Skip to content


Your cart is empty

Get flat 10% off

Sign up and unlock your instant discount

Article: The History of Indian Folk Art

The History of Indian Folk Art

The History of Indian Folk Art

Indian folk art—one of the vibrant scrolls—sings the stories of India’s rich cultural heritage. It is more than just an art form with some brush strokes and hues. Going beyond just a visual appeal, Indian folk art is a treasure trove of traditions and beliefs incorporated into the lives of people across the nation. 

Canvas, palettes, varieties of brushes—all these tools are modern things. But the origin of Indian folk art dates back thousands of years, when the daily activities of hunting and celebration were captured on cave walls. But, as time passed, Indian folk art was influenced and inspired by religion and mythology. Moving from expressing daily activities to capturing religious narratives has not only enriched the art but also served as a means of preserving cultural values and beliefs. 

Today, Indian folk art continues to thrive, adapting to contemporary contexts while retaining its traditional essence. It finds expression in various forms, from murals in urban spaces to fashion and home decor items that blend traditional motifs with modern aesthetics. This dynamic interplay between the old and the new keeps Indian folk art alive and relevant, captivating audiences both in India and around the world.

From the ancient carvings on cave walls to smooth brush strokes on soft canvas, we have come so far today. Let's stroll back into the past and learn how these beautiful folk art forms took shape and continue to bloom in a place full of technologies. 

Origins of Indian Folk Art

The origins of Indian folk art are deeply rooted in the country's ancient history, stretching back thousands of years to the earliest human settlements. These early artworks primarily depict scenes of hunting, dancing, and daily life, showcasing a remarkable understanding of form, movement, and the natural world.

These prehistoric paintings are more than mere decorations; they offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives, beliefs, and practices of early human communities. The recurring motifs of animals, human figures, and symbolic representations suggest a deep connection with nature and a desire to capture and communicate the world around them. The depiction of communal activities such as hunting and dancing also indicates the importance of social and ritualistic practices in these early societies.

The early forms of Indian folk art were an integral part of everyday life, reflecting the customs, traditions, and social practices of various communities. Artisans created functional objects with artistic embellishments, such as pottery, textiles, and tools, making art a ubiquitous presence in daily activities.

Evolution of Indian Folk Art through Historical Periods

As Indian society evolved from ancient cave walls to smooth canvas fabrics, its art forms have also evolved with time. The evolution of Indian folk art can be traced through various historical periods, each contributing to its development and enrichment.

Vedic Period

The Vedic period marked a significant phase in the evolution of Indian art. Art during this period was primarily symbolic and ritualistic, reflecting the Vedic people's emphasis on rituals, sacrifices, and the worship of deities. It was closely linked to religious practices and often depicted scenes from the Vedas and other sacred texts.

Maurya and Gupta Empires

The Maurya and Gupta empires are often referred to as the golden age of Indian art. During this period, artistic expression was blooming, with artisans creating magnificent sculptures, paintings, and architectural wonders. The patronage of rulers like Ashoka and the Gupta kings played a crucial role in the development and spread of folk art forms across the Indian subcontinent.

Medieval Period

The medieval period saw the emergence of several powerful dynasties in India, including the Cholas, and Mughals. These dynasties were known for their patronage of the arts, leading to a proliferation of artistic styles and forms. Folk art during this period reflected the cultural and religious diversity of India, with artisans drawing inspiration from Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Islamic traditions.

Colonial Period

The colonial period brought significant changes to Indian society and art. With the arrival of European colonizers, there was a decline in traditional art forms as European styles and techniques began to influence Indian artists. However, this period also witnessed a revival of interest in Indian art and culture, as artists sought to reclaim their heritage in the face of colonial oppression.

Modern Period

The period following India's independence in 1947 has been marked by a resurgence of interest in Indian folk art. Artists have sought to preserve and promote traditional art forms, blending them with contemporary styles and techniques. Government initiatives and the efforts of non-governmental organizations have also played a crucial role in revitalizing Indian folk art and ensuring its survival into the modern era.

Major Forms of Indian Folk Art

The evolution of Indian folk art has given rise to a diverse range of styles and forms, each with its own unique characteristics and cultural significance. These art forms have been shaped by the historical, religious, and regional influences that have shaped Indian society over the centuries.

Madhubani Painting

Originating from the Mithila region of Bihar, Madhubani painting is one of the most famous forms of Indian folk art. Known for its intricate patterns, vibrant colors, and mythological themes, Madhubani painting has its roots in the rituals and traditions of the region. Traditionally done by women on the walls of their homes, Madhubani painting has gained international recognition for its beauty and complexity.

Warli Art

Warli art is a tribal art form that originated in the tribal regions of Maharashtra. Characterized by its simple, monochromatic motifs depicting daily life, animals, and nature, Warli art is created using a bamboo stick and natural colors. Warli paintings are often used to decorate the walls of homes during festivals and special occasions, reflecting the close connection between art and everyday life in tribal communities.


Pattachitra is a traditional form of scroll painting that originated in the eastern Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal. The word "Pattachitra" is derived from the Sanskrit words "patta," meaning cloth, and "chitra," meaning picture. Pattachitra paintings are known for their intricate details, mythological themes, and vibrant colors. These paintings are often done on cloth or dried palm leaves and are used for storytelling and religious purposes.

Phad Painting

Phad painting is a traditional art form from the state of Rajasthan, known for its elaborate narrative scrolls depicting the life of local deities. Phad paintings are characterized by their bold colors, detailed compositions, and stylized figures. The paintings are traditionally done on a long piece of cloth, which is then rolled up and carried from village to village, where it is unfolded and used as a backdrop for storytelling and performances.

Gond Art

Gond art is a tribal art form that originated in the Gond tribal regions of Madhya Pradesh. Known for its intricate patterns, vibrant colors, and mythical themes, Gond art is deeply rooted in the cultural and spiritual beliefs of the Gond people. Gond artists use natural colours derived from plants and minerals to create their paintings, which often depict animals, birds, and nature in a stylized and symbolic manner.


Kalamkari is a traditional art form that originated in the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The word "Kalamkari" is derived from the words "kalam," meaning pen, and "kari," meaning work. Kalamkari artists use a pen-like tool called a kalam to draw intricate designs on cloth, which are then filled in with natural dyes. Kalamkari paintings often depict mythological themes, floral motifs, and scenes from Indian epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Themes and Symbolism in Indian Folk Art

The rich canvas of themes and symbolism in Indian folk art reflects the cultural and spiritual essence of the communities that create it. These themes and symbols offer a window into the collective consciousness, beliefs, and daily experiences of the people, providing a deeper understanding of their worldviews and values.

Mythology and Religion

One of the most prevalent themes in Indian folk art is mythology and religion. This is evident in art forms, which often depict scenes from Hindu epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These artworks are not merely decorative; they serve as visual narratives that preserve and propagate religious stories and moral lessons. For instance, Pattachitra paintings frequently illustrate the tales of Lord Jagannath, Krishna, and other deities, using intricate details and vibrant colours to bring these ancient stories to life.

Nature and Animals

Nature and animals are central themes in many forms of Indian folk art, reflecting the deep connection between rural communities and their natural environment. These simple yet evocative paintings celebrate the harmony between humans and nature, emphasising themes of coexistence and sustainability.

Several folk art forms also place a strong emphasis on nature, often featuring intricate depictions of flora and fauna. The art is imbued with symbolism; animals like tigers, elephants, and birds are not just decorative elements but carry deeper meanings related to the community's beliefs and traditions.

Daily Life and Social Customs

Indian folk art frequently captures scenes from daily life and social customs, providing a visual record of community practices and traditions. The artworks are rich in detail and symbolism, with each element holding specific meanings. For example, fish symbolise fertility and prosperity, while birds represent freedom and the connection between heaven and earth.

Symbolism and Abstract Concepts

Symbolism plays a crucial role in Indian folk art, with many forms using abstract concepts to convey deeper meanings. The circles in Warli art for instance represent the sun and moon, the triangle symbolizes mountains and trees, and the lines depict human activities. These geometric shapes are combined in various ways to create a cohesive narrative that speaks to the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the Warli tribe.


The history of Indian folk art is a testament to the rich cultural heritage and artistic ingenuity of India's diverse communities. From its origins in ancient rituals and traditions to its evolution through various historical periods, and its adaptation to contemporary contexts, Indian folk art remains a vibrant and dynamic form of expression. The themes and symbolism embedded in these art forms provide profound insights into the beliefs, values, and daily lives of the people who create them.

Read more

a bamboo basket with green vegetables placed on a bench along with a title in the front saying "why you need to adopt eco-friendly habits into your lifestyle

Why You Need to Adopt Eco-Friendly Habits into Your Lifestyle

Discover how small changes in your daily routine can make a big impact on the environment. Start your journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle today!

Read more
How Pattachitra Art Is Made: Step-by-Step Guide to Painting Techniques

How Pattachitra Art Is Made: Step-by-Step Guide to Painting Techniques

Learn how Pattachitra artists create stunning artwork using age-old techniques. This blog delves into their process, from preparing natural dyes to painting intricate designs on cloth and palm leaves.

Read more