The art forms of Bihar are appreciated all over the world because of their great aesthetic value and their adherence to tradition. Mithila painting is an age-old rural art form. It is practiced in the Mithila region of Bihar and in parts of Nepal. Mithila painting, also known as Madhubani painting, is done using fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens and match sticks. The sketches and various consumer goods are made with folk motifs of Mithila. Its main theme is traditional geometric patterns. Madhubani is a major export centre for this painting.
According to recorded history, Madhubani Painting originated from Madhubani district of Mithila region of Bihar some 2500 years ago. It was traditionally created by women of the Mithila region. According to Hindu mythology, the art form is considered to have history back to the time of Ramayana, when King Janak asked artists to illustrate his daughter Sita’s wedding to Lord Rama. Hence, the theme of Ram-Sita Vivah is hugely popular among Madhubani artists. Nowadays, it is very easy to capture important events of one’s life and keep it for years as a memory, but in those times it was very rare. The only way to record special moments was done with the help of these paintings.
This art form was brought to further public attention in 1934 when the worst earthquake of magnitude 8.0 occurred in Bihar and regions of Nepal that caused widespread damage in the state. But, fortunately, this dark cloud had a silver lining. William G. Archer, the British Colonial officer of Madhubani district was the one who came across these paintings in the interior walls of houses of the region during examining the damage caused by the natural disaster. The British officer went on to publish several articles and black and white pictures of these paintings to the outer world.
The art and artists have suffered greatly due to improper commercialization and cheap duplication. Also, a lack of awareness among these people caused this northern Indian art to stay unnoticed for years.
Change is inevitable and like any other field, Madhubani painting is also initiating new ideas. New age designers are creating fusions of Madhubani painting and western designs. This traditional art form is used by Indian Railways to beautify the coaches of trains and railway stations. This earned appreciation not only across the country but worldwide as well. Also, mesmerized by the beauty of the painting, Japan and Canada are planning to have similar designs on their trains. The latest initiative taken by the Patna Nagar Nigam is that they have painted the whole state capital with Madhubani paintings on its street walls.
The paintings have a confined impact on a compact geographical area and the pattern of the art has remained the same for centuries. The skills have been passed on for years. On this ground, this famous painting from Bihar is the first item from the state to get the Geographical Indication tag.
Initially, these paintings were painted on freshly plastered mud walls and floors of huts. The outline of Madhubani paintings is made from the paste of powdered rice which is usually of bright colours. There is rarely any blank space in the artwork.The border of the paintings generally consists of geometrical patterns and floral motif. However, it is not necessary for every painting to contain a border. These paintings also use two-dimensional imagery and traditionally the colours used are naturally derived from the surrounding such as ochre for reddish brown, lampblack, charcoal and soot for black, turmeric extract for yellow, red from sandalwood, blue from indigo and so on. Though artists mostly use paint these days.
There is a ritual context in the paintings for particular occasions, such as birth, marriage and festivals such as Holi, Kali Puja, Durga Puja. The paintings mostly depict human beings and their association with nature and scenes of deity from the ancient time period. Usually, these paintings include natural elements like fish, parrot, turtle, moon, sun, bamboo tree, etc. The geometric pattern is often seen symbolizing love, devotion, tradition, fertility and prosperity. This ancient art form is an emblematic expression of day-to-day experience and beliefs. Paintings and art are often a reflection of culture and tradition of the place from which they originate. It is also a reflection of the time in which the art was created.
It has five different styles, namely- Bharni, Katchi, Tantrik, Godna, and Kohbar. Earlier there existed variability on the basis of caste among painters’ styles of art. But, later with time, it has been globalized and differences among artists have been eradicated. Now, there are no differences in the work of artists of the region. They all work on all kinds of styles. One can also see Mithila painting as a movement which broke the caste barrier. These paintings are an illustration of thoughts, hopes, and dreams of the villagers especially the womenfolk.
Today, Mithila paintings have gained popularity all over the world. The art form has piqued interest in art lovers from various countries like USA, UK, Australia, Russia and various other nations. These paintings are displayed in several museums not only all over the country but worldwide. Tokamachi Hills in Japan have a museum fully dedicated to Mithila paintings.
Mithila painting is a lot more than an art.Women express themselves in their paintings. There was a time when child marriage was rampant in our society. A lot of child widows prohibited to wear colourful clothes expressed themselves through Madhubani painting. They would take to the canvas to paint the life they wished to live.
“Women would paint Radha’s clothes with bright red colours, they’d let her wear her long hair loose, they’d give her colourful bangles to adorn herself with, as if they were dressing themselves up ”, says a popular Mithila artist, Rani Jha.
Not only this, the art form has helped many women in these regions to empower themselves. After struggling with the orthodox ideas and traditions that inhibits them, these women were able to take a stand for themselves by becoming financially independent with the help of Madhubani paintings. Finally, they had something which they could call their own that led to psychological development among these women.
To be able to express stories, make customize paintings with their own talent helped them to empower themselves. There are many organizations which provide strength to village artists for their beautiful paintings. They preserved the traditional art through various self-sustainable initiatives. Madhubani paintings are extremely distinctive and easy to spot because of their uniqueness. There are several stores which offer varieties of products embellished with Madhubani designs. One can buy this historic art from several outlets and internet retailers.
The traditional painting received official recognition in 1969 when a renowned Mithila artist, Sita Devi received state award by the government of Bihar. There are many prominent artists from this field who have brought pride to the state. One of the most celebrated artists, Jagdamba Devi, was the first artist from Mithila to receive Padma Shri in 1975. Later on, other distinguished artists were awarded by Padma awards including Ganga Devi, Mahasundari Devi who introduced cloth painting in 1978, Yamuna Devi, Shanti Devi, and many more to the list. The latest recognition was given to Godavari Dutta by awarding her a civilian award, the Padma Shri in January 2019.
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Patterns from this ancient art are being designed on various other products such as bags, crockery, bedspread, cushion covers, mouse pads, notebooks, and plenty of other daily-use items. Gradually, the style of painting found its way onto varied articles from greeting cards to cloth materials. Mithila art was originally used for decorating purpose especially paintings were drawn on the walls and floor of the houses. Even today, Mithila art continues to rule the art industry as it is extensively used for home décor in the form of table linen, napkins, lamps and most importantly wall hangings.
The paintings are widely exported from Bihar to all over the world. Some of the major export centres include –Kalakriti in Darbhanga, Vaidehi in Madhubani, Benipatti in Madhubani district, Gram Vikas Parishad in Ranti. These vicinities have kept the art form alive.
It is time we fetch the deserved recognition to the artists. It is the need of an hour to preserve the dying arts of India and to fetch the justified fame for the struggling artists.
Quote of the day:“If you can dream it, you can do it.” — Walt Disney