminathan and the Gond paintings have adapted to suit contemporary taste and have become a meaningful way to preserve the heritage and livelihood of this community.

Diverse metal craft traditions handed down through generations have flourished here – the axis stretched across Tikamgarh, Betul, Bastar, Sarguja and Raigarh in undivided Madhya Pradesh. What’s common between regional variations is the use of the ancient method of cire perdue or “lost wax casting”, a form of metal casting where molten metal is poured into a mould created from wax. In Betul, 175 km from Bhopal, this process has been mastered by the Bharewa tribe to make intricate metal sculptures imbued with folklore and religion, possessing ritualistic, itilitarian and artistic appeal. The cusrios take the form of whimsical horses, birds, animals figurines, tribal gods, traditional amps, bugles, spears, anklets and sculptures showcasing local deities such as Sitalamata, Kalikankalin, Mahadeo and Birabai.

Metal Crafts in Madhya Pradesh

The age-old craft of creating precious metal artifacts with the lost wax technique still holds fort in Tikamgarh, Gwalior and Datia. In Tikamgarh, metal smiths specialized in bell metal casting manufactured cannons and war weapons for Kings four centuries ago. Although the numbers have now dwindled to around 70 artisans, the tradition continues to survive.
Tikamgarh’s handicraft take two distinct forms – silver and gold necklaces, bangles, anklets and amulets bearing motifs inspired by nature, and utilitarian , decorative objects in brass or bell metal ( a type of bronze used specifically to make bells ).
Brass and copper bowls, pendants, figurines of animals and deities, toys, boxes, hookahs, lamps and candle stands exclude highly skilled workmanship and cultural authenticity. Madhya Pradesh has been a hub of stone carving guilds since medieval times. While the number of carvers has seen a sharp drop since, the craft is still passionately practiced. The state’s rock cut temples ( in Vidisha, Khajuraho and Ujjain ) display the astounding levels to which stone carving developed in the region, but it is contemporary Gwalior where this weighty legacy is at its more vibrant.
Outside the looming walls of the historic Gwalior Fort is a warren of shops or a street called Gaainda Wali Sadak. The award-winning sculptors who live and work here preserve the states old-age stone carving legacy, handed down to them by ancestors who worked for the Scindia rulers in the 18th and 19th centuries. While that kind of patronage may have dwindled, they continue to sculpt statues and intricate, lacy jaalis or perforated screens out of soapstone, marble, granite and sandstone.
In addition to its rich stone carving legacy, Gwalior is also widely known for the traditional art of wood carving.
The murtikaars, as they are called, are masters of the sandstone medium. Their raw material is the unique red and white “Gwalior Mint Sandstone” acquired from local quarries. There is little mechanization involved in the labor intensive process, except for the occasional use of an electric grinder. With just hammer and chisel, the artist hands sculpts slabs of stone into exquisitely carved goddesses and gods, Shiva Lingas and Bhuddha.

Batto Bai Dolls

Gwalior’s cobbled lanes bustle with the colorful sights and sounds of artists and craftsmen hard at work. One of the most unusual creations to emerge out of this crafty Fort city is the quirky Batto Bai doll, named after an inventive Gwalior crafts women who originally started making them. Some tiny and some larger than life, stretching up to 5 feet, Batto Bai dolls are lovingly crafted from materials such as paper and cloth. Turbaned and bejeweled, the dolls enjoy a cult like popularity. Khandwa, Indore and Burhanpur are the other doll making centres.
An archaeological treasure, the ancient caves of Bhimbetka house drawings made by prehistoric man in vivid details. Created using natural colours, stones and charcoal, the paintings depict everything from hunting, dancing, fights and animals to religious symbols and rituals.

Folk Art of Madhya Pradesh

The folk paintings of Madhya Pradesh, especially the wall paintings of Bundelkhand, Gondwana, Nimar and Malwa go much beyond the commercial value of the art. The art comprises spontaneous expressions of beliefs, rituals and sociocultural practises.
Bheraghat in Jabalpur is Madhya Pradesh marble art capital. Local sculptors work the soft marble rocks into decorative objects such as carved panels and boxes as well as figurines and statues. 

The pinkish white Sudapaal and the hardware are used for idol making, and locally available distinctive green stone is used to make kitchen tools and utensils. The talented artisans of Madhya Pradesh produce other pastoral and playful arts and artifacts for instance, the whimsical papier-mache birds of Ujjain. Bright, florid and lightweight, the birds are crafted out of a mushy pulp paper scrap dried and soft and with the gum of the Dhaora tree and chalk powder. This dough is then filled into plaster of paris moulds, dried in the sun and treated with sandpaper. Using only photographs for differences and strictly natural dyes, the craftsmen then proceed to paint the remarkably lifelike, gaily coloured birds.

In the same vein, artists of Indore of a women and more accessible alternative to the somewhat elitist, royal art of taxidermy. The stuffed leather animals they make a equally lifelike. They create an anatomically perfect menagerie of horses, cows, tigers, rhinos, lions, elephants and jungle cats by using paper pulp, goat leather and superb paintings and sculpting skills. The three-dimensional animals are then coated with goat leather, dipped in dye and painted on to achieve a realistic quality. Leather craft is widely practiced in Madhya Pradesh. Apart from Indore, artisans in Gwalior and Dewas make a range of leather products such as ethnic shoes, bags and accessories.

Elegant masterpieces by the natives

Madhya Pradesh also has a long dhurrie – making tradition. What sets these trick, flat woven rugs or carpets apart from the gazillion other dhurries make it around India, are their vibrant colours schemes coupled with bold, folk imagery. Sironj is the state’s biggest dhurrie making centre, followed by Jhabua, Jabalpur and Shahdol. Made from cotton and died yarn, they are woven on the hand operated loom following a largely rustic process. A wondrous cosmos of your geometric patterns, kiln design and plant and animal symbols unravels across the length and breadth of the dhurrie. Traditionally, there is either pink and white or bright red, with patterns delineated by black and red lines.
Gwalior’s renowned hand woven carpets are a legacy of its Mugal days. Called Galichas, the knotted carpets captivate with striking colours that pop, and unusual floral and arboreal designs. Incorporating natural and synthetic dyes, they show off a clever branding of modern designs and traditional motifs.
Few know that Gwalior’s elegant woolen carpets rival those from Kashmir. Under the rule of the Mughal emperors, a strong Persian influence rubbed off on Gwalior’s heart and craft. Its carpet makers continue to do brisk business with over 1000 active looms in the city.
A Gond painting illustrates agricultural practices of the olden days.
Stone carving is one of the oldest forms of art and craft in Madhya Pradesh and different regions have their distinct subjects of carving too. While Tikamgarh and Jabalpur are known for animals and human statues, Ratlam specializes in stone pillars and statues of religious idols.

Terracotta Art in Madhya Pradesh

Play and terracotta artifacts are an intrinsic part of Madhya Pradesh repertoire of handicrafts. Of the various styles, offering from the craftsman of Jhabua stand out. Red and ochre horses printed with red polka dots which serve as a votive figures and auspicious omens are ubiquitous. Art from Jhabua is steeped in its lyrical tribal culture. The clay figures and toys of elephants, horses, lions, deer and dogs represent and eclectic and the role of folklore. Tiny clay temples is called dhabas are also made as popular offerings. Lamps or diyas are then placed inside the hollow clay temples. Amazing displays of wood carving are visible all around Madhya Pradesh - in palaces and forts as well as in old homes and tribal abodes. Gloriously carved wooden ceilings, beams and doors peep out at you at regular intervals. Wood carving is still practiced by craftsmen in Malwa, Nimar, Bundelkhand, Sheopur Kalan and Rewa. Carvers typically use locally sourced wood such as teak, dhudi, sal and kikar, to make beautifully sculpted wooden masks, doors, idols and window frames. In Gwalior and Budhni near Hoshangabad, woodcraft takes on a more ornate twist and is coupled with to create delightfully colourful boxes, toys, watches and furniture. Wooden doors and pillars carved by the Gond and Korku tribes are especially unique and so are the indigenous wooden musical instruments – dhanks,mandals and dhols - made by the Nimar tribes.
Terracota Art
Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh

Statue of Varha in Khajuraho

The statue of Varaha, the board incarnation of Lord Vishnu, at Khajuraho is a colossal work of art and science store. The statue is 2.6 m long and 1.7 m high with innumerable figures come across its entire body.

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