Cow dung - The walls to be painted are coated with a mixture of cow dung and mud. This is the first step in the process called 'Leepna'. This is done to temper the walls before painting begins.
Mud - A mixture of wet mud is used along with cow dung to coat the walls as a base for the painting.
Plaster or white chalk powder - This is used as a second coat in the 'Leepna' process and is done over the cow dung and mud layer.
Mineral colors - These are available in powdered form and prepared by mixing them with milk and 'Mahuda', a local liquor extracted from the 'Mahua' tree.
Poster Colors - Since the last quarter of the century, poster colours are being used as they are easily available and are slowly replacing mineral colours. The main colors used are red, vermilion, orange, yellow, indigo, ultramarine, green, silver and black.
Paper or fabric - As the craft is growing in popularity; these are used as canvases for commercial purposes.
Khakhra leaves - These are used to make paint mixing bowls.
Khakhra stems - The stems of the 'Khakhra' plant are used to make brushes.
Mahua - This is a local liquor made from the extracts of 'Mahua' tree.
Milk - It is mixed along with 'Mahua' and mineral colors to make paints.
Tools & Technology
Brushes- These are made from the stems of 'Khakhra' plant.
Bowls- These are made from the leaves of 'Khakhra' plant and are used for mixing paints.
Canvas- The chosen walls of the house are used as a canvas. Nowadays, paper and fabric are also used.
Pithora painting is not done for any decorative or ornamental purpose. Pithoro or Baba Pithoro, as the tribals would call him, is an important deity in a region where several deities are worshipped. If someone, especially a young child or an unmarried girl is unwell or domestic animals are affected by an epidemic or if the land is not yielding enough, all believed to be signs of god's anger or displeasure, the head of the family vows to provide a proper, respectable abode to 'Pithoro' in his own home. He therefore gets 'Pithoro' painted (or repainted, if there already is one) on the main wall, if and when he can afford the high cost involved.
Pithora Painting can be called a ritual rather that an art form for it is 'performed' to thank God or for a wish or a boon to be granted. A comprehensive understanding of this ritual will call for a narrative. The head priest of the community, who is called 'Badwa', is summoned when a problem occurs in a family. The problems are narrated to the Badwa, who offers solutions which almost always involves the painting of 'Pithoras' on the walls of the house.
The Pithora Baba is considered to be the reigning deity of the community and his presence is considered to be the solution of all problems. The first wall of the house is considered to be the right place for a Pithora. A Pithora is however, considered to be a three-wall affair, so the first wall and the other two walls around it are prepared for the painting.
The walls to be painted are first plastered with mud and cow dung by the unmarried girls of the household and then coated with chalk powder. This process is called 'Leepna'. And then the painters proceed to do their work.
In the forest clearing, they dance; men and women, boys and girls, to the pulsating rhythm of the 'Mandals' and the echoing pipes. The musicians play faster and faster, the dancers get into a frenzy and all of a sudden, some of them roll on the dusty ground. As they do so, calves charge in and trample on them. When the ritual is over, the dancers rise unhurt. The tribals believe that they have been cleansed of their sins by the grace of the Goddess. These and other tribal rituals mostly form the themes for traditional Pithora paintings.
When finally the painting is finished, a branch from the 'Karam' tree is taken and fixed on the ground in front of Bhadu's house. This is the time to start the ceremony. Obviously, this does not start without 'Kochar kaka' or the priest. So, he initiates the process. Both Kochar kaka (or Badwa ) and the Lakharas belong to separate villages and they test each other's authenticity. After some time, when the ceremony gets a little more intense, Kochar kaka starts taking incarnations of various beings. He first takes an incarnation of a woman, then of a farmer, a hunter, a washer man, a barber, a man, a monkey and a water bearer. The others danced outside the house. The Pooja ceremony goes on for the entire night.
After all this is over, to finish all the rituals, it is important to sacrifice some animals. So, as a result, 7 goats were sacrificed from within Bhadu's house. 6 more goats are sacrificed, that were got by his relatives. Also, 7 cocks are sacrificed. The heart of these sacrificed animals is served to the gods along with liquor, 'Urad' pulse and kept along the holy fire.
At the end, all the guests are served the meat. It is only after serving everyone can Bhadu's family eats, so they eat at the end.
Also, if any time in life Bhadu is to shift to a new place, he would have to make this Pithora painting all over again. And also, no girl can touch the painting and no one can go near the painting with slippers on. Mostly, after every 8 years, this process had to be repeated. This is called the 'Pangu' ceremony.
Color Preparation : Mineral colors and natural pigments are used to create paints, though nowadays poster paints are also used. These are mixed with milk and 'Mahua', which is a local liquor made from the extracts of 'Mahua' tree and kept in separate bowls made from 'Khakhra' leaves. Red, vermilion, orange, yellow, indigo, ultramarine, green, silver and black are the major colors used.
Wall Preparation : The painting process involves a long ritual celebration on the day before painting, where the walls are white washed. As Tuesday is usually picked for this white wash ritual, the day has locally been named 'Pandudio' or whitening day.
Before painting begins, the 'Badwo' selects the walls of the house on which the 'Pithoras' will be created. Purely for reasons of respectful hierarchy, the largest wall in the house is chosen to create the main 'Pithora' and the adjacent walls serve as extended canvas. These walls are cleaned and readied for painting.
Mud, cow dung and white chalk powder are brought in five new (unused) baskets covered with new (unwashed) pieces of cloth.
Before painting begins, a base layer of cow dung and mud is coated on the walls followed by a layer of white chalk powder or white plaster. The raw materials for this are brought in five new (unused) baskets covered with new (unwashed) pieces of cloth.
This process called 'Leepna' follows strict religious protocols wherein only unmarried adolescent girls of the house can participate. The process of 'Leepna' is done to temper the walls and create a white canvas.
As the girls perform the 'leepna', the 'Badwo' lights 'Diyas' (earthen lamps) and prays to the God for the wall's purification. After the purification process is over and the wall has dried, with the blessings of the 'Badwa' the 'Lakharas' (pithora painters) begin painting.
Painting Begins: The Lakharas begin painting the stories. The painting is supervised by the tribal priest while the artists go about it. The stories and symbols are painted in, taking about a day to finish. Stencils are mainly used for the body of the horses and the figures. Most of the drawings and outlines are done by hand. After it is drawn, they make an outline with a bamboo twig and fill it with color. At the end, they finish with silver color or some bright dots or lines. Celebrations and ritual offerings follow the completion of the painting.