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The Kurumbas & their paintings


Kurumbas style painting

The Kurumbas, who live in the mid-ranges of the Nilgiris or “blue-mountains” entertain a confusing and mysterious identity. Several factors add to the romanticisation of these tribal people. Like the mountain ranges, the word “kurumba” is found in the adjoining states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. The tribes themselves are sometimes called “Kuruba”and sometimes confused with other tribes of similar names like “Kuruman”.

The Kurumbas are generally believed to be the descendants of the Pallavas whose rule was at its grandest in the 7th century. Losing power to the Kongus and the Chalukyas, the Pallavas were finally driven out and dispersed by the Chola king Adondai. They settled in scattered settlements in the Nilgiris and Wynad, in Coorg and Mysore.  It is the Kurumbas of the Nilgiris whom we refer to when we say “Kurumba”.
The tribe is divided into several groups. In the many ethnographic accounts on the tribe the numbers vary from as few as three to as many as seven. The various groups are the jen (orshola nayakkars”), mullu, urali, beta and alu or palu. The most populous of whom are the Alu Kurumbas. In 1998 it was reported that there were 63 Alu Kurumba settlements compared to 12 Beta Kurumba settlements which are next in number.
The Art
 The Kurumba art is an expression of its socio-religious fabric. The art is traditionally practiced by the male members of the temple caretakers, or priest to the Kurumba village. The women of the family contribute to the decorations at home in the form of borders around the door and windows and kolams on the floor. Other Kurumbas are not allowed to practice the art.
The canvas for the painting is the outer wall of the temple and the house. The figures representing their gods and the kurumba man expresses Kurumba beliefs and the milestones of the village and the tribe. The artist also draws inspiration from his life. The figures are made up of lines and are minimal in style. Lines, independent and concentric, dot and simple geometric figures are the basic elements. The figures also stand free of any depiction of their natural environment. The defining context is the surface on which they are painted.
Four colours are used traditionally: Red (“Semm manna”) and white (“Bodhi manna”) are soils, black is obtained from the bark of a tree (“Kari maran”) and green from the leaves of a plant (“Kaatavarai sedi”). A piece of cloth is used to apply the colours onto the cowdung prepared walls. Nowadays a fresh coat of plaster is given to the wall before painting begins.
The kurumba art has recently been revived. The revived Kurumba style has been brought down from the walls and temples onto paper. The new version is far different from the traditional version. Painted with watercolours on handmade paper, they are more colourful and depict the social practices and the day-to-day life of the kurumbas. Popular among these are scenes of honey collection, cultivation, herding and the rituals of their harvest festival. The new figures are similar to the Warli figures. And unlike in the traditional art form, these figures differentiate between the male and the female.

For further information please contact
Raminder Chowdhary
Tel: +91-80-41276433
Mobile: +91-9008000338

6 Comments to “The Kurumbas & their paintings”

  1. I want to thank the writer very much for this post. I find your blog very interesting and i will come back for more information. Keep up the good work and continue educating others!

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  5. Are these canvas prints or actual oil paintings on canvas?

    • These are actual paintings using forest colours on canvas and paper.

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