The Koitures or Gonds are organically connected with nature. Their pantheon represents all the aspects of nature. Badadev, the greatest of all gods, is represented by the saja tree. Thakur Dev is associated with the pakri tree. Gonds believe in the supernatural forces. Their protectors are the spirits, the gods and goddesses who keep them from harm. Their songs, dance forms, myths and legends, folk tales, customs and rituals reflect a close bond with nature and are all inter-related. The understanding of one leads to an understanding of all the others. For instance, the Karma dance is associated with the god Karma Dev who is represented by the karma tree.

The Gonds express themselves through different forms of dance like the Saila, Rina and Dadariya, which are performed during festivals. The Saila was once performed with swords. Now these have been replaced by sticks. The Dadariya is sung when the groom arrives and again when she leaves with her groom. But it is the Karma that can be performed any time of the year. When a guest arrives, the family gathers and they all do the Karma dance together. The themes of the Karma songs are about life. In Lalpur Village (Mandla district) many professional groups perform the Karma to the accompaniment of instruments like the gudum, timki, nagada. Sheikh Gulab, a scholar and performer from Mandal District began documenting the Gond oral narratives – the myths, legends, folklore and songs and training dancers some decades ago. Now, one of his students, Lalta Ram Marawi, continues his work.

The Gond economy is agricultural, so the cycle of sowing and harvesting is the subject of any number of songs and oral narratives, which express the joy, anguish, apprehension and exhilaration of a farming community.

Oral narratives, like the Gondwani and Ramayani hold the community together. The Gond creation myth tells of the greatest of gods, Badadev who fashioned the earth and every creature on it. There are myths about the origin of the Gond kings, of different trees, especially the mahua, the flowers and fruits which are an integral part of their life.

The Gonds have several branches, each with its own story of origin. The Pardhans, they say are descended from the youngest of seven Gond brothers who became a priest and a storyteller on the instruction of Badadev. The Pardhans today are entrusted with keeping the cultural tradition alive through their stories.

Gond houses are beautifully decorated with digna and bhittichitra during weddings and other festive occasions. The Gond paint the inner and outer walls of their house with Digna which is the traditional geometric pattern, while bhittichitra is a composition of likenesses of animals, leaves and flowers. Vegetable and mineral dyes are used for colour –flowers, leaves, clay, stones, rice, turmeric. Brush are handmade made from a neem or babul twig and a rag.

Another form of creative expression is the gudna or tattoo. Images of the sun, moon, birds and various elements are traced on body parts in the belief that the wearer carries the gudna to the next world.

At present there are a number of artists who through their paintings of the Gond way of life are generating an interest in these traditions. For the most part these artists are Gond Pardhans, one of the branches of Gond community. Jangarh Singh Shyam was the first Gond Pardhan artist and the present genre of Gond painting is now called Jangarh Kalam.

This is an attempt to trace the Gond cultural tradition through the artist’s eye as it captures different aspects of Gond life – their deities, their dance forms, relationship with nature, myths, tales and lore.