What makes India unique in the world is its richness in art and culture. And the thing which makes it more special is, it is not just a history but it is still surviving in most parts of the country. So let’s know about one of such oldest but surviving art of India, and that is MANJUSHA ART. It is a fascinating and picturesque art form that brings to life a folktale that is more than 1000 years old.
About Manjusha Art
Manjusha art is a very popular art that shares the history and culture of the ancient Anga Janapada region. Manjusha is a Sanskrit word that means ceremonial temple-shaped box made of bamboo, jute straw and paper boxes used by devotees. These boxes are however illustrated with paintings that tell a tale. So Manjusha art is the art of making and decorating baskets of offerings to Goddess Vishahari – a local name of Goddess Mansa -the foster daughter of Lord Siva. This art is connected with a very popular folk tale of Bhagalpur namely Bihula-Vishahari Gatha. The art includes activities like basketry, painting and body decoration. Manjusha art has often been referred to as ‘snake paintings’ by the westerns who consider it as Modern Art.
The painting mainly depicts Goddess Vishahari and different characters of the Bihula-Vishahari Gatha. The tale is that of Bihula who saved her husband from the deity’s curse and a snake-bite; also of Bishahari or Mansa, the snake goddess known for her anger when displeased but also her fierce protectiveness when propitiated. However, the story of the snake goddess Vishahari is also very interesting, but it is impossible to share all the context in this article. But for your curiosity, here is a small detail- Lord Shiva and Parvati accepted five daughters originated from five strands of Lord Shiva’s hair that fell into the Sonada river. Their names are- Jaya Bishahari(symbol of bow and arrow), Dhothila Bhavani(symbol of the rising sun), Padmavathi (symbol of lotus), Mynah Bisahari(symbol of a mynah bird) and Maya Bishahari/Manasa Bishahari(symbol of Amrith Kalash). These deities are the main characters of the Manjusha painting. Other characters are Chand Suadagar(symbol of staff in his hand), Nethula Dhobin, Depiction of a Manjusa, Bihura, Depiction of Kalash.
The root of this folk art is connected with the history of Bhagalpur. The story of a tradesman, Chand Saudagar (a devotee of Shiva)( which is one of the main storylines of this art) clearly shows that Champanagar, situated in today’s Bhagalpur and was once the part of the Anga dynasty, was an important centre of Business and trades in the history.
Manjusha art form is believed to be contemporary to the period of the Indus Valley Civilisation as it was found in an excavation in the form of terracotta figurines and embellishments of nagas (snakes) similar to motifs represented in Manjusha in 1970 in Karnagarh near Bhagalpur. However, the First context of Manjusha Art dates back to the beginning of the Medieval era.
Another unique aspect of Manjusha art is that only 3 colours are used for this painting- Green, Pink and Yellow, representing growth love and prosperity. The green colour is used for outlines, then it is filled with yellow and pink colours.
Festival of Manjusha Art
Every year the females of Bhagalpur and nearby areas celebrate the festival of Bisahari on the 17th and 18th August. During this pooja, two things are made, One is the “Kalash” and the other is the Manjusha. The Kalash is made by the Kumbhakar caste and the Manjusha by the Malakar caste, both are decorated with the art of Manjusha which depicts these stories and are engulfed in the lake at the end of the festival. They worship Bisahari as they believe her as a goddess of protection. Females worship Bihula to gain strength and blessings and for the long life of their husbands. Bihula is a symbol of a strong female character in the history of Indian folklore.
Award-winning artist, a famous writer and a teacher Ulupi Jha thought that if she makes Manjusha art on large canvas it would make it unaffordable. To ensure it goes to every house and the artists’ benefits, it must be made commercially viable. So she started making Manjusha on the smallest pieces such as pen stands, flower pots, wooden keychains etc.
The history of this folklore is a big surprise and efforts are on for the upliftment of this art. On one hand, the Manjusha artists are putting all their efforts to popularize it and on another hand, the Government of Bihar is also trying to take this art to the next heights. To train and encourage Manjusha artists, Upendra Maharathi Institution of Patna is working hard. This institution organises Manjusha Mela every year in Bhagalpur, where artists get a platform to sell their art. The biggest challenge faced by Manjusha artists is that they live in rural areas and they don’t have the access to markets and marketing ideas. To deal with this challenge Government has created an e-commerce platform. This allows them to sell all their products online.
The story of Manjusha art is amazing but it disappeared 30 years ago. But Manjusha art awardees Chakravarti Devi, Nirmala Devi and others have rectified this art again. The new generation of artists is taking it to new heights by putting their immense effort so the art of Manjusha doesn’t vanish again. We can together help the artists and can protect our historical art by our small contributions.
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