Famous Gond Painting And The Story Of Jangarh Singh Shyam


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Famous Gond Painting , Tribal Arts of Madhya Pradesh, India

by  Voyager - Sandy N Vyjay

The story and history of Gond Paintings are inextricably linked with three men, and we heard this story beneath a Peepal tree, one afternoon, at the Jiyo Gond Kalakriti Sahkari Samiti in Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh.

Jiyo Gond Kalakriti Sahkari Samiti in Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh
Jiyo Gond Kalakriti Sahkari Samiti in Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh

We were there to meet the Gond painters of the village and look at their amazing work, as part of the Times Passion Tribal Trail that was organized by the Times Group in association with Madhya Pradesh Tourism.

Table of Contents

The Story Of The Genesis Of Gond Painting | Gond Art

Verrier Elwin
Verrier Elwin

The genesis of the famous Gond Paintings that have drawn global attention can be ascribed to a unique play of circumstances that bound three men in a web of Karmic connections. We listened to Dr Vijay Chourasia, a man with a deep interest in anthropology and committed to working for the protection of Tribal culture, a man who has 8 books on tribals to his credit.

J. Swaminathan
J. Swaminathan           PC: jnaf.org

The story that he narrated is related to 3 men, Verrier Elwin who was a British born Indian anthropologist, J. Swaminathan who was an artist, poet, and writer, and played a key role in the establishment of the Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal.

Jangarh Singh Shyam
Jangarh Singh Shyam

The third man in this trio was Jangarh Singh Shyam, the man credited with the evolution and growth of Gond paintings.

Patangarh - The Cradle Of Gond Painting

Jiyo Gond Kalakriti Sahkari Samiti in Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh

The branches of the Peepal tree crackled as they bore the force of the wind blowing across the open space behind it. Dr Vijay Chaurasia recalled a day in the eighties.

"That was the time when Bharat Bhawan was being established in Bhopal, and there was a need for artists, J.Swaminathan a great artist and his associate Vivek Tambe, visited me at my place in village Gadasarai in the Dindori distinct of Madhya Pradesh, some 20 kilometres from Patangarh."

"They asked me to show them the place where the anthropologist Verrier Elwin had stayed." "I brought them here to Patangarh, where Verrier Elwin had stayed for about 10 to 12 years." We then moved around Patangarh village and during our foray into the village we came across a young boy aged around 15 or 16 years who was making images with mud."

"Swaminathanji liked what the boy was making and spoke to him. He was impressed by his demeanour and asked him to come to Bhopal and work on his art. Initially, the boy refused, but after being counselled by elders of the village, agreed to move to Bhopal."

"The boy went to Bhopal, and of course made images from clay, but in a twist in the tale, he was given a brush and encouraged to paint by Swaminathanji." "He was told to give full reign to his imagination and paint about his culture, the Gods and Goddesses he believed in, and much more."

"That boy was Jangarh Singh Shyam, from the Gond Pardhan tribe in Patangarh. He started painting and soon the style of painting found expression in other artists of the village too. The Gond paintings reached the global stage."

The Life And Death Of Jangarh Singh Shyam

Jangarh Singh Shyam with J.Swaminathan
Jangarh Singh Shyam with J.Swaminathan   PC: Jyoti Bhatt/Asia Art Archive/scroll.in & artisera.com

Jangarh Singh Shyam was the first Gond artist to bring his imagination to life on paper and canvas. He blazed a totally new trail and was a brilliant star on the art firmament of India and the world. He pioneered a new school of Indian art which is named as Jangarh Kalam.

Within a span of a few years, the young Gond artist from Patangarh had a meteoric rise with his paintings winning national and international acclaim. One of his works titled Landscape with Spider was auctioned by Sotheby's for a whopping sum of $31,250.

The young lad who used to graze cattle in the pastures of Patangarh had indeed come a long way in a short time.

Jangarh Singh Shyam had a lifelong association and collaboration with his mentor, J.Swaminathan. The paintings of the remarkable Gond artist were displayed at the inaugural exhibition of Bharat Bhawan. Jangarh Singh Shyam started work in Bharat Bhawan and lived near J.Swaminathan's house. It is incredible that within 5 years of his starting his foray into Gond painting, the young man from Patangarh was conferred the prestigious Shikhar Samman award by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

Jangarh Singh Shyam was like a shooting star, brilliant, but short-lived. His flourishing career was cut short by his untimely death at the young age of 39. In the year 2001, Jangarh Singh Shyam was doing a residency at the Mithila Museum in Niigata, Tokamachi, Japan, when he took the extreme step of hanging himself. He was gone as suddenly as he had arrived on the art scene. A genius, gone too soon. A flourishing career nipped in the bud. His death remains an unsolved conundrum to this day, though there are many theories about it.

Gond Painting And The Story Of Jangarh Singh Shyam
Gond Paintings on display

As we looked through the Gond paintings of different artists that were on display and sale at the arts centre in Patangarh, the story of Jangarh Singh Shyam haunted us.

Gond Painting And The Story Of Jangarh Singh Shyam
Gond Painting

The artist lives on in his legacy of Gond paintings. Dr Chourasia informed us that out of a population of around 1,000 in the village of Patangarh, around 800 are engaged in Gond Painting, and about 300-400 of the Gond Pardhan tribe are in Bhopal working on this art.

Gond Paintings - Gond Art
Gond Paintings - Gond Art

Gond Painting has become a means of livelihood to the villagers of Patangarh.

It is an irony that we did not see any plaque or any sort of memorial dedicated to Jangarh Singh Shyam in his home village of Patangarh. However, his memory is fresh in the hearts of the villagers as we soon found out.

An Elegy For A Painter

Gond Painting And The Story Of Jangarh Singh Shyam
Peepal tree

We chatted with a few villagers sitting in the village square, right opposite the campus of the Jiyo Gond Kalakriti Sahkari Samiti. The villagers still remember Verrier Elwin and point out the same Peepal tree, under which we listened a few moments ago to the story of Gond painting and Jangarh Singh Shyam as narrated by Dr Vijay Chourasia.


"Verrier Elwin's house was just behind that Peepal tree, says Satnarayan, pointing his finger towards the Peepal tree."

The one in pink shirt is the cousin of Verrier Elwin's second wife, Lila
The one in pink shirt is the cousin of Verrier Elwin's second wife, Lila

The villagers tell about Verrier Elwin and how he had married three tribal girls. One of the villagers in a pink shirt turns out to be the cousin of Verrier Elwin's second wife, Lila.

Gond folk art

Satnarayan recollects the visit of J.Swaminathan and how he was impressed by the mud paintings of Jangarh Singh Shyam, his move to Bhopal, and the growth of the Gond Paintings. He also recollects his tragic death in Japan and gives his theory about the artist's suicide. He says that an associate at Residency in the Mithila museum of Japan used to taunt and mock Jangarh Singh Shyam, saying that his visa was expired and he would never be able to go back to India, and this could have led to his suicide.

Painting of Smt. Durgabai Vyam
Painting of Smt. Durgabai Vyam   PC: gondtribalart.com

The somewhat unsung legacy of Jangarh Singh Shyam lives on. Gond paintings occupy a special position in the tribal arts of India. One of the Gond artists named Durgabai Vyam was advised and encouraged by Jangarh Singh Shyam to explore new frontiers in her painting and not repeat what they had been doing for years.

President Kovind presents Padma Shri to Smt. Durga Bai Vyam
President Kovind presents Padma Shri to Smt. Durga Bai Vyam

In 2022, Durgabai Vyam has been honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri award conferred on her by the President of India, Shri Ramnath Kovind, a true tribute to the memory of Jangarh Singh Shyam.

Dr Vijay Chourasia
Dr Vijay Chourasia

The best tribute to the memory of Jangarh Singh Shyam comes from Dr Vijay Chourasia, he says, " We will not call this Gond Painting, the name we have given it is Jangarh Kalam."

This then is the story of the man who catapulted the tribal colours of Gond folk art from the obscure tribal huts of Madhya Pradesh to the world stage.

This was part of a tribal trail curated and organized by Times Passion Trails ( Times of India ) and Madhya Pradesh Tourism under the #DekhoApnaDesh and #AzadiKaAmritMahotsav initiative. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are our own. #timespassiontrails #tribaltrail #TimesofIndia #MPTourism #HeartOfIndia #MadhyaPradesh

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Gond Painting Of Madhya Pradesh

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