A message on elephant conservation through Gond mythological art

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New Delhi, Aug 14 (IANS) Gond artists have only their cultural stories to fall back on, renowned Gond painter Venkat Raman Singh Shyam says while pointing to his artworks on nature and elephants at the Gaj Mahotsav at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) here.

The four-day festival aims to raise awareness around conservation of the Asian elephant, and features works by an array of artists, along with four from the Gond genre.

Shyam, a second-generation artist from the Pardhan Gond tradition, has been painting under the tutelage of his uncle, Gond master artist Jangarh Singh Shyam.

Linking his art to the stories he heard since childhood, the Bhopal-based artist said elephants are an important mythological element for the Gonds.

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His installation “Gaj-Dhan Lakshmi” — a mix metal, wood and acrylic work — narrates the duality of a divine being, “Maha Lakshmi”, and how it symbolises prosperity.

There is also a painting of a legend involving “Bada Deo” — a form of Shiva worshipped in the middle Indian tribal belt — and an elephant that could fly.

“There’s a legend where I come from. When an untamable flying elephant was creating chaos in villages, the villagers prayed to Bada Deo.

“When the elephant was sleeping, the god came and took away its wings, and sent it to the jungle. This is how we believe elephants came to be earth wanderers,” Shyam told IANS.

The 47-year-old artist also said Gond art is just a visual way of capturing oral history.

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“When my uncle Jangarh Shyam was told to do a Hanuman painting again, he did it differently because he doesn’t know the anatomy of a painting. A different version of a story runs through his head each time.”

The artist, through his paintings, brings forth the deep connect nature has with mythology, and how it all stems from the stories they inherit.

“They don’t have a structured system to teach arts. Gond art stems from the stories we have. They come from the oral traditions told on their musical instruments called ‘Bana’,” he said.

Shyam, whose 2015 autobiography “Finding My Way” has been endorsed by art historians John Berger and B.N. Goswami, prescribes reconnecting to elephants through mythology.

He said the Gond lifestyle is a cycle of giving back to nature what is taken from it, and extending this idea would help conserve the fauna.

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His artworks are exhibited in the “Gaj Yatra” section of the festival, organised by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), partnered by the International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) and United Nations Environment (UNE).

It is an amalgamation of dance and music performances, films, exhibition of elephant themed paintings and photographs, puppet shows and clay modeling sessions, among others.

The festival will conclude on August 15.

–IANS

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