Pithora paintings are mainly done to invoke Bab Pithora who is preferred as most important god. The 'Pithoro' or 'Baba Pithoro', as popularly known amongst locals, springs from their faith in the village 'Tantric' (witch doctors) power to heal all grievances and undo all bad omens. The Tantrik or 'Badwa' is held in the highest esteem by the Rathwas who seek his consultation and advice for any ill that befalls a family.
The Pithora paintings have an important position in Rathwa symbolic representation. The Pithora paintings are done on the walls of Rathwa tribe dwellings as vows in a ritual. The tribes also paint their surroundings in vivid colours and in abstraction. Though the tribes consider it a divine painting and not used for commercial purposes, nowadays it is done on fabrics and also used as wall hangings.
The Pithora paintings are abstract descriptions of the surroundings they live in. These are not literal depictions but of how they perceive the elements of their environment and nature. The recent ones also have modern elements like railway tracks, airplanes, and computers too.
These paintings are also considered to be highly sacred. The villagers consult a 'Tantrik' or a witch doctor of sorts to cure illnesses or release them from bad omens. They pray to 'Baba Pithora' and if the prayers are granted, they paint a Pithora painting on their walls in gratitude. This painting is also supervised by the Tantriks or priests. The completion of the painting is celebrated with ceremonies.
Anybody who has the Pithora painting in their home is highly respected in the society. The one who performs the ritual is called the Badwa or the head priest. Only males from the tribe are allowed to learn the art.
The presence of a Pithora painting is considered auspicious in a household. A Pithora is always located at the threshold or the 'Osari', outside the first front wall. The Pithora artists are called 'Lakharas' and the ones who keep an account of the paintings are called 'Jhokaras'. 'Badwa', the head priests performs the rituals. When the 'Lakharas' paint, the 'Badwa', with his colleagues, sings and chants. In the evening, before the sacrifice, the priest goes into a trance and finds out what has been forgotten in the painting. That too is drawn and painted in. Most of the work is done by hand. Only men from the tribe are taught this art and allowed to paint. They are trained by the senior members from a young age.
Myths & Legends
The story of the deity 'Pithora' is a very popular legend amongst the tribes in this regard.
The King of Gods, Raja Indra had seven sisters. One day, one of his sisters, Rani Kadi Koyal went into the forest where she met Raja Kanjurana. She had an affair with him and after 9 months and 9 days, she gave birth to a son. Since she was still a maiden, out of fear of her brother, Raja Indra, she set the child afloat in a stream. That day Rani Kajal and Rani Makher (Indra's other sisters) went to fetch water from the stream and found the baby crying. Rani Kajal fed milk of Akda / Banyan tree flower to the baby and bathed him with seven kinds of auspicious things. She named the baby "Pithora" and took him to the palace with her.
As the time passed, Pithora grew into a fine boy. One day when he was playing, he broke Rani Kajal's earthen pot. This made her angry and she scolded him saying, "As it is, your maternal uncle holds the share of the entire kingdom, She indirectly told him that Raja Indra is his maternal uncle.
Hearing this, Pithora decided to find out who his parents are. He went to Raja Indra's court and introduced himself. After hearing his story, King Indra accepted him in the family with great joy and decided to find a suitable bride for him. But Pithora needed to know about his parents, if he wished to be married. So Raja Indra invited a grand court. He invited everyone; all the gods and goddesses, kings and queens, noblemen and respected citizens. When Pithora came in the court, he pointed at Raja Kanjurana and identified him as his father. After much rejoicing, a grand wedding ceremony was arranged and Pithora wed Pithori with much aplomb. All the gods and goddesses attended the wedding. They arrived on horses and elephants. Hence Pithora painting has gods arriving on horses along with Pithora and Pithori.
The style of the Pithora paintings is believed to have originated for use in a sort of cartography. These maps were created in codes using abstractions for the natural elements around them by the tribes in Bharuch. It started in the 11th century when Bharuch was an important center for traders from the North. The roads and pathways were rugged and treacherous to travel in if you did not know them well. So the tribes took to escorting the Indian and foreign traders through Bharuch in exchange for silver coins, creating a niche profession for themselves.
To keep the land a mystery to the outsiders and make it easier for the locals, the tribal leader devised a method of creating a map with codes. Thus, the seven hills became represented by seven horses and the mouth of river Narmada by two tigers. The leader also ordered the escorts to make the same painting in their houses. The people who showed loyalty by painting the map at their home came to be known as 'Rathwas' while those who disagreed, were called 'Talavis'. The Rathwas then got rights to climb and dwell atop the seven hills. This practice went on till 1812 A.D. till the British rulers put a stop to it. Then the act of making Pithora painting became a ritual and Pithora became the god of Rathwa tribe.
Ornate borders called 'Cok' or a 'Dhartini Hadh' are drawn which is considered as the sacred rectangular enclosures for the main myth to be painted in. The sacred enclosure contains the pictorial depiction of the mythology of the Rathwas. Generally the uppermost section of the enclosure, above a wavy line with geometric motifs, represents the world of Gods. Just below this line there is the procession of the marriage of Pithora and Pithori. 'Tipna' are orange dots made with the fingers in a smaller rectangle in the centre. The God Pithora is painted and then his wife Pithori is near these dots. Elements like the sun and moon are drawn on the top.
There are three horizontal rows, out of which the central one containing the Pithora figure is the most important. The last row has figures of procession like elephants and Raja Bhoj. 'Khatro' horses are painted to the right, which are considered to be the horses of their ancestors. On the left wall, they draw two white horses, which are for ghosts, and witches, who have to be satisfied with gifts and horses. The lower half of the enclosure depicts the actual myth of creation wherein the Earth, the mythical farmer, the cowherd, the kings, the Bania (trader/grocer), the Badvo, the goddesses of destiny, the cow and the bull, the various creatures of the forest and the minor deities are shown. The painter also accommodates the commodities essential for the survival of the tribe. The painting is regarded as an abode of the deity and it should have all the crucial things depicted in it like water, farming, hookah, livestock, food, hunting equipments and other things which invoke apprehension in bribe such as snakes, scorpions, guns and evil spirits.