India has the largest number of tribes and tribal population anywhere in the world. According to a recent anthropological survey of India, there are in total over 750 distinct tribes in the country, the population of which (84 million in 2001) accounts for 8% of the total population of the country.
Maharashtra ranks as the second largest tribal state, with 45 tribes recorded in total such as Warlis, Bhils, Mavchis, Korkus, Madias, Gonds, Thakars, Kokanas and Pawaras. All of these tribes have developed their own art and craft forms.
Established in Pune in 1965, the Tribal Cultural Museum is within the campus of the Tribal Research and Training Institute. With over 1,350 exhibits on display, their on-going quest is to collect exhibits and update the museum depicting tribal life and culture within the state of Maharashtra.
The museum is divided into five distinct sections, mostly with a dedicated room for each category.
Room 1 : Tribes At A Glance
This room gives a brief introduction to 18 of the major tribes in Maharashtra, classified according to four geographical regions; Konkan, Marathwada, Gondwana, and Satpuda.
This room also displays some of the important material culture associated with the major tribes.
Although the textual description of the tribes themselves was a little on the light side, it was a good introduction and adequately set the scene for the sections to follow.
Room 2 : Tribal Material Culture
A large room displaying various musical instruments, household utensils, hunting implements and agricultural tools.
Room 3 : Tribal Art And Craft
Without doubt the highlight for me ! This section displays the famous paintings of the Warlis tribe, plus a selection of Bohada masks from tribes of the Thane and Nashik districts.
Warlis paintings are an art form often ceremonious in nature, previously used only during times of harvest or weddings in a family. This ethnographic art form was nurtured by the Warli tribes who inhabit the northern part of the Western Ghats mountain range, adjoining the boarder of Maharashtra with Gujarat.
The art is simple enchanting, adopting a painting style that almost solely uses lines, triangles, circles and squares in the pursuit to express a theme. Traditionally these were painted on the inside of huts on walls that were plastered with earth and cow dung. The white hue of the paintings was derived from rice paste and water, bound by a natural gum.
Unfortunately the nature of the lighting in this room made it difficult to properly capture the art, reflections were in the glass everywhere. But I’ve done my best to represent them, photography incidentally is permitted throughout the museum.
The other highlight in this room was a fine display of tribal masks. These represented deities, ancestral spirits, clan gods, cosmic beings, evil spirits and demons.
In tribal Maharashtra the cult of Bohada is very popular, especially in the districts of Thane and Nashville.
This room also has a selection of basketry and bamboo craft.
Room 4 : Ornaments and Tribal Deities
This room predominantly displays jewellery of the Maria, Bhil, Pawara, Korku, Warlis and Kokna tribes.
Additionally there are wooden combs, tobacco containers, and metal craft having ornamental and ritual value.
The wooden comb, or Hichadi, is presented by a Madia boy to their girlfriend with whom they intend to marry. The comb is therefore a symbol of engagement, and are personally carved by the boy. It’s interesting the similarity between these combs and ones that can be found with African tribes.
I was particularly drawn to an object right at the bottom of one of the display cabinets . This was a metal tree depicting the Dokra (or Dhokra) art form, which is also known as the lost wax technique, one of the ancient techniques for making metal objects. The object here is a palm tree showing the activity of men collecting “toddy”. Toddy is an intoxicating drink sourced from the palm tree in a pot that is hung overnight.
There were quite a few other examples of the lost wax technique in this room, a nice way to conclude the interior of the museum.
Outside The Museum
Within a central courtyard is a space set aside to showcase examples of traditional huts from the Madia, Kolam, Warli and Korku tribes. On my visit some of these huts were being maintained, and I confess I wasn’t particularly drawn to them, so I’m afraid there are no accompanying photos.
Even though I’ve been to Pune nineteen times now, the city still produces nuggets of unexpected delight. The Tribal Cultural Museum is a little gem of a museum, and well worth visiting in addition to perhaps the more well known (Keller museum etc).
This Museum does a great job of providing a glimpse into tribal life, together with preserving and creating an awareness about the culture, heritage, art and lifestyle of the tribal world.
Tribal Cultural Museum
28, Queen’s Garden,
Every day 10am – 5pm, except government holidays
You’re welcome to ‘Like’ or add a comment if you enjoyed this blog post. If you’d like to be notified of any new content, why not sign up by clicking the ‘Follow’ button.
If you’re interested in using any of my photography or articles please get in touch. I’m also available for any freelance work worldwide, my duffel bag is always packed ready to go…