Motif & Meaning – 4 | The Case of the Butter Churning Girls

October 09, 2014

Tribal Art is strewn with depictions of people & objects of daily life.

When the objects of daily life are peculiar or uncommon in form, they become uniquely associated with the culture that uses them.

And when such objects are found in two distinct & different cultures separated geographically, it arouses our curiosity and we begin to look for some connections.




1.1  ATI-667 Phulkari Textile


Note the Girls (White) Churning Buttermilk in the Pot (pink)


1.2 Example: ATK-149 Dhaniyo or Dharaniyo Textile

ANTIQUE DHANIYO WALL PANEL, KUTCH GUJARAT INDIAAgain note the presence of the Girls churning buttermilk (and giving us a high-five (or three?))



2.1 Making Buttermilk from Milk

a. The practice of making buttermilk in Gujarat predates the birth of Lord Krishna (ref: Mahabharata) in Dwarka. The stories of Baby Krishna are full of his addiction to butter, buttermilk & such.

b. In Punjab, lassi or sweetened buttermilk is an intrinsic part of daily life as highlighted in the poem by Surjit Patar.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.53.16 pm Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.53.28 pm

Therefore it is clear that Lassi & lassi-making were common domestic chores in both Gujarat as well as in Punjab and are ingrained in the history of the cultures.

 2.2 The Regions

Punjab & Gujarat are two states that are quite far away from each other. If these were neighboring states, we might  have attributed this commonality to “borrowing a motif from a neighbor”. But since this is a reasonably distant region – this seems unlikely.



As I said earlier – the reality might never be known. But the absence of total knowledge allows us the luxury of making up likely interesting stories!

– The first possibility is that since buttermilk is an omnipresent part of life both in Kutch & in Punjab, this motif may have been arrived at independently & separately by each group without any connection whatsoever with the other group. Simplest explanation of all.

– Another possibility is that since the people of the Kutch are gypsy migrants, conjectured to have come in from Central Asia, it is likely that one of the pit stops along the way was Punjab. And during their stay there they picked up a few concepts from their hosts. One of these is the idea of consuming buttermilk daily followed by depictions of the Lassi & the Chaas in their artistic narrations of their lifestyle.

– Another theory suggested by a learned textile expert is that the Phulkari piece was worked on by two groups. First by the creators – the people of Punjab and then subsequently (maybe even decades later) by the family of the Gujarati traders who came to own the textile.  Since many of the main-field motifs are uncharacteristic of the symbolism found in Punjab e.g – the Ganesh & the Laxmi  – this explanation is the most plausible of all.


In these notes I am presenting my interactions with the textile – the questions raised, the curiosity awakened and the journey of connections that I took along the dots that I saw as significant.

We need two dots to create a line. And a third dot allows us to confirm it. But as more and more dots come to light we might see a form other than a line. And so the line that I drew connecting the dots might be all wrong for I might have missed some significant dots altogether. And reality might be totally different from my imagination. If you have other ideas please write in. Collectively we could indulge in the pleasure of pursuing curiosity!

oct 2014
By Jaina Mishra
By wovensouls


The post Motif & Meaning – 4 | The Case of the Butter Churning Girls appeared first on The Art Blog by WOVENSOULS.COM.

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