Mithila Painting

Valmiki’s ‘Ramayana’ mentions that the women of Raja Janaka's palace used to paint such pictures on the walls. The Goddess Sita was an accomplished painter and it is believed she used to worship God Ram by sketching his new images everyday during Ravan’s captivity in Ashok Vatika. 'Harshacharit' of Vanbhatt states that the pictures of Cupid and companionship were made in Mithila style at the wedding of Harshvardhan's sister on the walls of palace. Some components of Mithila Painting even resembled the handcrafted and the punched coins obtained from Harappan culture.

Though integral to societies in Indian sub-continent since ages, several art-forms have faded in their significance, or even become extinct, for one reason or the other. However, the story of Mithilanchal region of Bihar is entirely different, where the women have preserved their thousands of years old art of Mithila Painting. They have been decorating the courtyard of the house with a variety of paintings on auspicious occasions and festivals, thus powerfully representing their cultural constituents in art and literature.

Weaving any authentic history of the origin of Mithila Painting is rather onerous. Maithili women have been making such paintings on the walls and floor of their house for thousands of years, from generation to generation. Mother has taught it to daughter and again one daughter has taught to another. Despite having an uninterrupted history however, it’s up scaling, democratization, and globalization happened only in post sixties.

Valmiki’s ‘Ramayana’ mentions that the women of Raja Janaka's palace used to paint such pictures on the walls. The Goddess Sita was an accomplished painter and it is believed she used to worship God Ram by sketching his new images everyday during Ravan’s captivity in Ashok Vatika. 'Harshacharit' of Vanbhatt states that the pictures of Cupid and companionship were made in Mithila style at the wedding of Harshvardhan's sister on the walls of palace. Some components of Mithila Painting even resembled the handcrafted and the punched coins obtained from Harappan culture.

Until the year 1966, this form of painting was confined to Mithilanchal only among the upper caste women such as Brahmin and Kayastha. The 'Kachini' style of painting is famous among Kayastha in Ranti village, while the 'Bharni' style is popular among the Brahmins of Jitvarpur of Madhubani district. In the Kachani style, women paint with black colour and highlight the different allegories and finery in the middle with black colour. In the Bharni style, the women first draw the lines with black colour, and then in the middle of those lines they fill the vibrant colours like red, yellow, green and blue.

The contribution of Ms. Pushpa Jaikar, Bhaskar Kulkarni and Upendra Maharati is also remarkable in bringing this art to the national canvas. Post famine in Bihar around 1966-67, for providing sustainable employment, at the instance of the Centre, they encouraged the women painters to move beyond walls and encouraged them to paint on papers. Bhaskar Kulkarni of Handloom Board cycled from one village to another to understand the artscene in the area. After the death of Bhaskar Kulkarni, Manu Parekh, the eminent painter today, who was working with Handicraft Board then, was asked to adopt few villages for scale up. He picked up three villages: Rashidpur, Ranti, and Jitvarpur.

Manu Parekh’s contribution also lies in democratizing the social base of the artistes when he selected and trained few members of the Dalit community, among whom Shiv Paswan and his wife Shanti Paswan emerged as the leading names. But the main problem with these women was being, deprived of oral tradition learning, they were unaware of mythology. Instead, these women were in the habit of tattooing themselves on their body in the form of animal, sun, moon, husband's name or any sweet memory. Gradually, taking inspiration from ‘Kachni’ style of Kayasth and ‘Bharni’ style of Brahmin, these women began to engrave the pictures of those tattoos on papers.

Later, these women started painting on line of the stories and teachings of their animistic-religions such as Raja Salahesh, Dina-Bhadri and also Lord Buddha. Slowly art-form came to be known as ‘Godna’ Painting. Tattoo (Godna) style painting is still pretty prevalent around Laheriya Ganj in Madhubani district. Many of its artisans have been honoured with state and national awards. Though the art-form is increasingly becoming gender-neutral, the preponderance of women artists in the medium is still the order of the day.

It was imperative for this art form to graduate from walls and floor and descend on paper in order to make it both commercially viable and acknowledged in the international market. Drawing and painting on paper was a challenging task to begin with, but the perseverance of Maithili women and the authenticity of their paintings finally succeeded in securing a distinctive place on the global art scene today. The contribution of the former Railway Minister Lalit Narayan Mishra has been quite significant in transporting this art out of Mithila and making it commercial pan India. Rail coaches became the wheel.

Further, because of the influence of occult in Mithilanchal, the impact of exorcism can visibly be seen on Mithila Painting too. Some special figures are used in the portraiture of Kali, Durga, Lakshmi etc. In the portrait of Rasamandal, the wheels of octaves, hexagon, and quadrangle are used. The colour extracted from Kumkum, Bezoar, Saffron and Musk etc are used in Tantric painting. The majority of artists depict the images of Ram-Vivah, Dhanushabhang, Kohbar, Shiva-Parvati and Buddha's stories in their paintings.

One of the major characteristics of Mithila Painting is that it is made directly from colours without any prior graphs or sketches on walls or papers. The subject matter of the paintings, its shape, sentiments and emotions happen to be engraved in minds of artist already. This feature of Mithila Painting lends uniqueness to it.

The ‘Aripan’ (an art of decorating courtyard) and ‘Kohbar’ (the room where bride and bridegroom meet after marriage) art has been most popular in Mithila Painting since the beginning. ‘Aripan’ is a brilliant ornamentation art, which is made on the arrival of someone or on any auspicious occasion at the main entrance of the house. Vermilion, flour of rice and wheat, and ‘Ramras’ are used in this style of painting. In such paintings, the footprint of the deity and its form are engraved on the floor. In the ‘Kohbar’ art, there is a special significance of the images painted inside and outside the house in Kohbar. A widely held view is that the Kohbar Painting contains all the creations of this universe. Kohbar Ghar is the one wherein bridegroom and bride meet for the first time after marriage. This form of art depicts love and beauty along with goodwishes for conjugal happiness of couple. The images of sun, moon, bamboo, Navagraha, lotus, parrot, turtle, banana, fish, elephant, horse etc. are created in the house which has its own distinct symbolic significance. Colours used in Mithila Paintings are mostly natural.

Today, Mithila region has some special centers of painting such as Jitwarpur, Bhawanipur, Ranti, Rasidpur, Rajnagar, Harinagar, Laheriyaganj etc. Sita Devi, Jagdamba Devi and Buda Devi of Jitvarpur have been awarded with Padamshree. Mahasundari Devi from Ranti and Ganga Devi of Rasidpur have also been awarded with Padamshree. Hundreds of artists of Mithila have exhibited the art of Mithila across the globe, earning its own distinctive identity and recognition in the international market.

Recently, Madhubani Railway station, the heartland of Mithila, has been adorned by Mithila Paintings. In an attempt to promote the traditional Mithila Painting, the artists have worked free of cost as 'Shramdaan' to decorate the station with paintings.

Top