During the last two decades many rock paintings belonging to the proto-historic period have been discovered in Kumaon region of the state. Among them Lakhu Udiyar and Lwethaap are well known. The Pahari Kalam (style of painting) probably also developed in Kumaon, when it was being practiced in some of the Himalayan regions. Unfortunately very few examples of this style are available today.
The Aipan (Alpana) is a popular art form of Kumaon, and walls, papers and pieces of cloth are decorated by the drawing of various geometric and other figures belonging to gods, goddesses and objects of nature. Pichhauras or dupattas are also decorated in this manner. At the time of Harela there is a tradition of making clay idols (Dikaras).
‘Aepan’ or Aipan or Alpana is an art which has a special place in all Kumaoni homes. The word “Aepan’ is a derivative of ‘Arpan’. A commonly used word for it is “Likhai” (writing), although it is a pattern made with the fingers. Aepan are used as ritual designs for Pujas, festivals and ceremonies connected with birth, janeu (the sacred thread ceremony), marriage and death.
The raw material used is simple ochre (Geru) colour and rice paste. It is mostly women who paint the designs on the floors and walls of their homes using the last three fingers of the right hand. Once the ochre base is ready the artist draws the pattern free hand. Chowkies are made with mango wood and painted with special designs for each occasion. Pattas & Thapas are made directly on the walls or on paper and cloth. Earlier the paint used was made from natural ‘dyes. Today, poster and oil paints both are used. We are using the traditional “patterns for cards, wall hangings, cushion covers, table cloths, even T-Shirts. The decorative patterns used to adorn doorways have been adapted for gift tags, bookmarks, clay items, wooden boxes, trays and coasters.
Different forms of Aipans
- Saraswati Chowki:- Saraswati being the Goddess of learning, when a child begins formal education a puja is held to give him/her an auspicious start. The main feature of this chowki is a five-pointed star with a swastik flower or a diya in the center. The artist then proceeds to decorate the center piece with flowing designs or floral patterns
- Chamunda Hast Chowki:- This chowki is made for “havans” or “yagyas” . Two triangles interspersed with two diagonal lines running across both, with a 5-pointed star in between, enclosed in a circle make the centre piece of this chowki. The gaps are filled up with floral designs or lakshmi’s feet. The circle itself is often decorated with 8 petals of the lotus.
- Nav Durga Chowki:- Used for ritual Devi pujas. The main points here are nine dots representing the Nav Durgas. Those who are adept in aepan designs make a square enclosing these dots with parallel lines running crisscross and decorate these with lotus petals. A simpler way is to form swastiks with the 9 dots, it is then called Nav Swastik. There are many variations of this. A simpler version is made by drawing three horizontal and vertical lines with a Swastik in the centre.
- Shiv or Shivarchan Peeth:- Shiv is the reigning God of the people of the Himalayas. He is worshipped specially in the months of Savan or Magh. 28 or 108 Parthiv Lings are placed in a copper thali and Shiv or Shivarchan Peeth is drawn on the ground. This is an eight cornered design with 12 dots joined by 12 lines. To make it more attractive there is an outside border of four plus four corners.
- The Surya Darshan Chowki:- It is connected with the naming ceremony of a newborn child. For eleven days the baby is kept indoors, on the eleventh day the child is brought outside for Surya Darshan. This chowki is made on the floor where the priest sits reciting mantras.
- Janeyu Chowki:- The chowki is made specially for the sacred thread ceremony. Seven stars within a six-sided drawing form the main section. The seven stars represent the Sapt Rishis. Around this floral designs with dots are drawn.
- Asan Chowki:- This is associated with the many kinds of chowkis used for various pujas. It is a decorated seat for the devotee and his wife for a ritual puja.
- Dhuli Arghya Chowki:- Twilight in India is called “Godhuli Vela” or the time when cows return home from the pastures. The dust which rises from their hooves gives the time its name. For weddings the bridegroom’s party also arrives at the bride’s house at this time of evening. In bygone days the bridegroom’s entourage usually walked to the bride’ s place and so they arrived with dusty feet. Since the groom for this period represents “Narayan”. God himself. so he is greeted with devotion. His dust covered feet are washed before the puja welcoming him begins. He stands on a “Chowkil. or small stool on which is painted a tree like figure with three branches coming out on the top. It also resembles a pitcher with Shiva’s Trishul or Trident on the top. At the base is Bramha the creator and in the middle Vishnu. On two sides of this painting, two parrots are painted and at the bottom the lotus as well as the Swastik. All three denote luck and are good omens.
- Acharya Chowki:- The groom is always accompanied among others by his own Pandit or Acharya. The Pandit is given more prominence than even the father of the groom. So a special chowki is made for him. A Swastik is made on it with red colour. The lotus and other auspicious symbols such as a bell, a conch shell, sometimes even 2 parrots are painted around the Swastik.
- Durga Thapa :- The Durga Thapa is painted on paper by the women of Kumaon for two Durga Pujas held during the year, one in March-April and the other before the festival of Dussehra. The pujas take place for nine days and are therefore caned Navratras.
This Thapa or painting is highly complex. Almost an the gods and goddesses. besides several local deities are depicted along with the many-armed Durga who rides the lion. Ranking her on the left and right are the family deities of the Thakurs of Kumaon. Kot Kangra Devi and Jwala Devi. She is surrounded by auspicious symbols such as the conch shen, ben, lamp, tulsi. rice, grain and swastika. To her left are the Bhuja Bali gods. Ram and Lakshman. The twin sisters. Anayari and UjyarL representing light and darkness and the goddesses worshipped at the hiJI temples of Punyagiri and Dunagiri also find representation in this Thapa. On the right side are- the Nav Durgas and the nine headed Chandi Devi, with the temple guards at the bottom of the hierarchy. The topmost row in the painting features the sun, Ganesh – the elephant-headed god who is the remover of obstacles, Riddhi, Lakshmi the goddess of wealth and her consort, Vishnu. the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity; Brahma, the Creator and Saraswati the goddess of learning; local gods Gola Nath and Bhola Nath on horseback and Bala Barmi. The eight-petalled lotus within a circle is of special importance in a Durga Puja.
- Jyoti Patta :- In the hills of Kumaon, among the Brahmin and Sah families there is a practice of drawing a “Jyoonti” at a wedding or a sacred thread ceremony. In earlier times, “Jyoontis” were murals painted on the walls of rooms where religious ceremonies took place. These drawings are now made on paper, hardboard or plywood. Even printed Jyoonti Pattas are available. “Jyoonti” is the local word used for the Jeev Matrikas – Maha Laxmi, Maha Saraswati and Maha Kali. Worship of the Matrikas is an ancient tradition in Kumaon. The Bagnath Temple in Bageshwar has a panel of the Matrikas supposed to date back to the ninth century. The drawing of the “Jyoonti” or Jyoti Patta follows a pattern. The first line depicts the Himalayas because it is the practice to send the first invitation to them. Thereafter there are lines of floral or geometrical designs. One important panel has two lotuses on either side and a tree which symbolizes the mythical Kalpavriksha. Brahma, the Creator, and Vishnu, the Preserver, are said to reside in the roots of the tree, Shiva, the Destroyer, in its trunk and his consort, Parvati, in the topmost part of the tree. Below the tree, two parrots are painted for luck. In the center of the panel are Radha-Krishna or Ganesh and Riddhi’ or even the figures of the bride and groom.
The main panel has the three Matrikas attended by Ganesh. On top, are the two circular faces of Anyari Devi and Ujyari Devi, the presiding deities over Light and Darkness. Ranking the central panel is an elaborate design of dots and lines called “Bar Boond”. This represents an invocation as well as invitation to the gods to attend the wedding and bless the couple.
- Lakshmi Yantra:- In the hills of Kumaon as in other parts of India, the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, is worshipped during the festival of Diwali. Before the idol is placed on the spot where the Puja will take place, the Lakshmi Yantra is drawn on the floor with ochre colour (Geru) and rice paste (Biswar). This is the seat of the goddess. The center point of the Yantra is marked by a dot or flower, which symbolizes the Universe. It is enclosed in two triangles, which form a star with six points. The upper triangle represents Shiva and the lower one, Shakti. The triangle is encircled with six or eight lotuses. There can also be an outer circle of sixteen lotuses. The lotuses represent the moon, stars, the home and wealth. There are usually other circular designs around the centerpiece. The circles are surrounded by lines on four sides signifying “doors” is called “Bhupur”. They symbolize the Earth. The entire painting is adorned at various points with Lakshmi’s footprints.
Below the Yantra are depicted two puja “asanas” or seats for the couple who perform the puja. Alternatively, these seats could be meant for the head of the household and the priest who conducts the ceremony. In most Kumaoni households instead of a clay or metal statue of Lakshmi, sugarcane is cut and placed crosswise. Traditional feminine attire like a lahanga (long skirt) and Odhni (shaw!) adorn the sugarcane to make it look like a female form. Thus is the sweetness of life invited with ritual precision to preside over a household.
Other Art Forms
The Shaukas use their own and Tibetan knitting art form to decorate mattresses known as Dans. In these woollen goods we find the mixed influence of the Kumaoni and Tibetan styles. Kumaon also has a distinctive style of making different baskets (Doka, Dala, Tokri); wooden casks (Theki, Harpia, Naliya) for keeping curd, butter and ghee; mattresses (mosta) and ropes etc. The art of Hilljatra mukhotas (masks) is also worth mentioning.