Tikuli Art

Discovering an authoritative history of Tikuli Art is arduous because of lack of its systematic documentation. However, the findings from archaeological excavation that include the statue of a woman of Mauryan era bear a Tikuli (Bindi) on her forehead. This is a tentative testimony of the fact that Tikuli Art originated in Mauryan age. In Chandragupta regime, the patrician women mostly used Tikuli on their forehead but in the subsequent era of King Ashoka, the common womenfolk also got drawn to it, thereby making this fashion a commercially viable proposition. Fa-Hien, a famous Chinese pilgrim, who visited India during 399-400 AD, had observed the women of Patliputra wearing Bindi(Tikuli) on their forehead.

Tikuli – called Bindi in the Hindi heartland of India - is a tiny-little round, diamond, or dropshaped ornament that women apply around the mid of their eyebrows. The royal women-resident of Pataliputra during Mauryan and Gupta period used to wear the Tikuli to adorn their faces and the practice is still prevalent in Bihar. Tikuli art picked up the themes from Mithila Painting, detailing from Patna Kalam, and techniques later from the Japanese Art to form its distinct form and style as an art. Its nurturing ground was in the lanes and by-lanes of the old Patna-city, but later it found patronage outside Patna too.

Discovering an authoritative history of Tikuli Art is arduous because of lack of its systematic documentation. However, the findings from archaeological excavation that include the statue of a woman of Mauryan era bear a Tikuli (Bindi) on her forehead. This is a tentative testimony of the fact that Tikuli Art originated in Mauryan age. In Chandragupta regime, the patrician women mostly used Tikuli on their forehead but in the subsequent era of King Ashoka, the common womenfolk also got drawn to it, thereby making this fashion a commercially viable proposition. Fa-Hien, a famous Chinese pilgrim, who visited India during 399-400 AD, had observed the women of Patliputra wearing Bindi(Tikuli) on their forehead. This art form acquired fame and glory during Mughal era and spread overseas too. The visiting Portuguese and Tibetan merchants to Patliputra market every year would have bangles and Tikulis in their must buy list.

In the absence of any documentation again, no information is available on the production process of Tikuli. Even Kautilya’s ‘Arthashashtra’ is silent on this cultural practice. A widely held view is that the Tikuli was made out of painstakingly created processed golden leaf. The glass was melted down in the furnace and then blown in the form of a balloon. On cooling, a special tool was used to cut it into a definite shape. Then the golden work was pasted on it. Then after, the images of God and Goddess were engraved with the help of bamboo pencil. The process involved around seven to ten days and several skilled hands to craft a Tikuli.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Tikuli art attained prominent place in world of Indian art. It was produced in the confines and congested streets of Patna-city such as Gurhatta, Malsalami, and Lodikatra and it began to lure the patrician families of Europe, local elites and commoners alike. Its popularity peaked by the beginning of the nineteenth century.

With the setting up of the factories and mechanized production, which graduated to making of Tikuli in plastic materials, the art faced unexpected decline. The plastic Tikuli was cheaper and durable in comparison to its earlier version and hence it grabbed the market rapidly. Gradually, Tikuli as a traditional art form lost its sheen and with the passage of time, the artists turned towards other profession. Taking inspiration from Patna Kalam, the artisans from Lodhi Katra, Diwan Mohalla, and Malsalami area of Patna began to engrave figures on pieces of glass and the art-work became wall-ornament increasingly.

Upendra Maharathi, former Director, Shilp Anusandhan Kendra (Department of Industries of Bihar Government) at Patna, toured Japan in the sixties and saw Tikuli Art being drawn with golden Enamel paint on pieces of wood. Having studied the process at length, he inspired the native artists like Ramfal Gupta and Lalbabu Gupta among others to draw on glass and to use golden Enamel paint. After his demise, Ashok Kumar Viswas, a trained artist from same institute, carried on his predecessor’s mantle with commitment. The former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi’s patronization and interest took the Tikuli art-form to the international arena. Tikuli Paintings were given as official gifts to the athletes of 1982 Asian Games on her initiative in thousands. The Tikuli art received a great fillip as a result and fame and spread across the globe.

In the last decade, the invention of hardboard energized the Tikuli art majorly. Ashok Viswas did commendable work in motivating artisans to paint on hardboard. Besides hard board, the use of a specific wooden material known as MDF has also caught artistes’ imagination. Today, the hardboard and MDF are cut into round and rectangular pieces. Then, it is painted with enamel with help of a thin brush. When the board becomes smooth, the frames are engraved in Mithila style with a brush of 000 sizes. The use of 000 size brush in Tikuli Art is unique in the world.

The influence of Mithila Painting style can easily be observed in the Tikuli Art which sometimes creates an impression of both being the same. But the main distinction between these two art forms is that while Mithila Painting is done on paper and on a piece of cloth, Tikuli Art is done on hardboard and on MDF. The second distinction is that the artists have restricted the Mithila Paintings to religious themes mainly, whereas the Tikuli Artistes dwell on both: religious subjects as well as the affairs of common folk. The moon-like face, fingers on a rhythmic pattern and restricted facial expression are common traits of Tikuli Paintings. With the help of National Institute of Design (NID) Ahemdabad, Upendra Maharathi Shilp Sansthan has undertaken an innovative step to use gold color on glass and MDF in recent years, and that has captured attention of both national and international market.

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