Design Resources on
History of Pictorial Narratives in India

The Art of Visual Story Telling
Mr. Saurabh Singanapalli
Industrial Design Centre (IDC), IIT Bombay

Product Semantics HomeHistory of Pictorial Narratives in India:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
00. Index

01. Introduction

02. Early Pictorial Narratives

03. Indian Narrative Traditions           
04. The Advent of 'Comics'

05. Recent Trends

 06. Closing Summary

 07. Slide Show

 08. Links

 09. Contact Details

 10. Comments And Feedback

 11. Credits

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Indian Narrative Traditions and other Cultural Influences

• Chitrakathis
• Kaavads
• Phad-bachanas
• Kalamkari and others

          Sequential art has also played, and continues to play, an important role in the folk narrative traditions of India. The Chitrakathis of Paithan are a case in point. Dated to around the 19th-century CE, these paintings from Maharashtra were used as aids for oral narratives. The Chitrakathis were actually a storytelling community. The storytellers held these paintings in their hands and displayed them to their audience while they narrated stories that revolved around the paintings. The themes could be related to religion or mythology, like the Mahabharata.

          Similarly, the Kaavad storytelling tradition of Rajasthan uses paintings on a wooden box that unfolds to reveal more paintings. The Kaavad is a portable wooden temple/shrine that has visual narratives painted on it (Sabnani 2009). These boxes assist wandering storytellers as they go from home to home.

          Another storytelling tradition that must be mentioned here is that of the Phad-bachanas of Rajasthan. Just as in the case of the Chitrakathis or the Kaavads, these are sequential narratives that serve as aids around which oral narratives are structured. These are narratives where the storyteller talks about a central hero Pabuji and his exploits. The visuals are presented on a brightly coloured Phad, while the storytellers perform with music and song. Pabuji forms the main character in the Phad, and the narrators follow established tradition when describing his exploits.

          Apart from these examples discussed above, Indian pictorial narratives are also present in various other forms, including Kalamkari, Jain Pata-chitras, and many others. However, as we have seen here, a lot of these are used as accompaniments or supports for oral narratives. Sometimes, certain forms of art in India have used visual elements with text to form a self-contained story (for example, some kinds of Kalamkari do this), but this is more the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps this is the reason why, when India came into contact with the Western cartooning/ comics style, which was mostly print and not oral, artists here chose to follow and imitate that rather than look towards indigenous traditions as inspiration for their work.