An Article by Dr Kailash Mishra
In Mithila, painting is normally done by women folk in three forms: painting on floor, painting on wall and painting on movable objects. Aripan, under the first category, is made on the floor with the paste of arva (crude) rice. This rice paste is called pithar in the local language. Apart from the floor it is also made on banana and maina leaves and pidhi (wooden seats). A woman or a girl does it using her right hand�s fingertips. In tusari puja, a festival celebrated by the unmarried girls in order to please Gauri and Shiva to have a suitable husband; an aripan is made with dry rice powder in white, yellow and red colours. Aripan is of different types suiting different occasions. Astadala, sarvatobhadra, dasapata and swastika are its main varieties. Wall paintings are multicolored. Three to four colors are usually used to depict the wall paintings. Pictures include those of nayana-jogini, purain, carrier of fish, curd, jackfruit, trees of fruits such as mango and pomegranate and birds like peacock. Attractive floral motifs adorn the wall on three sides of the entrance. Paintings on movable objects include those on clay models of pots, elephants, birds like Sama and chakeba; Raja Salhesa, bamboo structure, mat, fan and objects made of sikki. Decorative multicolored designs made on the faces of brides and the sumangalis also fall in this category. Many of these paintings have great tantrik significance. Certain non-Vedic rites during the marriage ceremony, practiced exclusively by the women, like thakka-bakka, nayana-jogini etc., are directly related to the Mithila tantra.
The tradition of wall paintings as well as surface paintings for beautification of dwellings and ritual purposes in Mithila is believed to have survived from the epic period. Tulsidasa in his magnum opus the Ramcharitamanasa gives a vivid account of Mithila painting decorated for the marriage of Sita and Rama. Influenced with the wonderful pair � Rama and Sita �Gauri, the Consort of Siva, desired to participate in the actual marriage ritual and wanted to paint the kohabar where the sumangalis had to perform songs and related rituals for this divine ideal couple. These decorations are mythological murals, added with deities of Hindu pantheon, besides regional flora and fauna. The women artists, according to the old age tradition, are the sole custodians who practice this folk painting passing down for generations from mother to her daughter. They have been retaining this great art form in the region since time immemorial. The girl learns to play with the brush and colors at an early age that finally culminates in the kohabar, which acquires great sanctity in the social life. All religious ceremonies relating to the marriage are performed in the kohabar. The ahibaatak patil is kept burning in all through for four days.
The present form of Mithila paintings, also called Madhubani paintings, are the translation of the wall paintings, floor paintings and terracotta idols onto paper or canvas. This experiment is not very old. In the late sixties, twentieth century, in order to create the job opportunity for the women to face the cruel challenge of the terrible drought, some women were approached to translate their art from walls, floors and other form of creativity to the paper or canvas. They did and it worked miraculously. At first when the ritual was fixed on paper it had a very small audience at the receiver�s end but it certainly opened a new world of art appreciators and also potential buyers of their artworks in the world. This was a great success and a ticket to trade. Since then the painting medium has diversified. Wall paintings were transferred to hand made paper (which was of poster size) and gradually it laid the way for other mediums and motifs like greeting cards, dress materials, sun-mica etc. The stylized figures, fierce lions with electrified manes, the human profiles reminiscent of ancient Cretan pottery, the bright native colours and all possible indigenous experiments appealed to the audience of the world. In the beginning only a few Brahman women were given the opportunity to practice this art but after ten years some women of the Kayasthas also came forward with a new style. Till now, the women of the Harijans were not given the opportunity to experiment in this art with their hands. On careful examination I found an interesting story behind this. The women of higher castes were not allowed in the region to cross the boundary of their houses, however they wanted to do some work for generating finance to run their family smoothly mainly during the natural calamities. One folk poet, Faturilal of present Shahpur village of Madhubani had described the pathetic condition of the people during famine in late nineteenth century in his famous poetry known as the Akalkavitta. Influenced with his poetic description the then Maharaja of Darbhanga, Maharaja Laxmeshwar Singh decided to create job opportunities with the help of the British ruler for the people. The women of lower castes however were helping their husbands or male counterparts by working in the agricultural fields of better off people and also as maid servant in the houses of higher castes. This time also some people thought of involving the women of higher castes in some creative business. Mahatma Gandhi�s experiment with charkha came as a wonder for all the women of Maithil Brahmans. They found it very easy as earlier they were preparing cotton thread on tekuli for preparing the janeu or jagyopaveeta. The khadi workers used to give raw cotton to them in every house and collect their prepared yarns. Very delicate and costly khadi clothes are woven from these yarns today and they are in great demand everywhere in the country. Some women prepare such very fine thread that at times the length of a sacred thread is contained in the case of a piece of cardamom. Anyway, this created a space for women. Khadi centres used to give money as well as clothes for their labour. This was a respectful job mainly for destitute, widows and poor women of higher castes in the locality. And the second experiment was Mithila paintings. As a result some women of the Brahman caste such as Sita Devi contributed to promote the Brahmin style of Mithila paintings. This art, characterised by bright colours and an absence of shade, is mainly concerned with the khobars and gods and goddesses (Krishna, Rama and Durga mostly). Bawa Devi and her daughter, Sarita Devi later made important personal contributions.
Another social group, the women of the Kayasthas, was also facing the similar problem. They were landless community and their women also got attracted towards this art form to gain some finance. They worked hard on the art and also in the entrepreneurship and finally achieved recognition in the seventies. The Kayastha women earned their name for their elaborate line paintings. Most of the Kayastha women do outline paintings only. They cover their sheets of paper or cloth or any object with the care of cartographers, producing finished pictures where exquisite execution is more impressive in view of the difficult conditions in which they work. They depict village or religious scenes to the finest details such as the late Ganga Devi, Pushpa Kumari, Karpoori Devi, Mahasundari Devi and Godawari Dutta. These two forms of Mithila expression, both due to women from the higher castes, embody traditional Mithila art.
The third group, the Harijan women, came forward in the 1980s. The women of the Dusadh and the Chamar were doing all forms of traditional paintings and art forms for ritual purposes and also for decorating their dwellings. Influenced by the entrepreunership and experiment of the Bramhans and the Kayasthas they experimented the godna and other bright colour in their depiction of paintings. Their pictorial alphabet began to include lines, waves, circles, sticks and snails, opening the way to stylization and more abstraction. That also worked. Jamuna Devi and Lalita Devi are famous Harijan female painters. Lalita Devi sews faces of deities like fruits; profusion of motives seems to rightly counterbalance the precariousness of existence, they transcend their daily lives to harvest new creations. And now women of all castes have been practicing this art as a job earning profession.
Being the folk of the villages, these artists rely on the kindness of nature for colors. It provides them with a wonderful range of natural hues derived from clay, bark, flowers and berries. The colors are usually deep red, green, blue, black, light yellow, pink and lemon. They create mood and hence played an important role. For instance, energy and passion find expression through the use of red and yellow, as monochrome crashed over large surfaces of the painting. Concentration of energy and the binding force is best reflected in red while green governs the natural leaves and vegetation. The Brahmins prefer the very bright hues while the Kayasthas opt for muted ones. For the Harijan style of paintings, hand made papers is washed in cow dung. Once the paints are ready, two kinds of brushes are used – one for the tiny details made out of bamboo twigs and the other for filling in or space is prepared from a small piece of cloth attached to a twig. In the beginning homemade natural colours were obtained from plant extracts like henna leaves, flower, bougainvillea, neem, etc. These natural juices were mixed with resin from banana leaves and ordinary gum in order to make the paint stick to the painting medium. Home made paints, though cheap, was time consuming and produced less than the requirement. The solution was at hand to switch to the synthetic colors available aplenty in the market. Now colours come in powdered form, which are then mixed with goat’s milk. Black was obtained from the soot deposits by the flame of dibia dissolved in gum.
- MAMTA MANTRI