Virendra Kumar, a social entrepreneur, wants to revive the dying tribal paintings of Jharkhand
Virendra Kumar is doing something special to preserve and promote the rich heritage of tribal paintings from Jharkhand by supporting the artisans of that region. When you think of Indian tribal paintings, names like Madhubani, Warli, etc. come to mind; few people have heard of the Sohrai, Khovar, Paitkar or Jadupatua paintings. Originating in Jharkhand, these beautiful paintings represent the rich cultural heritage and history of this region and its tribes, yet are at risk of dying in oblivion.
Virendra Kumar, a Social Entrepreneur & Founder of Maati Ghar, a non-profit organization, is trying to change this. His venture, Maati Ghar, is committed to bringing these paintings in the spotlight by providing a platform for the artisans to market and sell their products and enabling them to sustain the age-old practices with authenticity.
Small Town Aspirations
Primary schooling in Ramgarh Cantt (near Ranchi); secondary schooling from St. Xavier’s English High School in Jamshedpur; Engineering from NIT Kurukshetra; and a campus placement as a Business Analysist with an MNC - Virendra’s life before Maati Ghar was well on the traditional path of education and career. As is expected of small town boys with limited means, his parents wished for him to be a service professional like his father and break from the tough agricultural life of the rest of his family.
Since his teenage years, Virendra was into reading motivational and self-help books. He remembers reading the bestseller, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ when he was in class 9. He was deeply influenced by it. “I realized after reading the book that I had to somehow break the cycle that we middle class people are trapped in and do something on my own, but at that stage I had no idea what to do”, says Virendra.
He got himself involved with the Entrepreneurship Cell of his college, organizing events and activities, soon becoming the Student President of the Cell. He also joined the Open Learning Diploma in Entrepreneurship and Business Management from EDI, Ahmedabad. At the time, he was also actively volunteering for The Art of Living Program after doing their meditation programs. All these activities helped him blossom from a shy, underconfident boy of a small town to a confident and enterprising young man. So much so that he was one of the first students to be placed during placements.
PAITKAR ART: An ancient storytelling tradition from East Singhbhum, on scrolls of paper or cloth reflecting the day to day life of tribal people and stories of legends and mythologies, is done using colors extracted from natural pigments.
Steps Towards Social Entrepreneurship
Virendra felt his job as a Business Analyst would help him learn the ropes of running a business, which was his eventual aim, but six months down the line he found himself only crunching numbers endlessly on excel sheets. Around that time at his college convocation function, he heard Former Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam give a motivational speech about following your passion without fear. Sitting in the audience listening to the great man who was also one of his idols, Virendra remembers being filled with anguish. He felt trapped under the pressures of being a good middleclass son and paying off the student loan that he had taken for his education.
A friend enrolled him for another Art of Living meditation course hoping that it would de-stress him and help him focus on his job, but that proved to be a complete game changer. Virendra came back completely calm and sure of what he had to do next.
With an old friend he had been discussing the idea of doing something in the education space. When that friend told him about an opportunity at his uncle’s school in Jharkhand that he was now managing, Virendra did not hesitate. He quit his job overnight and joined the school. Their initial idea was to run hobby classes for students as they felt small town kids didn’t get the right exposure to different vocations, because of which they often fall into unemployment. He felt the right guidance at that age would greatly help kids realize their true potential.
Discovering The Lost Tribal Arts Of Jharkhand
One day while going on one of his frequent bike rides to the nearby hills of that area he noticed the beautiful paintings on the walls of the mud houses of the villagers. He was enamored. On further research he discovered more about the local tribal art forms and how they were on the decline because of lack of patronage and means of sustenance for the artisans. Here were beautiful traditional practices that were soon going to be extinct. He felt a deep urge to do something about this as he too belonged to one of those families who had been doing these paintings traditionally. Putting all his experience with the entrepreneurship cell into practice, Virendra spent the next few months researching, meeting the artisans, creating a platform for marketing, experimenting with different ways to present the art and making small batches of products and testing them.
SOHRAI ART: A matriarchal art inspired by rock arts of the regions of Hazaribagh, is done using only natural earth, by the women of the households during the festival of Sohrai, to worship “Pashupati” - the God of animals and to welcome a good harvest.
KHOVAR ART: A matriarchal art of Sgraffito style inspired by rock arts in the regions of Hazaribagh, is done using natural earth (black and white) by women of the households during marriage ceremonies to welcome and bless a newly-wed couple.
Maati Ghar – A Platform For Authentic And Customized Tribal Paintings
In August 2017, he registered his NGO, Maati Ghar, working primarily for the preservation and promotion of tribal arts to empower the tribal artisans of Jharkhand.
One of the things Virendra wants to focus on is maintaining the authenticity and originality of the traditional way of making these paintings. “There are products in the market that distort the motifs or use more than the traditional colors, completely destroying the originality of these paintings. I want to reach people who are really interested in supporting these paintings, but I don’t want to do this at the cost of authenticity.”, says Virendra.
One of the artists from the village conducts tribal art classes for children. They use the same grinding method, to extract natural pigments from stones, leaves, etc. to make the paints, that have been used traditionally. “That is definitely a highlight for the kids”, says Virendra.
JADUPATUA ART: An ancient storytelling tradition from Dumka on scrolls of paper or cloth depicting the stories of the afterlife, the creation of world, legends and mythologies from Hindu epics, is done using colors extracted from natural pigments.
The proceeds from the sales go into sustaining the artists and promoting their work. Virendra is looking at crowdfunding as a source for funds for training more artists. Currently Maati Ghar sells authentic unadulterated tribal paintings made by traditional artisans and customizes art pieces as per the requirements of the buyers. “These art pieces make great gifts for any occasion such as facilitation ceremonies, birthdays or weddings, as the traditional motifs representing these occasions can be used to create a truly unique and one of a kind gift”, says Virendra.
He hopes that more and more people come forward to buy these paintings for themselves or for gifting to their loved ones. This would allow them to own something unique as well as support the paintings and artisans. Maati Ghar products will soon be available on their Facebook page and Amazon.
To see more of Virendra's work, visit,