The most striking feature of Durga Bai’s paintings is their ability to tell a story. Her forms are mostly drawn from the pantheon of the Gond Pardhan community. Durga Bai also enjoys painting f... The most striking feature of Durga Bai’s paintings is their ability to tell a story. Her forms are mostly drawn from the pantheon of the Gond Pardhan community. Durga Bai also enjoys painting folktales. For this she is grateful to her grandmother who told her lots of stories.
Durga Bai’s work is rooted in her birthplace, Burbaspur, a village in the Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh.

Durga was six years old when sitting beside her mother, she learnt the art of digna, the traditional designs painted on the walls and floors of houses during weddings and festivals. Durga enjoyed the whole process, from plastering the walls with cow dung, to collecting clay of different colours. Her paintings were outstanding, and her skills were always in great demand.

Durga remembers the harvest festival Nawakhal. When the crop was abundant, there was rejoicing. But the harvest was not always good, and although her parents tried hard to ensure that their children did not go hungry, their efforts were often in vain. Sitting before the wall that was her canvas however, young Durga would forget her troubles, engrossed in her floral patterns while her five siblings played.

When she was older, Durga Bai married Subhash Vyam and moved to Bhopal. Subhash Vyam, had already established himself as an artist. His brother-in-law, Jangarh Singh Shyam, impressed by Durga Bai’s work, encouraged her to paint. Durga Bai’s subjects were mostly the goddesses – Ratmaimurkhuri, sentinel of the night; Maharalin Mata, who guards the village against ghouls; Khero Mata, providing protection against evil people; Budi Mai patroness of the harvest; Kulsahinmata, invoked when the crop is sown. Durga has also painted the supreme god, Bada Dev; and Chula Dev who ensures that the household chulha (hearth) always burns.

In 1996, Anand Singh Shyam invited Durga Bai to exhibit her works at Bharat Bhawan. One of her paintings, depicting unmarried girls offering prayers was acquired by a collector from Chandigarh. Since then she has participated in almost every exhibition of Adivasi art in Bhopal, Delhi, Dehradun, Khajuraho, Indore, Raipur and the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. In 2003, Durga Bai was invited to a workshop held by Tara Publishing in Chennai, and has since been illustrating books for many publishers.

In 2004, Durga Bai was honoured by the Handicraft Development Council. In 2008 she and two other Gond artists, Ram Singh Urveti and Bhajju Shyam, were presented the BolognaRagazzi Award in Italy for their illustrations in the children’s book, The Night Life of Trees, published by Tara Publishing. Durga Bai was also awarded the IGNCA Scholarship for 2006-2007.
Whenever Durga Bai is invited to participate in an art exhibition, she makes sure her three children accompany her. All three children have taken up painting, much to the delight of their proud parents who are confident in the knowledge that the tradition of Gond painting will be carried forward by the next generation.

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The Night Life of Trees
The Night Life of Trees
Ramsingh Urveti, Durga Bai, Bhajju Shyam

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The Night Life of Trees
Intricately drawn visions of trees fill the pages of this sumptuous book of art and folklore from the Gond tribe in central India. In Gond belief, trees stand in the middle of life, and the spirit of...
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