Sacred Street Art: Graffiti of India
Street art in India has an ancient and illustrious history. Graffiti, street murals and public art is not illegal in India, instead folk traditions, religious iconography and political stencil work all jostle for room on the living canvas of India’s streets. From gigantic murals that adorned palace walls, to tiny tags that sit upon layers of flyers and peeling paint, the entire subcontinent is adorned with layers of paint and pigment.
India boasts an incredibly diverse range of street art. Udaipur, in particular, contains a spectacular array of traditional Rajasthani street painting. Street painters are paid to adorn buildings with art that is considered lucky for a home or business and to welcome guests with auspicious symbols. Animals abound, the elephant for intellect, wisdom and good luck, the camel for love, the horse for power and the peacock, the national bird of India and symbol of the cycle of time in Hindu scripts. Other symbols include the lotus flower, the holiest flower in India, which symbolises creation and beauty, and the Sri Yantra (an example of sacred geometry) standing for Shiva the masculine and the Divine Mother for the feminine.
One of the most ancient art forms in India (and the world) is called Warli. This distinctive painting style can still be seen frequently throughout India. It originated in Western India in 2500 BCE. It uses triangles, circles and squares to depict everyday actions, with its distinctive human figure created from a circle and two triangles. the shapes are traditionally in white, painted onto a dark red background. These folk paintings are still created using natural pigments made from soil, leaves, charcoal, and vegetable dyes.
Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world, is a stunning town cut down the middle by the crystalline Ganges and nestled in the lush foothills of the Himalayas. The entire town is full of street art, and the Beatles Ashram houses an ever-evolving graffiti gallery that attracts people from all over the world. The Beatles attended this Ashram in 1968. While they were there they wrote most of the White Album and Abbey Road. The Ashram has since fallen into disuse, and while trees grow through the ceiling, artists from all over the world travel to the crumbling space to add their contribution to the stunning space.
There has been a surge of activity surrounding street art in recent years. For example, Activist groups such as St+Art Foundation (est. 2014) are working in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad among other cities, to spread street art across India and to reclaim and adorn civic spaces while forging links between street artists and the government. St+Art Foundation founder Akshat Nauriyal has expressed that he works in the pursuit of twin goals: “to make public spaces more vibrant and interactive for the people who use them the most, and to make art more democratic as a medium” by bringing it into the streets. Similarly, in the South, community centres work hard to promote the arts for everyone. For example, a street gallery in Fort Kochin adorns a social centre that boasts two community kitchens, a gallery and dance space, and daily free art classes for local young people. The creativity that pours out of India at every turn will shock, overwhelm, inspire and delight every lucky visitor to encounter it.