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Colour Journey: The revival of Godna Art of Surguja through fabric:A style of tribal tattoos lives on, as delicate motifs on textiles. The women of Surguja village have revived an old art-form with much vigour and enthusiasm. Our Colour Journey explores Godna art in Chhattisgarh.

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Showcase 05 Jan 2017

Colour Journey: The Godna art covered canvases of the Surguja district

Juxtaposing the splendor of travel with splashes of art; Colour Journey weaves a motley of narratives to take you on an expedition through the hues of our country. Navigate the plains and plateaus to see a kaleidoscope of crafts comes alive – from scattered work desks to brightly coloured homes.

A plethora of fresh greens and sunny blues pave way past the fields towards lanes lined with colourful homes and doors speckled with intricate details. Canopied by forests, drawn with majestic ruins and filled with beautiful temples, Surguja stitches the perfect welcome with cheerful smiles and walls filled with tales of festivals.

Colour Journey: The revival of Godna Art of Surguja through fabric:A style of tribal tattoos lives on, as delicate motifs on textiles. The women of Surguja village have revived an old art-form with much vigour and enthusiasm. Our Colour Journey explores Godna art in Chhattisgarh.

When the farming season is on, vividly painted doors remain shut through the day as villagers spend their hours on fields inspecting crops. But as winter comes along, homes remain open, as women gather around to participate in Godna. Flowers of a specific tree from the jungle along with ash obtained with mitti ka tel (kerosene) is used to produce traditional Godna colours. Etching patterns as tattoos on body parts where ornaments are typically adorn – ankles, toes, fingers and wrists.

Often referred to as a waning tattoo art, Godna comes from the word gehna or jewellery; but unlike jewels that can be taken off, the belief is that Godna will be adorned till the end of life and beyond. Signifying permanence and simplicity, Godna is a practice that weaves deep bonds between women in the village and gives them a space to tell their stories. While most women in the village have multiple Godna marks on their body, the first one is made as soon as a girl hits puberty.

Having been a part of India’s culture for centuries, Godna is typically dotted with simple lines and is transferred onto the body with a stack of three tightly bound needles. Though the locals are unfamiliar with the term acupuncture, the resemblance is uncanny. Each design has a specific healing power and is chosen according to specific ailments from backaches to joint pains.

A melodious song drifts through the fresh air, making its way around the lanes. Women huddle around singing, as Ram Keli draws patterns on a saree in her home, often a meeting point for all the women in the village. One of Chhattisgarh’s leading artists, she spends all her time trying to revive the fading art of Godna. The walls of her home, are painted with motifs and stories of a Godna ceremony – a constant reminder of a tradition they hold close to their hearts and land. As children increasingly travel outside the village to work, the choice to stop body tattooing has become frequent. But for Ram Keli and her group, Godna runs through everything they do. Slowly, women in Surguja are transferring the simple lines and drawings of their Godna art to sarees, bedsheets and other material to keep the art alive, while also sharing it with people across borders and oceans.

Another artist, Safiano Bai spends time conducting workshops in the village and across the country, taking Godna to different canvases. While sarees are the local favourite to paint on, borders and flowers also become a part of bedsheets, pillow covers, walls and other handicrafts. When they are not on paddy fields, the women of the village work from 10 to 5 everyday on these masterpieces – each one taking anywhere between 7 days and a month to complete, depending on the complexity of the design.

Though considered a disappearing art, Godna seems to be deepening its mark and widening its presence around the country. From being displayed on the walls of Chhattisgarh Handicraft Development Board’s Ambikapur Office to travelling through handicrafts with visitors from across the globe; the lines and motifs traditional to body tattooing have come alive on different canvases and continue to survive.

Photographer: Sukrit Nagaraj
Surguja was part of the expeditions of Season 2 of Colour Journey. There have been 4 successful seasons of Colour Journey in all. For all the stories of Season 02, visit http://asianpaints.com/colourjourney/season2/