Due to its rich cultural heritage, glorious traditions, folk arts, Uttarakhand has its own distinct identity not only in the country but across the world. The folk arts/paintings of Uttarakhand are unique and diverse. One such major folk art form, native to the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand (one of the two regions of Uttarakhand, the other being Gharwal) is ‘Aipan’ (ऐपण)
What is ‘Aipan’?
It is a rich and dignified tradition of Kumaon which has a great cultural and religious significance in every Kumaoni household. The word Aipan is derived from the Sanskrit word Arpan (अर्पण) that means a devoted offering. The literal meaning of ‘Aipan’ is to write.
In Kumaoni culture, Aipan is the integral part of every festival, auspicious occasions, religious rituals and propitious ceremonies such as naming ceremony (नामकरण), weddings, sacred thread ceremony (जनेऊ), etc. All such functions are initiated by drawing an Aipan design.
Where are Aipan drawn?
Aipan are designed to decorate floors, walls, and houses entrance, pooja room, and especially the temple of deities. These designs are also used to paint wooden chowki (worship seats for deities). Based on the occasion, rituals or festivals there are various types of chowkis.
The beauty of this ancient art has attracted the youth in such a way that this ritualistic art which was confined to the front porch or temples is now being recognized in the world of modern art and fashion. Therefore, in recent years, charismatic Aipan designs have adapted various surfaces such as costumes, painting canvases, diaries, mugs, bags, trays, nameplates, and other items.
It is believed that the presence of these Aipan designs or objects at home brings positivity and prosperity in life.
Women: bearer of this age-old tradition of Aipan
The women of the families are carrying forward the legacy of this precious folk art of Kumaon. They have preserved and kept it alive for generations. A mother passes it on to her children, especially to her daughters or daughters-in-law.
I still remember how my mother always encouraged us to learn Aipan. During Diwali days, when she was busy making Aipan she used to inspire us (me and my sister) to do a little artwork along with her so that we can join in, get to know, and learn it. Later she started assigning us the smallest area of the house where we used to try our hands-on making Aipan. I still have some fabric paintings made by me using Aipan art in childhood in my hometown.
The traditional way of making Aipan
In every house of Kumaon, women used to decorate their houses with Aipan during festivals especially Diwali or any auspicious occasion. Traditionally, the raw materials used for Aipan is Ochre (गेरू) and white rice paste (विस्वार). Ochre is a vermilion colored soil that is soaked in water to create a base. Once the base is ready, white soaked rice paste is used to make different freehand Aipan patterns and designs over the ochre base using the last three fingers of the right hand.
Geometrical patterns, swastika, conch shells, sun, moon, floral patterns, footsteps of Devi Lakshmi, and other holy figures are some commonly drawn patterns. These patterns are believed to be inspired by various religious beliefs and natural resources.
The modern method of making Aipan
Women mainly residing in Kumaoni villages still use traditional ‘geru’ and ‘viswar’ for Aipan but the trend of synthetic enamel paints is gradually increasing. These days almost everyone is using red and white synthetic enamel paints, fabric or acrylic colors.
Traditional Aipan: On the verge of extinction
In the name of modernization, with the migration of people to cities and no joint families this traditional folk art is diminishing fast. Younger generations or children born and brought up outside Uttarakhand are not even aware of the word Aipan.
Moreover, the availability of ready to use Aipan stickers leaves no place for women to practice this art at home and hence this art has declined substantially over the years.
If this trend continues, then the day may come when there will be nobody to carry forward this legacy, sentiments and cultural beliefs related to Aipan.
Therefore, this glorious heritage of Kumaon and a craft of religious importance need to be saved and revived.
Kumaoni Aipan artist
Amidst all this, there are still some women who are aspiring to pay their necessary efforts to save this ancient art form of Kumaon. Some such artistic and creative women who are determined and passionate about keeping Kumaon's priceless heritage alive have been mentioned below. These great ladies are the inspiration for all.
Namita Tiwari belongs to Almora, Uttarakhand is an award-winning Aipan artisan. She is practicing aipan for the last 18 years and working towards promoting this traditional Kumaoni art. In 2015, she established an NGO ‘Cheli Aipan’ to teach and encourage young women to understand the importance of learning this art form. At the same time she trains them in such a way that they can use this traditional skill as a source of income too. They are making paintings, waistcoats, saree borders, suits, pen holders, and cups, etc using ‘Aipan’ art.
Vimla shah a devoted Aipan artist from Nainital. She has been awarded by the chief minister of Uttarakhand for her remarkable contribution to preserving the Kumaoni art. She is also into teaching this art to many others.
Savita Joshi from Gurugram is one of the talented artists working professionally in reviving the dying tradition of ‘Aipan’. She paints Aipan designs to nameplates, diyas, coasters, pots, planters, pooja thals, etc. to create customized products for her clients.
Prema Pandey is a writer of a book dedicated to Aipan. In her book, she has explained all types of Aipan design thoroughly with the occasional importance of different designs.
With these artists, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the women who have given us this beautiful art heritage.
I hope that we will be able to flourish this part of our culture in our coming generations.
[Note: There are more inspirational persons as well who are working on the preservation of Aipan art. Please send us the details at [email protected] and we will add it in this list]