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Ordinary Truck Art on a highway

August 13, 2007

I had heard of truck art but the kind I had seen on websites was either pretty advertising or very professional work. The art I saw on the highway was done by amateurs. What struck me were the bright colors and at times the trouble the owner had taken to paint his truck. The vehicles were ordinary and carried ordinary goods…but the owner thought his vehicle special. I feel art like this shows an owner’s love for his vehicle…which may not be so in advertising truck art. The drawings which I saw were mostly of religious symbols or beautiful places.

The flower which is commonly used in in all kinds of art in India is the Kamal (Lotus) which is not just the national flower of India but also a sacred flower. It has been “an auspicious symbol of Indian culture since time immemorial and symbolises divinity, fertility, wealth, knowledge, triumph and enlightenment and represents long life, honor, and good fortune.”

The truck below was the most brightly painted truck that I came across:


This same truck had a Taj Mahal painted in the front of it:


This van looked quite pretty from the back. The Lotus and the Swastika, both Hindu religious symbols are painted on the back.


This truck had a graphic design but the religious symbol of the Lotus flower with the pot has also been painted on. In Hindu rituals a coconut is used frequently and so are mango leaves and this is depicted here. All meant to protect the truck from bad luck:


The truck below has our national bird, the peacock painted on it but the Lotus flower is not to be missed. At the bottom is written ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’ which means ‘India is Great. Indian trucks also have this sign ‘Horn OK Please’ and I have never been able to figure it out completely. Does it mean ‘Horn Please, OK?’ Or does it mean ‘Horn Please.’ and followed by ‘O.K.’ (you can overtake)


The painting on the truck below was not that well maintained. The religious symbols are clear to see but there were some interesting graphics on the side which did not come out well in the photo.

Out of the trucks that I saw yesterday (we were traveling between Mumbai and Pune) the majority had some sort of painting done on them. Much of it was shabby, a lot was dusty and a lot faded. And I could not get some pictures of some really well painted trucks due to my not being an expert with the camera.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2007 9:41 am

    oh thats interesting πŸ™‚ It is so heartening to see the amount of efforts a person spends on decorating his truck. Often it takes a poor man great deal of money to buy a truck of his own. This guy, who had problems finding jobs otherwise, will now be spending days and weeks on roads away from home. So, when he buys the new truck, he decorates it as if its his new house.

    Having traveled a little, I couldn’t fail to notice the difference in truck artwork in Southern India and Northern. In my observations, trucks in Southern parts have more of curved and colorful designs (and minimum Hindi words). Northern ones have different patterns, but mostly an identifiable theme. Also one can distinguish ‘Hindu’ trucks and ‘Muslim’ trucks. Those in Pakistan and Afghanistan have props added to them.

  2. B Chopra permalink
    August 13, 2007 10:43 am

    Awesome post! Superb obesrvation. These images shows our people’s divine in the tools and objects they use each day.. but sadly n mostly these tools & objects are not well maintained.

    and One strange thing I observed on 4th image where u mentioned “All meant to protect the truck from bad luck:”.. hmmm U see The truck is in motion and the driver side door is slightly open 😦

    BTW.. I won’t agree that you are not expert on Camera.

  3. August 13, 2007 11:02 am

    Priyank, it would be interesting to do a comparision like the one you mentioned about the diffference in painting styles across India and across religions…and perhaps across the world! Wow, that would be something! This truck art thing intrigues me quite a bit. A poor man who lives a hard life can get very attached to his truck…but I would also be interested to know if its the driver who does the painting at his own cost or is the owner, who probably owns several trucks? That is the kind of information one can find out if one actually talks to a few truck drivers…and I think I might do it one of these days to satisfy my curiousity.
    Bharat, these guys are continously opening doors to spit or something! Yeah, I guess these guys need all the luck as their driving styles are most dangerous!
    Also, my camera is a really good one and I can say that it does all the good work! πŸ™‚ I have written a review of it here

  4. August 13, 2007 11:48 am

    It is a treat to see these painted trucks, Nita. Obviously these decorations are a labour of love by the people who own the trucks. it would make a terrific study to discern truck decorations by regions of India, and by religions ,as documenting these would be useful to preserve the current customs. It might not be always the case that your trucks are so decorated. This is a form of folk art, art which shows a people’s tendency to apply images to their tools and conveyances in such a rich fashion, and such historical knowledge will be useful for future generations. I find uninteresting much of what passes for signage and decoration in North America – our visual culture is bland, commercial and boring. G

  5. August 13, 2007 2:32 pm

    I think it was meant to be ‘Horn Please’, and the space in the middle was for ‘OK’, and meant to be ‘Ok, TATA’, where the latter stands for the company that makes these trucks.
    Another common sign is ‘Use Dipper at Night’. Now THAT makes you think what is it the trucker wants you to use at night! πŸ˜‰

  6. August 13, 2007 4:23 pm

    Most of the trucks I encounter on our (and American) roads are company owned, so the artwork is limited to the logos of the companies. But the independent truckers can go into some pretty amazing detail with the artwork on their rigs. There’s actually a long history in Canada and America for painting or detailing cars and trucks. It doesn’t get noticed as much anymore because the truck routes don’t intersect with the City drivers. But if you spend a few days driving on the major highways (they’re “Freeways” in America), you’ll find them in the truck stops. It’s pretty rare to see something so religious as your Indian examples on our roads, but in Mexico the religious paint themes are nearly everywhere.

    This is a decent example of some the American trucks… sorry if the HTML gets a little weird.

  7. August 13, 2007 4:25 pm

    Whoops… they’re actually Australian… I’ll try to find some North American trucks for you.

  8. August 13, 2007 4:45 pm

    Here you are… everything you never thought you’d ever know about American trucking (I couldn’t find any Canadian stuff, but I didn’t really look too hard)

    1) It’s a wrap, not technically paint

    2) Bonus… this site comes with a song

    3) This one’s a little extreme…

  9. August 13, 2007 5:41 pm

    ha it is part of our identity to decorate everything…beauty everywhere and anywhere-the best way to describe the country…

  10. August 13, 2007 5:59 pm

    Gabriel, thanks for the links…those truck paintings are quite professional I must say, but I felt they were a trifle impersonal…specially the stripes. That extreme one was nice, reminded me of what people do here during religious festivals. They paint the whole vehicle to look like a God and in fact imagination can run riot!

    Suburban, the fact that you are an artist makes your comment valuable indeed! You are right, it is a form of folk art. Like Vishesh mentions, we in India like to decorate everything, our homes, gardens, ourselves too! Sometimes we go overboard! Dressing up is a big thing in India, jewellery is another thing we are quite crazy about…you should see what happens here during Diwali. We light up everything as Diwali is a Festival of Lights..

  11. August 13, 2007 7:31 pm

    I adore the use of color and beauty in Indian culture. I think it is why I have a love affair with the sari. It is interesting to see the aesthetics roll over into work.

  12. August 20, 2007 10:09 pm

    The truck art is beautiful. Art can be anywhere, on anything.

  13. bhavesh permalink
    February 24, 2008 8:28 pm

    really good to see that people really appreciate this art … am happy to see the involvement of the people interested in this form of ART … if you want to go through more picture of the truck in India, please go through my flickr account that is

  14. October 22, 2008 5:04 am

    Hi Nita… I found this a long, long time ago and forgot to bring it to you. Some of the trucks are just for show (especially the ones with jet engines attached to them) but most are working rigs:

    Gabriel, thanks for coming back here after such a long time! πŸ™‚ And I apologize for the commentators above who I have not replied to! – Nita.

  15. January 14, 2009 3:52 am

    Pakistani lorries are way ahead of Indian ones in this department.
    sample :

  16. mrinal permalink
    May 22, 2009 12:59 pm

    i read through this very interesting thread. is it still alive. im researching on truck art in india (every aspect) so leads are welcome. thanks

  17. Mike permalink
    July 31, 2009 6:16 pm

    “HORN OK PLEASE” actually reads “Horn Please” and then OK to overtake- this is what all my friends that are from India tell me. often times, trucks in India don’t have rearview mirrors. so in order to let the driver know that there’s someone in his blind spot, you have to honk if you want to pass him. this is especially true in rural areas with dirt roads.

    • vasudev permalink
      July 31, 2009 8:57 pm

      walking on pd mello road one bright summer morning i passed by a petrol lorry and suddenly stopped, stepped back, looked…looked…and looked. bewilderment was writ large on my face. soon i got the idea when all anxieties vanished suddenly into my day’s laughter dose (good for the heart, thanks to the indian lorry painters).

      written prominently on a padlocked box on the side of the lorry were these words:

      ‘vulva box’

      pausing a while to have a relook, my slow brain went through locks and arab garters but finally having assessed and assimilated that it was only a petrol carrier with four chambers and with some pipes leading into this particular box i came to the correct conclusion.

      well…you guys are quicker than me on the grey cells and you guessed it right:

      ‘valve box’

  18. shez permalink
    November 18, 2009 3:00 pm

    I think you didn’t see the truck art of Pakistan. that one is real amazing. just type on googl pakistan truck art.
    every truck look like master peice.

  19. Bob permalink
    February 26, 2010 7:04 am

    As a gora (Anglo-American, the Indian equivalent of “Gringo” in Mexico) who’s traveled in India, I always understood horn use to be something like “Marco Polo,” a game children pay in the swimming pool.

    The game is a variation on tag. One player is “it” and must close his or her eyes. “It” then calls out “Marco,” and the other players reply “Polo.” Eventually, “it” is able to track the other players by sound and tag one of them.

    Horns in India seem to work with a similar call-and-response. As mentioned above, many vehicles don’t have rear view mirrors, and the constant honking keeps drivers aware of those around them.

    I was in Delhi on New Year’s Day 2009, and the government had declared a “no horn” day. The newspapers and TV news shows covered it extensively; many drivers expressed a sort of sadness because they feared they would lose a sort of connection with the others around them.

    (Somehow, in a country of more than a billion people, I would think nobody would be isolated for long!)

    I’ve been considering painting the tailgate of my Ford F150 pickup with a bright “HORN PLEASE” sign. I live north of Sacramento, California, and we have a large Indian population. I’m sure it would amuse many motorists.

  20. sanjay permalink
    March 4, 2011 4:22 pm

    Horn please…OK means On kerosene….earlier trucks used to run on kerosene…which was highly inflammable.


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