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Books > Art and Architecture > Bastar Bronzes: Tribal Religion and Art
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Bastar Bronzes: Tribal Religion and Art
Bastar Bronzes: Tribal Religion and Art
Description
From the Jacket

This book is a comprehensive study of the religion, myths, rituals and art of the Bastar tribes. The author has been connected intimately with Bastar since four and a half decades. He developed a fancy for the tribal people of Bastar and became interested in their culture. He started collecting their artifacts specially the bronzes which are made for them by Ghasia craftsmen who are living with them since time immemorial. Due to the long association with the tribal’s these craftsmen are well acquainted with their myths, religion and rituals. As a matter of fact this ancient community of bronze makers has given the idolatry forms to their animistic religious beliefs. Bastar has always been an enigma for the outside world. Covered under thick forests, situated on the Southern plateau, remote and closed for many centuries, it was considered a magic world.

The Bastar tribes although have been greatly influenced by their Hindu neighbours, yet they have their own religion, own pantheon and way of worship. This book is a study of their religious beliefs, gods and goddesses, totems, demigods, demons and spirits of natural forces.

So far no serious attempt has been made to study deeply the religion and art of the Indian tribes. The subject has been dealt with their larger anthropological studies and not exclusively dealing with their religion and art. I hope this book will fulfil that void. The author has travelled Bastar’s every nook and corner. In the last forty five years he has travelled roughly one lakh kilometres in his several visits and stays in Bastar and had a close association with the people and the bronze makers.

The bronzes published in this book are the rarest and very special. The author has collected them in the last forty five years. He has the most authentic, finest and the largest collection of the Bastar bronzes of his own which is known throughout the world.

The author did his post-graduation in economics in the year 1960 from Sagar University and went to Bastar in 1962 to look after their family business of rice mill. He was fascinated by the tribal’s and their way of life. While living in Bastar he developed interest in anthropology and culture of the people and started documenting various aspects of arts and culture. Gradually, he developed interest in the tribal culture and various art forms of Central India and since last forty five years he has been documenting tribal and folk arts, folk theatre forms, folklore, tribal myths and other aspects of tribal and folk ways. On the basis of his work which is spread in more than four decades span of time he has planned five books on tribal and folk arts, eight books on folk theatre, four monographs on tribes and three- four books on folk tales and folk songs and ballads. All these works will be appearing soon gradually.

The author has a very large collection of artifacts of his own which includes tribal bronzes from Bastar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. He has also a large collection of folk and tribal paintings, artistic wooden tribal combs, tribal ornaments and other ritual objects. He has gifted his collection of terracotta artifacts numbering about six hundred of Central India to the Anthropological Survey of India Museum at Bastar.

Thea uthorh asp ublishedf iftya rticleso n various subjects of tribal art, folk theatre, folklore and some tribes. He was the executive committee member of Madhya Pradesh Adivasi Lok Kala Parishad as an expert on tribes for eight years. He was on the advisory board of Choumasa for twenty years, a journal of the M.P. Adivasi Lok Kala Parishad. He has been a member of South Central Zone Cultural Centre for eight years in all its committees as an expert on tribal and folk culture. Presently, he is engaged in finalizing his works for publication. He is also working on the encyclopaedia of folklore of North Indian languages.

 

Foreword

At time when interest in tribal studies in India is on low ebb, it is indeed heartening to know that Shri Shakti Malik of the Abhinav Publications has decided to publish a series of books on tribal art and folk culture authored by Shri Niranjan Mahawar. Dedicated to the collection of objects of material culture and items of oral tradition from different parts of tribal India—arts and artifacts, folk stories, tales and songs, and folk drama— Niranjan Mahawar has earned the gratitude of not only the art lovers but of the community of anthropologists. His house is a museum of incredibly priceless items. No department in any of the universities in Chhattisgarh (the state where he resides) and Madhya Pradesh (the state from which Chhattisgarh recently got separated) can match his collections. And yet it is a pity that a scholar of his selfless dedication has remained relatively unnoticed.

An economist by training, Niranjan Mahawar joined his father’s business after doing his Master’s from the University of Saugar in the 1960s. The poet in him developed empathies for the poor and the downtrodden. While runing the business he was simultaneously engaged in reading literature relative to the tribals, particularly those who lived in the same habitat—the region of central India. He began visiting the tribes occasionally, and developed an interest in their life ways, their culture, religion, and art. Comparing his notes with the observations made by the earlier scholars who wrote on these tribals— for example, Verrier Elwin and W.V. Grigson—he was struck by some misinterpretations, and decided to dig deeper into the cultural fabric of the leading tribes and offer amendments to earlier descriptions and interpretations.

Since 1962, Mahawar has been engaged in this quest, increasingly devoting more time to his studies and research than to his family business. With no financial support from anywhere, and no collaboration from any academic institution in the region, Mahawar undertook this long and arduous journey all by himself. Hurting family economy and withstanding all the difficulties of field work in an indifferent terrain—where a vegetarian has problems of finding food, where one has to walk long distances in a promontorious region, where no place is available for stay for the strangers— Mahawar engaged in participant observation and collected his data so painstakingly.

It was a chance coincidence that I met Mahawar after a huge gap of more than four decades when he was invited to Delhi for a presentation on the tribal craft. That rendezvous brought back the fond memories of the Sagar days where we met first in the late 1950s. He was a year junior to me, but both being interested in literature, particularly in poetry—which both of us wrote and recited—we came instantly closer. Although I was in Anthropology, we never discussed this subject. Therefore, when I heard Mahawar explicate the meanings of the symbols used in tribal paintings from Bastar I was overwhelmed. I indeed marvelled at his deep understanding of the cultural meanings of various symbols.

Soon after, I had a chance to go to Raipur for a meeting. I used that opportunity to visit Mahawar’s residence. Seeing his collections I felt more than convinced that this scholar needs to be given his due. His collections are a national heritage. And his knowledge about them is invaluable, which needs to be recorded for posterity. I encouraged him to develop a programme of a series of publications to give an order to his collections and to make them widely available. Luckily, I was able to sell this idea to my dear friend, and a publisher of repute, Shri Shakti Malik. It so happened that Shri Mahawar had also earlier contacted him and received an encouraging reply. My broaching the issue further reinforced the decision and Malik agreed to publish the entire series. Meanwhile, a French scholar, Samuel Berthet, also learnt about Mahawar’s work and went to Raipur to meet him. Conversant with Hindi, Berthet interviewed him. This interview is now being published in Manav, a Hindi periodical of the Folk Culture and Ethnographic Society edited by me. Through Berthet, Mahawar’s work has received publicity in France.

It is in this context that Shri Niranjan Mahawar has kindly asked me to do the Foreword to this book. No expert on Primitive Art or on tribal life, I really do not possess the needed credentials to perform this function. But as trained in Anthropology, I find this contribution to be extremely relevant, and worthy of publication.

From the enormous collection of material from tribal India, Mahawar has taken out those that relate to the region of Bastar for this volume. He could have reproduced the photographs of all the bronzes so meticulously collected and classified, but he decided to also discuss the context in which they have originated. The book has given a detailed account of the tribal pantheon, of important religious cults, tribal religion and mythology, and of the festivals. The bronzes relate to the realm of the supernatural of the tribes of Bastar—the various tribal groups belonging to the generic category of the Gond, particularly the Muria and the Maria. The author has argued a case for the distinctive character of the Gond region which is basically animistic. But his description provides sufficient material to suggest a long history of the contact with the Hindu population not only from what is currently Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh but also from Andhra Pradesh. The animistic religion of the Gonds has so intermingled with the Hindu Great Tradition that many of the deities worshipped by the tribals bear the same name as in the Hindu pantheon. Mahadeo and Parwati are the same as Shiva and her consort in the Hindu religion. True, the myths of their origin differ somewhat from what is found in the Hindu scriptures but the tales transmitted through word-of-mouth have increasingly incorporated many Hindu elements. It is interesting that the bronzes used by the tribals are regarded by the author as outside of the primitive art. It is the Hindu caste of Ghasia that manufactures the bronze idols, using the technique of cire-perdue, i.e. loss of wax filled in the mould. Ghasia is a word that, according to Mahawar, is etymologically derived from the Sanskrit word Kansya, meaning bronze, and not from Ghas, meaning grass. This caste makes them for their tribal clients and the items are used for veneration and worship in the shrines. Idolatry has, thus, permeated in the tribal world of the Gonds. The institution of the king, and the adoption of many rituals associated with the Rajput caste by the tribal Rajas, suggests the process of Hinduization which is referred by Mahawar as “acculturation’.

It is understandable that Mahawar is a votary of a separate identity of the tribals, as against others who treat them as Hindus or Hinduized. However, a cool and objective analysis of the detailed description given in the pages of this book would suggest a long history of interaction between the tribals and their immediate non-tribal neighbours that has blurred several distinguishing features. As little communities in an indigenous civilization of India, it seems that several features of these tribals from the Bastar region have been universalised and gained entry into the Great Tradition; similarly, several elements of the Great Tradition of the Hindu society have been, to use the phrase coined by Mckim Marriott, parochialized by the inhabitants of this region. The fact that the religious activities follow the Vikram calendar leads one to believe that the extent of acculturation that Mahawar talks has been quite enormous. This is also reflected in the spread of non-tribal artefacts, including the Bastar bronzes, have reached the urban market place, and through them to the drawing rooms of the upper class elite, and also to alien cultures abroad.

Museumization of tradition or the commercialization of the traditional art is a fact to be reckoned with. In a modern society of the day several factors open out the apertures to break the isolation and link communities. In the process insulatory mechanisms suffer a setback. This is happening in the Bastar region, as elsewhere. Mahawar is deeply concerned With this trend that may harm indigeneity and severely affect the lives of the local artisans and artists. There are others who rejoice the process of universalization that is breading the isolation and gaining for the local artefacts recognition from a wider clientele. As unattached scholars we can only identify this trend and objectively evaluate its consequences rather than intervening to halt it. In this context, I recall the debate in the 1950s when the anthropologists were accused of “keeping the tribals in the anthropological zoos” when they pleaded for the measures to protect the tribals from the ill-effects of cultural contacts. Now that the tribals themselves are defying the traditional definition of being preliterate, living in isolation and in relatively inaccessible areas, and in small communities, one wonders whether they would appreciate advocacy about their future by “others”.

I am mentioning this not to raise any issue of controversy. I see merits in both the points of view, but I believe in the resilience of the cultures to attend to the exigencies of the time and to respond to the challenges in their own terms.

The hard work and industry that has gone in the preparation of this volume deserve our appreciation.

 

Preface

This book deals primarily with the bronze art of Bastar which is practised by the Ghasia caste following the traditional cire-perdue process. These bronzes are related to the religion of the tribes of Bastar as the artifacts made by this artisan caste are mainly the gods and goddesses and ritual objects of the Bastar tribes, mainly the Dandami Maria and Muria. The Ghasia is a Dravidian Hindu caste and is traditionally engaged in bronze making. They are living in Bastar with the local tribes and meeting their religious and ritualistic needs and also their personal requirements of metal wares. Living with the tribes since long time they have become well versed with the tribal myths, pantheon and various aspects of their religion and culture.

When and from where this Ghasia caste came to Chhattisgarh and specially to Bastar still is not known but this caste of bronze makers, known by different names, is living with the tribals of central India since long. In my opinion this is an ancient Indian caste living and working since the Indus Valley Civilization. With the invasion of Aryans they might have withdrawn gradually southwards and taken refuge in this region, south of Vindhyachal ranges. I have discussed this point further in this book.

Bronze making in India was started in the bronze age about three thousand five hundred years B.C. It survived for about fifteen hundred years in the Indus Valley Civilization in the ancient cities of Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Chanhudaro. The copper and bronze artifacts which were found in the excavations of these archaeological sites are definite evidence of the existence of bronze making in that area. Bronze making in cire-perdue or waxloss process was also known in that period. The sculpture of dancing girl which was found at Mohenjodaro c. 3000-2000 B.C., which is in the collection of National Museum of India, New Delhi is the earliest known example of waxloss casting.

I went to Jagdalpur, the district headquarter of Bastar, after completing my education in the year 1961 to supervise the construction of our rice mill. On Dashahra day, in 1962, the mill was inaugurated and I stayed there to look after our family business. In the same year, war broke out between India and China. The District Collector came for raising the war fund with his subordinate officers. While visiting our premises, he saw some poetry books and foreign magazines on my table, as well as some of my paintings. He expressed his pleasure to meet me as a young and enlightened person. He told me about the Bastar bronzes and the Ghasia caste. He sent some craftsmen with their artifacts asking me to purchase and help them. This is how I came to know about this art tradition. Gradually, I came to know many craftsmen and collected some artifacts from them.

My curiosity about these artifacts was always growing as I had not seen such bronzes before. I was always inquisitive about these sculptures. Through these craftsmen I learnt that these sculptures were of the gods and goddesses of the Bastar tribes and the animal figurines represented totemic objects.

With the passing of time my interest grew in these artifacts which were also called bell metal craft. I started studying art history, anthropology and tribal culture. I got one book in a Calcutta shop titled ‘Indian Primitive Art’ by Mr. Ajit Mukherjee who was the director of the Indian National Museum. In that book these bronzes were put under the category of ‘Primitive Art’. All the waxloss bronzes of Central Indian tribal areas of Bastar, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal were put in the same category. By that time I read many books on art history and anthropology and books on Mansar by P.K. Acharya, on iconography by Gopinath Rao and Banerjea, H. Daniel Smith and K.K.A. Venkatachari, A.K. Coomaraswamy, Zimmer, Sir John Marshall, V.S. Agrawal and Franz Boas. In the Sanskrit texts Madhucchistavidhanam or metal casting by waxloss process has been mentioned in detail.

When I came closer to the tribals of Bastar and knew more about Bastar bronzes and the Ghasia artisans it did not appeal to my mind to call this art as primitive art. I found the Dandami Marias and Ghotul Murias very intelligent, creative with fine taste and finer sensibility. The bison-horn dance of the Dandami Maria is one of the finest tribal dances of the world. The dances of the Ghotul Murias are full of delicate rhythmical body movements. Both these tribes are full of life. Franz Boas has rightly said about such people, “Postpone who has lived with primitive tribes, who has shared their joys and sorrows, their privations and their luxuries, who sees in the microscope, but feeling and thinking as a ‘Primitive Mind’, a ‘Magical’ or ‘Prelogical’ way of thinking, but that each individual in ‘Primitive’ society is a man, a woman, a child of the same kind, of the same way of thinking, feeling and acting as man, woman or child in our own society.”1 He further writes, “Investigators are too apt to forget that the logics of science, that unattainable ideal of the discovery of pure relations of cause and effect, uncontaminated by any kind of emotional bias as well as of unproved opinion, are not the logics of life.”

Ghasia is an ancient caste of bronze casters and not a tribe. The tribal religion is animistic. The Ghasia craftsmen have introduced idolatry icons for the animistic abstract and unseen forces of nature. Some such images were already in existence in their tradition and in their ancient technique of metal casting. They have developed in association with the tribal priests some salient features of their iconography, and in due course this art has flourished around tribal religion and culture.

In my opinion the art of bronze casting was started in the Indus Valley Civilization and was in practice for about fifteen hundred years. Artifacts of copper and bronze and also other utility objects were found in Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Chanhudaro, which shows that the technique of metal casting in waxloss process was quite developed there. According to Dr. Vasudeva S. Agrawal, “Copper was the chief metal with the Indus Valley people and by mixing tin they prepared an alloy of bronze for making some important articles by the process of casting bronze by cire-perdue process, viz, a model of wax is made and using it as the core inside a clay mould and then pouring molten metal for casting the desired figure of solid metal. The bronze dancing girl (height 4.5”) is a matter of fact example in which the rather longish legs and arms and the slightly tilted head bespeak the rhythm of her movements.”3 In addition to this bronze sculpture eleven other sculptures of animals were also found from Mohenjodaro site, amongst them the sculpture of a buffalo and a ram are of high artistic value. These sculptures are now in British Museum, London. The literary record of ‘Madhucchista-Vidhanam’ or cire-perdue process is found in several ancient scriptures. “The founding of copper, brass and bronze by the cire-perdue process is universal in India and of high antiquity.”4 Dr. B.B. Lal’s opinion about the sculpture of the Mohenjodaro dancing girl is, “The earliest known Indian bronze figurine was discovered at Mohenjodaro where a highly developed urban civilization flourished in the third millennium B.C. Mohenjodaro has yielded a large number of copper and bronze objects which were fabricated by forging, hammering and casting. The art of metal casting and working had reached a high level of technical excellence as demonstrated by the remarkable bronze statuette of the ‘dancing girl’. The chemical examination of the Mohenjodaro bronzes revealed copper content from 87% to 93% and tin content from 13% to 6%. The low percentage of tin might be due to its being scarce.”

Ruth Reeves has done a monograph on “Cire-perdue casting in India” for Crafts Museum, New Delhi in which she has surveyed the existing sites where this process of metal casting is still in operation. She has also traced the sources from ancient texts. According to her, “As early as 1500 B.C. a vast body of Indian literature mentions the prodigious production of arts and crafts, many of which were of metal. The Rig Veda and the Aranyakas, and Sutras, probably constitute the most complete study ever compiled on single culture over so many consecutive centuries. Here is unfolded a verbal panorama of the Vedic lndo-Aryans’ incantations, philosophy, social customs, laws and religion; there the technological problems which the Copper and Bronze Ages had presented Vedic man as a result of the revolutionary inventions for smelting and alloying copper to produce and cast bronze into survival implements, utensils and images of his anthropomorphically conceived gods, were recorded. This literature is the Indologists and anthropologists handbook par excellence for discovering the effect those Bronze Age inventions had on material and non- material culture, i.e. the folkways, customs, techniques and artifacts, of these proto-historical people. It is of no less interest to the contemporary layman, for in our own time, “the automobile as a new invention is no more than an adaptation of powerfully compact power plant to the age old (bullock) cart.”

The earliest Silpasastra, the Mansar in its 68th Chapter deals with lost wax process, the ‘Madhucchistavidhanam’. The Mansar was compiled in the Gupta period. The Sthapatis of Swamimalai follow this scripture in their bronze casting—the metal casting in lost wax process. In ancient times bronze casting both hollow and solid in lostwax process were done. Even in present times both types of castings are prevalent in Bastar. The Sthapatis of South India cast the temple icons in solid form and they have been making such solid images since Chola period. The best images of Chola period were made in lostwax process in solid form by the Sthapatis. The metal casting is mentioned in several Silpasastras, Agamas, Samhitas and many ancient and medieval texts from 7th to 12th centuries AD. and even later. The Jam Anuyogadvara Churni mentions hollow casting and Vishnudharmottara both solid and hollow casting by cire-perdue method.6 The Vishnu-Samhita describes the complete process of lostwax casting thus, “If an image is to be made of metal, it must first be made of wax, and then coated with earth, gold and other metals are alloyed and, after the wax is drained out, are heated to a molten state and poured into the mould, whose now empty walls carry the impress of the wax image.”

T.A. Gopinath Rao in his ‘Elements of Hindu Iconography’, writes, “In regard to bronze images, it is believed by some that India could not have known the cire-perdue method of making metal images earlier than the 10th century A.D. and that India must have borrowed it from Europe. That the art of casting metals in wax moulds is much earlier in India can be shown in more ways than one.”8 In Manasollasa, which was written in 12th century, cire-perdue casting process has been described in twelve verses. Manasollasa was written by king Somesvara Bhulokamalla.9 Professor S.K. Saraswati has translated Manasollasa in which in verses 77 through 97 the complete process of lost wax is described.

The art of bronze casting which originated in the Indus Valley Civilization some three thousand five hundred to three thousand B.C. and was in working for about fifteen hundred years had disappeared afterwards. It has been a riddle for the art historians as to what happened to that great art tradition. With the Aryan invasion gradually the ancient cities of Indus Valley Civilization were destroyed and the original inhabitants of those cities withdrew southwards. They might have settled south of Vindhyachal and found it safe. Here they might have received the local patronage. Ruth Reeves and Meera Mukherjee have found in their surveys that the cire-perdue bronze and brass casting is widely in existence in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. In all these places mostly hollow casting is practised as less metal is required for making images.

The cire-perdue casting tradition is very important not only for its antiquity and cultural value but also for its technical superiority. Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has considered the cire-perdue casting process in copper, brass and bronze of great artistic value and of great antiquity.1° Dr. V.S. Agrawal, Dr. Radhakamal Mukherjee and Dr. B.B. Lal, all these art historians have considered the metal artifacts cast in cire-perdue process of great technical excellence. The sculptures other than those which were found at the sites of Indus Valley Civilization are preserved in the Government Museum of Chennai. These are of the Amravati group of Buddhist bronzes. In the Gupta period, which is known as the India’s ‘Golden Age’, we find bronzes cast in cire-perdue process. One such is that of famous Sultanganj Buddha made through the same process. This is made in hollow casting around 400 A.D. This fine sculpture is kept in the City Museum and Art Gallery at Birmingham. This sculpture was found in the year 1862 in an excavation of a monastery on the bank of river Ganga. Its height is 7 feet and has been cast in several sections and two layers in hollow casting of pure copper. Some other sculptures were also found at the site.

The bronzes both of solid and hollow casting found at Nalanda are of great aesthetic value. The period of these bronzes is eighth to ninth century A.D. These images are made of copper, gilt and bronze. The South Indian bronzes are the most significant and artistically very superior. Although the bronze tradition was existent in the Pailava period from 5th century to 9th century A.D., yet the number of bronzes of this period is very few. It is not known whether fewer bronzes were made or fewer such bronzes could be found.

A hoard of about one hundred Buddhist bronzes was found in an excavation at Sirpur in Raipur district. These bronzes are solid and cast in cireperdue process. All these bronzes are of very superior quality, which were found in an excavation of Buddhist ruins of a monastery, which was done by Dr. Moreshwar G. Dixit. According to the inscription found from the site, the monastery was built by Bhikkhu Anandaprabhu during the reign of the Pandava King Mahasivagupta Balarjuna in the early eighth century A.D. These bronzes seem to belong to the Nalanda Buddhist bronze tradition and were produced in seventh century of Mahayan tradition of Nalanda, “on the strength of the large number of images found in the excavations, and also because of those accidentally discovered previously at Sirpur in a hoard, it would seem probable that an independent school of metal craftsmen practising both cire-perdue hollow and solid casting techniques flourished from the 8th to the 11th century A.D. in what is now Raipur district.” Sirpur tradition of bronze casting was in operation in the post- Gupta period and there must have been probably two traditions, one the classical Buddhist tradition and the second the folk tradition. The second probability is that the classical tradition might have ended with the decline of Buddhism in this area and those who were getting patronage from the Buddhist monasteries might have shifted towards folk tradition. “Despite the probability that as early as the 8th century, and doubtless long before that, the ancestors of the Jagdalpur Kaser (Ghadwa) must concomitantly have been pursuing their traditional occupation of casting ritual and other metal objects by the cire-perdue method”,’2 the antiquity of the Ghasia caste and their bronze making in this area is beyond doubt.

Presently the art of cire-perdue bronze making is practised in Bastar, Raigarh, Raipur districts of Chhattisgarh, Koraput, Mayurbhanj, Bolangir, Bhawanipatan, Ganjam and Dhenkanal districts of Orissa, Bankura, Bishnupur, Burdwan, Midnapur in West Bengal, and Lowadih, Hazaribag and Ranchi in Jharkhand. The tradition is best preserved in Bastar. Bastar Ghasias who have started calling themselves Ghadwas have preserved the old motifs and the old waxloss technique. They use only wax whereas the Jhara, Sitaria and Ghasi of Orissa use dhuna (Sal resin) mixed with oil and the West Bengal Jharas and Mals mostly of Jharkhand use only dhuna although they know the technique of using wax.

Traditionally, Bengal and Orissa craftsmen make very few traditional objects and still lesser the ritual objects. What they make include lamps, wick lamps, rice measuring boxes and Laxmi and Narayan images and some 4nimal figurines. Rest of the objects are utility related. The Ghasias of Bastar have made their craft an essential part of the religion of the tribes. They make icons of the tribal gods and goddesses. This has enriched not only the Mata Gudis (Tribal Shrines) but also widened their field and artistic skill.

When I first came to know about this art tradition, very few people knew about it outside Bastar. I used to bring some artifacts from Bastar to Raipur and present those pieces to my friends as souvenirs. People who saw them wondered how could those adivasis make such beautiful things as they were savage, living in jungle. By that time I developed intimate contacts in Bastar and knew that they were neither savage nor without aesthetic sense. Hindu society has very little space for the tribals and dalits. These societies have been kept outside of the mainstream and were debarred from education and learning through religious code. Average urban Hindu suffers from Brahmanical bias and has a very poor opinion about the tribals. In their opinion the tribals are primitive people who lack cultural development. They do not have their music, dance, songs, drama or other visual arts such as plastic and graphic arts. Such ignorance about the tribal people and the arrogance of belonging to superior caste has kept the elite Hindu society misinformed about them. This was the point which inspired me to study the tribal culture and bring to light their creativity and artistic traits. Some very serious anthropological studies have been done by British officers and European missionaries, but more work specially in the field of tribal culture and art is required to be done. I again want to quote Franz Boas, “Our advantage over primitive people is one of great knowledge of the objective world, painfully gained by the labour of many generations, a knowledge which we apply rather badly and which we, or at least most of us, discard just as soon as a strong emotional urge impels us to do so, and for which we substitute forms quite analogous to those of primitive thought.”

 

Contents

 

  Foreword 7
  Acknowledgements 11
  Preface 13
  Map 20
  List of Illustrations 21
Ch. I Bastar Region: An Introduction 33
Ch. II Tribal Population and the Ethnological Setting of Bastar 51
Ch. III The Tribal Pantheon I 99
Ch. VI Important Cults of the Bastar Tribes 107
Ch. V Tribal Religion and Mythology 163
Ch. VI The Tribal Pantheon II 201
Ch. VII Tribal Festivals of Bastar 271
Ch. VIII Dashahra Festival of Bastar 289
Ch. IX The Ghasia Caste 303
  Appendix I 327
  Appendix II 334
  Appendix III 335
  Appendix VI 338
  Appendix V 339
  Index 341

Bastar Bronzes: Tribal Religion and Art

Item Code:
NAC488
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2011
Publisher:
Abhinav Publications
ISBN:
8170174805
Size:
11.4 Inch X 8.8 Inch
Pages:
343 (94 Color Illustrations)
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 1.4 Kg
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$75.00   Shipping Free - 4 to 6 days
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From the Jacket

This book is a comprehensive study of the religion, myths, rituals and art of the Bastar tribes. The author has been connected intimately with Bastar since four and a half decades. He developed a fancy for the tribal people of Bastar and became interested in their culture. He started collecting their artifacts specially the bronzes which are made for them by Ghasia craftsmen who are living with them since time immemorial. Due to the long association with the tribal’s these craftsmen are well acquainted with their myths, religion and rituals. As a matter of fact this ancient community of bronze makers has given the idolatry forms to their animistic religious beliefs. Bastar has always been an enigma for the outside world. Covered under thick forests, situated on the Southern plateau, remote and closed for many centuries, it was considered a magic world.

The Bastar tribes although have been greatly influenced by their Hindu neighbours, yet they have their own religion, own pantheon and way of worship. This book is a study of their religious beliefs, gods and goddesses, totems, demigods, demons and spirits of natural forces.

So far no serious attempt has been made to study deeply the religion and art of the Indian tribes. The subject has been dealt with their larger anthropological studies and not exclusively dealing with their religion and art. I hope this book will fulfil that void. The author has travelled Bastar’s every nook and corner. In the last forty five years he has travelled roughly one lakh kilometres in his several visits and stays in Bastar and had a close association with the people and the bronze makers.

The bronzes published in this book are the rarest and very special. The author has collected them in the last forty five years. He has the most authentic, finest and the largest collection of the Bastar bronzes of his own which is known throughout the world.

The author did his post-graduation in economics in the year 1960 from Sagar University and went to Bastar in 1962 to look after their family business of rice mill. He was fascinated by the tribal’s and their way of life. While living in Bastar he developed interest in anthropology and culture of the people and started documenting various aspects of arts and culture. Gradually, he developed interest in the tribal culture and various art forms of Central India and since last forty five years he has been documenting tribal and folk arts, folk theatre forms, folklore, tribal myths and other aspects of tribal and folk ways. On the basis of his work which is spread in more than four decades span of time he has planned five books on tribal and folk arts, eight books on folk theatre, four monographs on tribes and three- four books on folk tales and folk songs and ballads. All these works will be appearing soon gradually.

The author has a very large collection of artifacts of his own which includes tribal bronzes from Bastar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. He has also a large collection of folk and tribal paintings, artistic wooden tribal combs, tribal ornaments and other ritual objects. He has gifted his collection of terracotta artifacts numbering about six hundred of Central India to the Anthropological Survey of India Museum at Bastar.

Thea uthorh asp ublishedf iftya rticleso n various subjects of tribal art, folk theatre, folklore and some tribes. He was the executive committee member of Madhya Pradesh Adivasi Lok Kala Parishad as an expert on tribes for eight years. He was on the advisory board of Choumasa for twenty years, a journal of the M.P. Adivasi Lok Kala Parishad. He has been a member of South Central Zone Cultural Centre for eight years in all its committees as an expert on tribal and folk culture. Presently, he is engaged in finalizing his works for publication. He is also working on the encyclopaedia of folklore of North Indian languages.

 

Foreword

At time when interest in tribal studies in India is on low ebb, it is indeed heartening to know that Shri Shakti Malik of the Abhinav Publications has decided to publish a series of books on tribal art and folk culture authored by Shri Niranjan Mahawar. Dedicated to the collection of objects of material culture and items of oral tradition from different parts of tribal India—arts and artifacts, folk stories, tales and songs, and folk drama— Niranjan Mahawar has earned the gratitude of not only the art lovers but of the community of anthropologists. His house is a museum of incredibly priceless items. No department in any of the universities in Chhattisgarh (the state where he resides) and Madhya Pradesh (the state from which Chhattisgarh recently got separated) can match his collections. And yet it is a pity that a scholar of his selfless dedication has remained relatively unnoticed.

An economist by training, Niranjan Mahawar joined his father’s business after doing his Master’s from the University of Saugar in the 1960s. The poet in him developed empathies for the poor and the downtrodden. While runing the business he was simultaneously engaged in reading literature relative to the tribals, particularly those who lived in the same habitat—the region of central India. He began visiting the tribes occasionally, and developed an interest in their life ways, their culture, religion, and art. Comparing his notes with the observations made by the earlier scholars who wrote on these tribals— for example, Verrier Elwin and W.V. Grigson—he was struck by some misinterpretations, and decided to dig deeper into the cultural fabric of the leading tribes and offer amendments to earlier descriptions and interpretations.

Since 1962, Mahawar has been engaged in this quest, increasingly devoting more time to his studies and research than to his family business. With no financial support from anywhere, and no collaboration from any academic institution in the region, Mahawar undertook this long and arduous journey all by himself. Hurting family economy and withstanding all the difficulties of field work in an indifferent terrain—where a vegetarian has problems of finding food, where one has to walk long distances in a promontorious region, where no place is available for stay for the strangers— Mahawar engaged in participant observation and collected his data so painstakingly.

It was a chance coincidence that I met Mahawar after a huge gap of more than four decades when he was invited to Delhi for a presentation on the tribal craft. That rendezvous brought back the fond memories of the Sagar days where we met first in the late 1950s. He was a year junior to me, but both being interested in literature, particularly in poetry—which both of us wrote and recited—we came instantly closer. Although I was in Anthropology, we never discussed this subject. Therefore, when I heard Mahawar explicate the meanings of the symbols used in tribal paintings from Bastar I was overwhelmed. I indeed marvelled at his deep understanding of the cultural meanings of various symbols.

Soon after, I had a chance to go to Raipur for a meeting. I used that opportunity to visit Mahawar’s residence. Seeing his collections I felt more than convinced that this scholar needs to be given his due. His collections are a national heritage. And his knowledge about them is invaluable, which needs to be recorded for posterity. I encouraged him to develop a programme of a series of publications to give an order to his collections and to make them widely available. Luckily, I was able to sell this idea to my dear friend, and a publisher of repute, Shri Shakti Malik. It so happened that Shri Mahawar had also earlier contacted him and received an encouraging reply. My broaching the issue further reinforced the decision and Malik agreed to publish the entire series. Meanwhile, a French scholar, Samuel Berthet, also learnt about Mahawar’s work and went to Raipur to meet him. Conversant with Hindi, Berthet interviewed him. This interview is now being published in Manav, a Hindi periodical of the Folk Culture and Ethnographic Society edited by me. Through Berthet, Mahawar’s work has received publicity in France.

It is in this context that Shri Niranjan Mahawar has kindly asked me to do the Foreword to this book. No expert on Primitive Art or on tribal life, I really do not possess the needed credentials to perform this function. But as trained in Anthropology, I find this contribution to be extremely relevant, and worthy of publication.

From the enormous collection of material from tribal India, Mahawar has taken out those that relate to the region of Bastar for this volume. He could have reproduced the photographs of all the bronzes so meticulously collected and classified, but he decided to also discuss the context in which they have originated. The book has given a detailed account of the tribal pantheon, of important religious cults, tribal religion and mythology, and of the festivals. The bronzes relate to the realm of the supernatural of the tribes of Bastar—the various tribal groups belonging to the generic category of the Gond, particularly the Muria and the Maria. The author has argued a case for the distinctive character of the Gond region which is basically animistic. But his description provides sufficient material to suggest a long history of the contact with the Hindu population not only from what is currently Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh but also from Andhra Pradesh. The animistic religion of the Gonds has so intermingled with the Hindu Great Tradition that many of the deities worshipped by the tribals bear the same name as in the Hindu pantheon. Mahadeo and Parwati are the same as Shiva and her consort in the Hindu religion. True, the myths of their origin differ somewhat from what is found in the Hindu scriptures but the tales transmitted through word-of-mouth have increasingly incorporated many Hindu elements. It is interesting that the bronzes used by the tribals are regarded by the author as outside of the primitive art. It is the Hindu caste of Ghasia that manufactures the bronze idols, using the technique of cire-perdue, i.e. loss of wax filled in the mould. Ghasia is a word that, according to Mahawar, is etymologically derived from the Sanskrit word Kansya, meaning bronze, and not from Ghas, meaning grass. This caste makes them for their tribal clients and the items are used for veneration and worship in the shrines. Idolatry has, thus, permeated in the tribal world of the Gonds. The institution of the king, and the adoption of many rituals associated with the Rajput caste by the tribal Rajas, suggests the process of Hinduization which is referred by Mahawar as “acculturation’.

It is understandable that Mahawar is a votary of a separate identity of the tribals, as against others who treat them as Hindus or Hinduized. However, a cool and objective analysis of the detailed description given in the pages of this book would suggest a long history of interaction between the tribals and their immediate non-tribal neighbours that has blurred several distinguishing features. As little communities in an indigenous civilization of India, it seems that several features of these tribals from the Bastar region have been universalised and gained entry into the Great Tradition; similarly, several elements of the Great Tradition of the Hindu society have been, to use the phrase coined by Mckim Marriott, parochialized by the inhabitants of this region. The fact that the religious activities follow the Vikram calendar leads one to believe that the extent of acculturation that Mahawar talks has been quite enormous. This is also reflected in the spread of non-tribal artefacts, including the Bastar bronzes, have reached the urban market place, and through them to the drawing rooms of the upper class elite, and also to alien cultures abroad.

Museumization of tradition or the commercialization of the traditional art is a fact to be reckoned with. In a modern society of the day several factors open out the apertures to break the isolation and link communities. In the process insulatory mechanisms suffer a setback. This is happening in the Bastar region, as elsewhere. Mahawar is deeply concerned With this trend that may harm indigeneity and severely affect the lives of the local artisans and artists. There are others who rejoice the process of universalization that is breading the isolation and gaining for the local artefacts recognition from a wider clientele. As unattached scholars we can only identify this trend and objectively evaluate its consequences rather than intervening to halt it. In this context, I recall the debate in the 1950s when the anthropologists were accused of “keeping the tribals in the anthropological zoos” when they pleaded for the measures to protect the tribals from the ill-effects of cultural contacts. Now that the tribals themselves are defying the traditional definition of being preliterate, living in isolation and in relatively inaccessible areas, and in small communities, one wonders whether they would appreciate advocacy about their future by “others”.

I am mentioning this not to raise any issue of controversy. I see merits in both the points of view, but I believe in the resilience of the cultures to attend to the exigencies of the time and to respond to the challenges in their own terms.

The hard work and industry that has gone in the preparation of this volume deserve our appreciation.

 

Preface

This book deals primarily with the bronze art of Bastar which is practised by the Ghasia caste following the traditional cire-perdue process. These bronzes are related to the religion of the tribes of Bastar as the artifacts made by this artisan caste are mainly the gods and goddesses and ritual objects of the Bastar tribes, mainly the Dandami Maria and Muria. The Ghasia is a Dravidian Hindu caste and is traditionally engaged in bronze making. They are living in Bastar with the local tribes and meeting their religious and ritualistic needs and also their personal requirements of metal wares. Living with the tribes since long time they have become well versed with the tribal myths, pantheon and various aspects of their religion and culture.

When and from where this Ghasia caste came to Chhattisgarh and specially to Bastar still is not known but this caste of bronze makers, known by different names, is living with the tribals of central India since long. In my opinion this is an ancient Indian caste living and working since the Indus Valley Civilization. With the invasion of Aryans they might have withdrawn gradually southwards and taken refuge in this region, south of Vindhyachal ranges. I have discussed this point further in this book.

Bronze making in India was started in the bronze age about three thousand five hundred years B.C. It survived for about fifteen hundred years in the Indus Valley Civilization in the ancient cities of Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Chanhudaro. The copper and bronze artifacts which were found in the excavations of these archaeological sites are definite evidence of the existence of bronze making in that area. Bronze making in cire-perdue or waxloss process was also known in that period. The sculpture of dancing girl which was found at Mohenjodaro c. 3000-2000 B.C., which is in the collection of National Museum of India, New Delhi is the earliest known example of waxloss casting.

I went to Jagdalpur, the district headquarter of Bastar, after completing my education in the year 1961 to supervise the construction of our rice mill. On Dashahra day, in 1962, the mill was inaugurated and I stayed there to look after our family business. In the same year, war broke out between India and China. The District Collector came for raising the war fund with his subordinate officers. While visiting our premises, he saw some poetry books and foreign magazines on my table, as well as some of my paintings. He expressed his pleasure to meet me as a young and enlightened person. He told me about the Bastar bronzes and the Ghasia caste. He sent some craftsmen with their artifacts asking me to purchase and help them. This is how I came to know about this art tradition. Gradually, I came to know many craftsmen and collected some artifacts from them.

My curiosity about these artifacts was always growing as I had not seen such bronzes before. I was always inquisitive about these sculptures. Through these craftsmen I learnt that these sculptures were of the gods and goddesses of the Bastar tribes and the animal figurines represented totemic objects.

With the passing of time my interest grew in these artifacts which were also called bell metal craft. I started studying art history, anthropology and tribal culture. I got one book in a Calcutta shop titled ‘Indian Primitive Art’ by Mr. Ajit Mukherjee who was the director of the Indian National Museum. In that book these bronzes were put under the category of ‘Primitive Art’. All the waxloss bronzes of Central Indian tribal areas of Bastar, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal were put in the same category. By that time I read many books on art history and anthropology and books on Mansar by P.K. Acharya, on iconography by Gopinath Rao and Banerjea, H. Daniel Smith and K.K.A. Venkatachari, A.K. Coomaraswamy, Zimmer, Sir John Marshall, V.S. Agrawal and Franz Boas. In the Sanskrit texts Madhucchistavidhanam or metal casting by waxloss process has been mentioned in detail.

When I came closer to the tribals of Bastar and knew more about Bastar bronzes and the Ghasia artisans it did not appeal to my mind to call this art as primitive art. I found the Dandami Marias and Ghotul Murias very intelligent, creative with fine taste and finer sensibility. The bison-horn dance of the Dandami Maria is one of the finest tribal dances of the world. The dances of the Ghotul Murias are full of delicate rhythmical body movements. Both these tribes are full of life. Franz Boas has rightly said about such people, “Postpone who has lived with primitive tribes, who has shared their joys and sorrows, their privations and their luxuries, who sees in the microscope, but feeling and thinking as a ‘Primitive Mind’, a ‘Magical’ or ‘Prelogical’ way of thinking, but that each individual in ‘Primitive’ society is a man, a woman, a child of the same kind, of the same way of thinking, feeling and acting as man, woman or child in our own society.”1 He further writes, “Investigators are too apt to forget that the logics of science, that unattainable ideal of the discovery of pure relations of cause and effect, uncontaminated by any kind of emotional bias as well as of unproved opinion, are not the logics of life.”

Ghasia is an ancient caste of bronze casters and not a tribe. The tribal religion is animistic. The Ghasia craftsmen have introduced idolatry icons for the animistic abstract and unseen forces of nature. Some such images were already in existence in their tradition and in their ancient technique of metal casting. They have developed in association with the tribal priests some salient features of their iconography, and in due course this art has flourished around tribal religion and culture.

In my opinion the art of bronze casting was started in the Indus Valley Civilization and was in practice for about fifteen hundred years. Artifacts of copper and bronze and also other utility objects were found in Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Chanhudaro, which shows that the technique of metal casting in waxloss process was quite developed there. According to Dr. Vasudeva S. Agrawal, “Copper was the chief metal with the Indus Valley people and by mixing tin they prepared an alloy of bronze for making some important articles by the process of casting bronze by cire-perdue process, viz, a model of wax is made and using it as the core inside a clay mould and then pouring molten metal for casting the desired figure of solid metal. The bronze dancing girl (height 4.5”) is a matter of fact example in which the rather longish legs and arms and the slightly tilted head bespeak the rhythm of her movements.”3 In addition to this bronze sculpture eleven other sculptures of animals were also found from Mohenjodaro site, amongst them the sculpture of a buffalo and a ram are of high artistic value. These sculptures are now in British Museum, London. The literary record of ‘Madhucchista-Vidhanam’ or cire-perdue process is found in several ancient scriptures. “The founding of copper, brass and bronze by the cire-perdue process is universal in India and of high antiquity.”4 Dr. B.B. Lal’s opinion about the sculpture of the Mohenjodaro dancing girl is, “The earliest known Indian bronze figurine was discovered at Mohenjodaro where a highly developed urban civilization flourished in the third millennium B.C. Mohenjodaro has yielded a large number of copper and bronze objects which were fabricated by forging, hammering and casting. The art of metal casting and working had reached a high level of technical excellence as demonstrated by the remarkable bronze statuette of the ‘dancing girl’. The chemical examination of the Mohenjodaro bronzes revealed copper content from 87% to 93% and tin content from 13% to 6%. The low percentage of tin might be due to its being scarce.”

Ruth Reeves has done a monograph on “Cire-perdue casting in India” for Crafts Museum, New Delhi in which she has surveyed the existing sites where this process of metal casting is still in operation. She has also traced the sources from ancient texts. According to her, “As early as 1500 B.C. a vast body of Indian literature mentions the prodigious production of arts and crafts, many of which were of metal. The Rig Veda and the Aranyakas, and Sutras, probably constitute the most complete study ever compiled on single culture over so many consecutive centuries. Here is unfolded a verbal panorama of the Vedic lndo-Aryans’ incantations, philosophy, social customs, laws and religion; there the technological problems which the Copper and Bronze Ages had presented Vedic man as a result of the revolutionary inventions for smelting and alloying copper to produce and cast bronze into survival implements, utensils and images of his anthropomorphically conceived gods, were recorded. This literature is the Indologists and anthropologists handbook par excellence for discovering the effect those Bronze Age inventions had on material and non- material culture, i.e. the folkways, customs, techniques and artifacts, of these proto-historical people. It is of no less interest to the contemporary layman, for in our own time, “the automobile as a new invention is no more than an adaptation of powerfully compact power plant to the age old (bullock) cart.”

The earliest Silpasastra, the Mansar in its 68th Chapter deals with lost wax process, the ‘Madhucchistavidhanam’. The Mansar was compiled in the Gupta period. The Sthapatis of Swamimalai follow this scripture in their bronze casting—the metal casting in lost wax process. In ancient times bronze casting both hollow and solid in lostwax process were done. Even in present times both types of castings are prevalent in Bastar. The Sthapatis of South India cast the temple icons in solid form and they have been making such solid images since Chola period. The best images of Chola period were made in lostwax process in solid form by the Sthapatis. The metal casting is mentioned in several Silpasastras, Agamas, Samhitas and many ancient and medieval texts from 7th to 12th centuries AD. and even later. The Jam Anuyogadvara Churni mentions hollow casting and Vishnudharmottara both solid and hollow casting by cire-perdue method.6 The Vishnu-Samhita describes the complete process of lostwax casting thus, “If an image is to be made of metal, it must first be made of wax, and then coated with earth, gold and other metals are alloyed and, after the wax is drained out, are heated to a molten state and poured into the mould, whose now empty walls carry the impress of the wax image.”

T.A. Gopinath Rao in his ‘Elements of Hindu Iconography’, writes, “In regard to bronze images, it is believed by some that India could not have known the cire-perdue method of making metal images earlier than the 10th century A.D. and that India must have borrowed it from Europe. That the art of casting metals in wax moulds is much earlier in India can be shown in more ways than one.”8 In Manasollasa, which was written in 12th century, cire-perdue casting process has been described in twelve verses. Manasollasa was written by king Somesvara Bhulokamalla.9 Professor S.K. Saraswati has translated Manasollasa in which in verses 77 through 97 the complete process of lost wax is described.

The art of bronze casting which originated in the Indus Valley Civilization some three thousand five hundred to three thousand B.C. and was in working for about fifteen hundred years had disappeared afterwards. It has been a riddle for the art historians as to what happened to that great art tradition. With the Aryan invasion gradually the ancient cities of Indus Valley Civilization were destroyed and the original inhabitants of those cities withdrew southwards. They might have settled south of Vindhyachal and found it safe. Here they might have received the local patronage. Ruth Reeves and Meera Mukherjee have found in their surveys that the cire-perdue bronze and brass casting is widely in existence in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. In all these places mostly hollow casting is practised as less metal is required for making images.

The cire-perdue casting tradition is very important not only for its antiquity and cultural value but also for its technical superiority. Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has considered the cire-perdue casting process in copper, brass and bronze of great artistic value and of great antiquity.1° Dr. V.S. Agrawal, Dr. Radhakamal Mukherjee and Dr. B.B. Lal, all these art historians have considered the metal artifacts cast in cire-perdue process of great technical excellence. The sculptures other than those which were found at the sites of Indus Valley Civilization are preserved in the Government Museum of Chennai. These are of the Amravati group of Buddhist bronzes. In the Gupta period, which is known as the India’s ‘Golden Age’, we find bronzes cast in cire-perdue process. One such is that of famous Sultanganj Buddha made through the same process. This is made in hollow casting around 400 A.D. This fine sculpture is kept in the City Museum and Art Gallery at Birmingham. This sculpture was found in the year 1862 in an excavation of a monastery on the bank of river Ganga. Its height is 7 feet and has been cast in several sections and two layers in hollow casting of pure copper. Some other sculptures were also found at the site.

The bronzes both of solid and hollow casting found at Nalanda are of great aesthetic value. The period of these bronzes is eighth to ninth century A.D. These images are made of copper, gilt and bronze. The South Indian bronzes are the most significant and artistically very superior. Although the bronze tradition was existent in the Pailava period from 5th century to 9th century A.D., yet the number of bronzes of this period is very few. It is not known whether fewer bronzes were made or fewer such bronzes could be found.

A hoard of about one hundred Buddhist bronzes was found in an excavation at Sirpur in Raipur district. These bronzes are solid and cast in cireperdue process. All these bronzes are of very superior quality, which were found in an excavation of Buddhist ruins of a monastery, which was done by Dr. Moreshwar G. Dixit. According to the inscription found from the site, the monastery was built by Bhikkhu Anandaprabhu during the reign of the Pandava King Mahasivagupta Balarjuna in the early eighth century A.D. These bronzes seem to belong to the Nalanda Buddhist bronze tradition and were produced in seventh century of Mahayan tradition of Nalanda, “on the strength of the large number of images found in the excavations, and also because of those accidentally discovered previously at Sirpur in a hoard, it would seem probable that an independent school of metal craftsmen practising both cire-perdue hollow and solid casting techniques flourished from the 8th to the 11th century A.D. in what is now Raipur district.” Sirpur tradition of bronze casting was in operation in the post- Gupta period and there must have been probably two traditions, one the classical Buddhist tradition and the second the folk tradition. The second probability is that the classical tradition might have ended with the decline of Buddhism in this area and those who were getting patronage from the Buddhist monasteries might have shifted towards folk tradition. “Despite the probability that as early as the 8th century, and doubtless long before that, the ancestors of the Jagdalpur Kaser (Ghadwa) must concomitantly have been pursuing their traditional occupation of casting ritual and other metal objects by the cire-perdue method”,’2 the antiquity of the Ghasia caste and their bronze making in this area is beyond doubt.

Presently the art of cire-perdue bronze making is practised in Bastar, Raigarh, Raipur districts of Chhattisgarh, Koraput, Mayurbhanj, Bolangir, Bhawanipatan, Ganjam and Dhenkanal districts of Orissa, Bankura, Bishnupur, Burdwan, Midnapur in West Bengal, and Lowadih, Hazaribag and Ranchi in Jharkhand. The tradition is best preserved in Bastar. Bastar Ghasias who have started calling themselves Ghadwas have preserved the old motifs and the old waxloss technique. They use only wax whereas the Jhara, Sitaria and Ghasi of Orissa use dhuna (Sal resin) mixed with oil and the West Bengal Jharas and Mals mostly of Jharkhand use only dhuna although they know the technique of using wax.

Traditionally, Bengal and Orissa craftsmen make very few traditional objects and still lesser the ritual objects. What they make include lamps, wick lamps, rice measuring boxes and Laxmi and Narayan images and some 4nimal figurines. Rest of the objects are utility related. The Ghasias of Bastar have made their craft an essential part of the religion of the tribes. They make icons of the tribal gods and goddesses. This has enriched not only the Mata Gudis (Tribal Shrines) but also widened their field and artistic skill.

When I first came to know about this art tradition, very few people knew about it outside Bastar. I used to bring some artifacts from Bastar to Raipur and present those pieces to my friends as souvenirs. People who saw them wondered how could those adivasis make such beautiful things as they were savage, living in jungle. By that time I developed intimate contacts in Bastar and knew that they were neither savage nor without aesthetic sense. Hindu society has very little space for the tribals and dalits. These societies have been kept outside of the mainstream and were debarred from education and learning through religious code. Average urban Hindu suffers from Brahmanical bias and has a very poor opinion about the tribals. In their opinion the tribals are primitive people who lack cultural development. They do not have their music, dance, songs, drama or other visual arts such as plastic and graphic arts. Such ignorance about the tribal people and the arrogance of belonging to superior caste has kept the elite Hindu society misinformed about them. This was the point which inspired me to study the tribal culture and bring to light their creativity and artistic traits. Some very serious anthropological studies have been done by British officers and European missionaries, but more work specially in the field of tribal culture and art is required to be done. I again want to quote Franz Boas, “Our advantage over primitive people is one of great knowledge of the objective world, painfully gained by the labour of many generations, a knowledge which we apply rather badly and which we, or at least most of us, discard just as soon as a strong emotional urge impels us to do so, and for which we substitute forms quite analogous to those of primitive thought.”

 

Contents

 

  Foreword 7
  Acknowledgements 11
  Preface 13
  Map 20
  List of Illustrations 21
Ch. I Bastar Region: An Introduction 33
Ch. II Tribal Population and the Ethnological Setting of Bastar 51
Ch. III The Tribal Pantheon I 99
Ch. VI Important Cults of the Bastar Tribes 107
Ch. V Tribal Religion and Mythology 163
Ch. VI The Tribal Pantheon II 201
Ch. VII Tribal Festivals of Bastar 271
Ch. VIII Dashahra Festival of Bastar 289
Ch. IX The Ghasia Caste 303
  Appendix I 327
  Appendix II 334
  Appendix III 335
  Appendix VI 338
  Appendix V 339
  Index 341
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