In recent years, it has become increasingly common for Indian designers in search of inspiration to turn to art forms that might have once been considered “primitive”. These include the art forms of Adivasi communities, whose bright colours and striking patterns now frequently adorn products such as clothes and bags.
Those who practice the Pithora form, however, have been resisting such commodification. These communities, which include the Rathwas, who live in and around Gujarat’s Chhota Udepur region, argue that Pithora is not an art form at all, but that its creation is a sacred ritual, and a central part of the communities’ culture and religion.
Nolina Minj travelled to Chhota Udepur, and met artists, activists and others, to understand why the community is forgoing lucrative commercial opportunities to preserve a practice they see as a core part of their way of life. “Like much of Adivasi cultural heritage, Pithora too is often misunderstood and sidelined by outsiders,” Minj said. “It is remarkable how much is encapsulated in the form, from the rich ecology and cosmology of the Rathwa Adivasis to their complex negotiations with modernity and Hinduisation.”