Manjusha Art

Historians affirm that Manjusha folk-art of the sixth century was very popular in Aang Pradesh, currently Bhagalpur in Bihar, of Indus era. The archaeological findings of 1970-71 excavation from Karngadh of Bhagalpur district that includes a pair of Naag-Naagin with human heads of Indus era and a mural based on Manjusha confirm this fact. However, no evidence of prevailing Manjusha art in following years has been found yet.

Different styles of painting traditions practiced in Bihar offer an insightful glimpse of the folk culture and ethos of the region. The most celebrated among them is Manjusha Art, prevalent in Bhagalpur and adjoining areas of Bihar, and is based on the famous folk tales of that region called ‘BihulaVishri’. Bihula-Vishri is a tale of transforming darkness of death into light of life. It narrates the victory of happiness over misery. At the same time, the folktale is also a symbol of women empowerment. Delineating the struggle of a woman from cradle to grave along with her battle for social esteem on canvass is the essence of Manjusha Art.

Manjusha Art Narrative

Manjusha Art has a grand narrative to sustain it perennially.
The legend goes that while taking bath in a lake, five hairs of Lord Shiva fell in the water and turned into 5 lotuses. These five lotuses requested Lord Shiva to adopt them as his daughter. The myth goes on that these five adopted daughters of Lord Shiva -Mynah, Bhawani, Maya vishahri, Padmavathi and Jaya - known together as Bishahari (the poison carrier), requested Lord Vasuki Nag to get themselves worshipped on the earth.
Vasuki Nag suggested them to convince Chand Saudagar - a great Lord Shiva devotee in Angpradesh - if he accepts to worship so that others on earth can follow him. But, says the narrative, Chand Saudagar refused to worship them and his life was reduced to hell, snatching away all his happiness and ease.
The tale orates that Bihula, wife of his last son, after the death of her husband from the deity’s wrath and a snakebite, reaches Lord Shiva in heaven and requests to resuscitate all dead members including her husband and to return all the lost wealth and pride of her family.
After granting all her wish, she was warned that the boons will come true only when her father-in-law Chand Saudagar will accept to worship the five sisters. Bihula agrees and assures to worship them. But Chand Saudagar still refuses and says he would rather die than worship them. As he prepares to behead himself, Lord Shiva appears and reveals that Bishahri is his daughter. On hearing thus, Chand Saudagar offers pooja to those 5 sisters, thus initiating the folk tradition of Manjusha.

Historians affirm that Manjusha folk-art of the sixth century was very popular in Aang Pradesh, currently Bhagalpur in Bihar, of Indus era. The archaeological findings of 197071 excavation from Karngadh of Bhagalpur district that includes a pair of Naag-Naagin with human heads of Indus era and a mural based on Manjusha confirm this fact. However, no evidence of prevailing Manjusha art in following years has been found yet. It appears that the art-form got confined to a folk festival just (Vihula- Bishahri Pooja) in later years. In the year of 1941, W.C. Aurther, an ICS Officer posted in Bhagalpur and an art connoisseur, noticed this art-form conserved by the local families of the Kumbhakar caste and the Malakar caste indigenously. He exhibited the art-form at India House in London. Consequently, the world came to know about this centuries-old art form. The contribution of Chakravarti Devi is quite noticeable in making the art popular post-independence era.

The construction of Manjusha begins before 15-20 days ahead of Leo constellation every year around Bhagalpur and adjacent districts. Generally, Manjusha is built on a quartile structure, but some special kind of Manjusha is built on six or eight pillars too. The artists prepare the Manjusha structure from wood, bamboo, and Jute-straw. The white paper is wrapped around the frame and various themes and characters of the Bihula-Vishari saga are engraved with blue, yellow and pink colour. Snake’s fang is made over its dome. In addition, a mud or metal-built pitcher (Kalash) is also made, depicting the various aspects of the Bihula-Vishari saga. The lid of the pitcher (Kalash) resembles snake's fang. The lines drawn on paintings are variable. In addition to the border made of the leaves of Champa and snakes’ icons in paintings, the characters of Vishari sisters, Chand Saudagar, Lakhinder, Crocodile, Moon, Son, Snake, weasel etc. are also delineated. With mystique inherent in these symbols, it reflects tranquility of nature, infinite shades of emotions and the tenderness of artists. The images of the sun and moon symbolize the communal harmony of society.

The human figure illustrated in Manjusha resembles the English letter X. The right leg and left hand and left leg and right hand of humanlike figure remain one-linear always. One eye of portrait happens to be lengthy always coming out from the face. The portrait does not carry ear while the hair is curly and adorned with flowers in paintings. Engraving a crest and moustache in malefigure is mandatory, whereas two hoops are used to show the growth of breast in female-figure. The male's neck happens to be smaller in comparison with the female’s one.

To show ‘Bihula’ in paintings, the images of unbridled hair and Naag are delineated in front of them, whereas in the picture of Mansa, the nectar Kalash in the right hand and the sketch of Naag in the left hand of the Goddess are created. Displaying ornamentation in women’s dress assumes supremacy.

Majorly three vibrant colors, namely, pink, yellow and blue are used in Manjusha Painting. Sometimes, other colors of same nature such as green and orange, associated with main three colors, are also used in paintings. To highlight the serpenttoxin, black color is used in human portrait. These colors have an esoteric and symbolic meaning. The pink and yellow colours are the sign of exhilaration and enthusiasm while the green symbolizes snake-bite and offspring. Chakravarti Devi, a wellknown traditional Manjusha artist, always made paintings with natural colors only. But now the poster, water oil and acrylic color is being used in paintings. The paintings which were earlier confined to the Manjusha and the pitcher (Kalash), is now also being made on cardboard, wall, Dupatta, Shawl, cards, file, bag, sari and canvas.

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