For Paresh Rathwa and Chhota Udepur, the late evening of January 25th took on special significance. On the eve of Republic Day, the Padma awards were announced. Paresh Rathwa of the Quant community in the Chhota Udepur area was also informed that he will get the Padma Shri honour. Paresh had no idea he would receive such a significant civic honour.
Originally from Gujarat’s Chhota Udepur area, 53-year-old Paresh Rathwa is a tribal artist. He and his family have been engaged in the traditional Pithora painting art form. Paresh expressed his thanks to the government for recognising his years of labour during an interview with Vibes of India.
Due to his efforts in maintaining the cultural legacy of Pithora, a form of tribal folk art, Paresh has been given the Padma Shri. Pithora art dates back 1,200 years. For the Rathwa and tribal people in Gujarat and Chhota Udepur to maintain the traditional heritage of Pithora, tribal folk art is crucial both historically and culturally.
Rathwa said, “Pithora paintings are found in ancient caves and are believed to be more than 1200 years old. This is done for the tribe’s deity- Pithora Baba. It used to be done on mud walls during the first auspicious occasion as a way of thanking the deities for their blessings.”
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MOTA) and national organisation ASSOCHAM collaborated to create the prestigious “Gujarat Travel and Tourism Excellence Awards 2021” in Gujarat, and Paresh Rathwa, the first Tribal Entrepreneurship Development Program (TEDP) beneficiary, won the Best Handicraft category.
The district of Chhota Udepur is largely tribal. Here, more than 80% of the population is tribal. This is where the majority of Rathwa community members reside. These indigenous people revere the natural world and their ancestors. The only elements that are worshipped in tribal societies are the Sun God, Moon God, Water God, Earth Mother, Fire God, Food God, Wind God, and Tree God, all of whom are corporeal and through whom life can be created.
Instead of worshipping idols, the tribal society honours ancestors’ names by carving them into pillars made of teak or mat wood. In Pithora, there is artwork. However, it is written for the Rathwa tribe. Pithora makes (writes) on the wall of Pithora’s home, accepting any recognition from the Rathwa clan.
By preserving this art, Paresh Rathwa has made the Chhota Udepur district proud. He has also worked hard to preserve the 1200-year-old Titoda script at home and abroad. He continued to demonstrate how Titoda script was explained in the caves and Pithora script was drawn in ancient times, even in educational institutions. The Government of India recognised Paresh Rathwa with the Padma Award, which has boosted the community’s pride as well as that of the broader tribal region.
Rathwa further said, “I also received the state award in the year 2018. In the year 2019, the Governor of Gujarat visited our village to check the painting, he also honoured me on the occasion.”
Rathwa claims that his grandfather, who used to decorate the walls with traditional paintings for weddings and other occasions, served as his inspiration. “Today, my son Maulik, who is 27 years old, has joined me in upholding an old custom. We also create paintings on canvas and handmade paper in addition to wall art.”
Rathwa put up a valiant fight to preserve this magnificent art. He used the internet as support for this, launched a social media campaign to promote traditional painting, and made an effort to involve educational institutions in the campaign.