Two traditions have existed in Indian painting- ‘Classical’ rooted in ancient Silpa texts that flourished under the patronage of royal courts and ‘Vernacular’ or the folk painting that originated from the tradition and beliefs of the societies, primarily rural and tribal societies. In classical arts you have the painted murals and the miniature paintings and there existed great schools with artisan community and their guilds. Whereas in case of folk painting the whole process is a ritual act and is passed from one generation to another. They decorate their houses with painting on walls and floors.

If classical paintings or temple-arts provide records of the kings and their kingdoms, their lives, their beliefs and their Gods and Goddesses, folk paintings are the records of the lives of the common people, their myths and legends, their Gods and Goddesses. In India, parallel to classical culture that supported Brahminical philosophy and orthodox folk culture have existed accepting all and supporting liberal views. Their prime concerns were with rain and crops and struggles with nature and their belief in life has to be appreciated and enjoyed rather than speculated. Their love for life clearly comes through in their paintings that are vibrant and colourful.

Festivals and fairs have been occasions when the whole village used to come together and celebrate collectively. In painting itself, the participation of the whole community has been important. Most traditional Indian paintings are executed by a number of painters rather than one. The collectively inherited vision and skill are collectively transformed into a work of art.

Some of the prominent painting traditions under this culture have been The Pithoro paintings of the Rathvas of Gujarat, The Warli paintings of Maharashtra, Madhubani paintings of the Mithila region of Bihar, the Phards of Rajasthan, Cherial of Andhra Pradesh and the Pat paintings of West Bengal.

Rathavas are an important community of the Panchmahals and Baroda districts. The folk painting tradition of the Rathvas is to install on the walls of their houses the myth of creation and Pithoro, the most respected God connected with protection and welfare. Several painters, but only men paint Pithoro. When they paint, a group of two or three singers continuously recite the myth of creation, Pithoro and Indi Raja. After the completion of painting, another ritual of approval comes where the badva possessed by Pithoro in trance examines the painting in detail. After his sanction is granted, a goat sacrifice is made to the painting, which leads to its consecration.

The Warli tribe dwells mainly in the forests of the Sahyadri Mountains in Thane district of Maharashtra. The name Warli comes from the word "Waral", which means a piece of land or a field. Farming is the main source of livelihood for Warlis. The paintings are considered sacred and without it the marriage ceremony cannot take place. Their paintings are done in celebration of weddings and are a stylized depiction of the life and activities of the tribe. Warli paintings are quite different from other folk paintings as in others bright primary colours are used in abundance. Instead here they are painted in white on brown or brick red mud base.

The art of Madhubani painting is the traditional style developed in the Mithila region, in the villages around Madhubani, Bihar. Their paintings were traditionally done by only women and are basically of a religious nature. They are done in the special rooms in their homes (in the pooja room, ritual area, bridal room), on the main village walls, etc., for ceremonial or ritualistic purpose. The women offer sincere prayers to the deity before starting the work. The motifs are from nature and mythology. Hindu deities and scenes from Ramayana are very popular.

The long scrolls known as ‘phards’ are prepared by Joshis attached to the temple at Shahpura in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan. They depict scenes from the lives of legendary heroes worshipped by people. These ‘phards’ are then taken by the devcotees called Bhopas who move from one village to another singing the story and pointing out the scenes painted on the ‘phard’.

The scroll painting tradition from Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, is also known as Cherial scroll painting It illustrates the origin of a particular community and tells stories of their deities, demons and heroes. Nakashi Venkataramaiah's family is perhaps the only family in the Cherial village to pursue this art form. Once upon a time, the Nakashis painted long long stories in the form of scrolls. They used to be in great demand among storytellers earlier. These storytellers displayed the scrolls prepared by Nakashis accompanied by music and dance from village to village.

Pata Painting (Patachitra) a traditional art form of West Bengal is characterised by religious and social motifs and imageries. Pata is a Bangla word evolved from the Sanskrit patta meaning cloth. The exact origin of this art form is not known. `Even the stories of the origin of their community are not clear. Patuas are muslims but they have Hindu names and they depict stories of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas. The common surname chitrakar signifies their profession.The paintings are known as pats and the stories are narrated through songs as the pats are displayed to the audience.

All these folk traditions of paintings are now held in low esteem owing to rapid urbanization. Most of these people are taking to other professions like working as labourers and their art is coming to the point of extinction. Today there is an urgent need to encourage and preserve the paintings.