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Goan Folk Art – Tulsi Pots

October 25, 2010 4 min read

Goa is known for its beaches …but over the years its numerous hidden attractions have revealed themselves to me, slowly, one at a time, ensuring that I remain in love with this place year after year after year!

I have talked about the villages earlier and the quiet soothing solitude that pervades the village homes.

Here I want to showcase one of Goa’s folk art forms – the Tulsi pot that adorns every Hindu home.

Most Goans live on landed property or at least own one. Tiled roofs, pillars, seats in the balcony, a few trees are all part of the character. One important must-have in the compound near the entrance is a declaration of religion. Christians have crosses and Hindus have a tulsi plant.

I do not know the origin of this architectural custom, which probably has its origins in the days of the Portugese, but it remains staunchly present in the lives of Goans today.

The tulsi plant is worshiped and watered by the lady of the house every morning, immediately after her bathing rituals. Worship includes offerings of flowers, arti with a lamp fire, circumambulation, chanting  and some prasad (blessed food).

hibiscus offering at the base

marigold offering inside the pot

brass lamp arti left at the base after worship

A thriving tulsi is a sign of a well nurtured home. And conversely, a neglected tulsi is a sign of an unprosperous neglected home.

a tulsi pot in a house that is no longer lived in

The pots used for these plants have an integrated stand, and the soil container is at about 3 feet from the ground.

It is easy to not notice this form of domestic art- that goes unsung and remains embedded deep within the daily lives of its creators.

It is not created for commerce, nor is it sale-able or transferable. It is just art in everyday life created purely for the consumption of the creators. As a result, no market pressures bear on the art itself and traditions are maintained intact and unadulterated. No influence of the trader and the foreign buyer makes corrupting demands like ‘make pieces in X color / size / form because that is preferred by the buyer from Y city / country’.

Further, folk art is different from many art forms in another respect – the sponsors: there is not royalty that sponsors this art. In royalty sponsored art, a particular class of artists / craftsmen emerge, with a competitive spirit that vies to please royalty with its perfection and finesse. The creators remain limited to a small group of society whose profession is creation of the art, whereas in folk art, every household is an art creator.

Finally, royalty / commerce sponsored art gets evaluated on parameters of wealth – better materials, higher quality and quantity of workmanship etc.. In the case of folk art, there are no such evaluative measures – each creator is doing it for himself or herself – ‘svanto sukhaaye’ – for the fulfilment of one’s own spirit. Therefore, judging folk art by parameters of finesse is futile.

This distinction is seen even in rugs – royalty sponsored rugs that emerged from Isfahan are evaluated by knots per square inch. But tribal rugs – Shekarlus and Qashqais – woven for the functional use of their own families, have no concept of KPSI or symmetry or perfection, and yet have more beauty within them than most city rugs.

The beauty of the tulsi pots lies in its choice of colors, the combinations used and the form itself.

motif details :

Colors are bright and the combinations of adjoining sections are chosen to display contrast. Simple thinking – producing beautiful results.

But a little story about the hospitality, and the wonderful simplicity of the people creating this art.

As I drove through the village and was about to begin a traffic dance (mentioned in my post about Goan villages) with a bus and a tempo at a difficult junction on a narrow road, my car started smoking. I had to stop the engine immediately and could not move any further.

The bus driver and the tempo could have sorted out their traffic gnarl and driven away, leaving at least some space for subsequent vehicles to pass through, in spite of my stalled car.

But instead, the bus driver and the tempo driver, got out of their vehicles and came to help me. I am  a  driving wuss of the highest degree, and know very little about managing problems such as smoke from the bonnet. So I gladly left this to those who knew. They pushed my car to one side, along with a few villagers who had gathered out of curiosity and a willingness to help, and advised me to let the engine cool before taking further action.

This meant a long wait.

So I asked one of the villagers, a lady – if there was a tea stall around. She replied that the nearest one is a 15 minute walk away – which did not sound appealing at all. So I sat on the kerb and prepared to wait. A few minutes later, the lady came back telling me that she would make me some tea herself …..I was overcome with delight at her hospitality – the tea itself was not important – but the heart that she had to be nice to me without a reason – has left an indelible mark on me.

The innocence, the simplicity, the hospitality of the people of villages of India, is why I love it so much!

the one I like the most

It’s no wonder then, that their simplicity produces art, whose prime feature is its naivete and innocence.

Oct 25th, 2010


Hi-resolution images in large sizes are available on this subject

Other articles on goa can be found here and  here.



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