Mithila Arts in Nepal (Janakpur)
Bihar boasts of an enviable wealth of rural handicrafts comprising of hand – painted wall hangings, wooden stools, miniatures in paper and leaves, stone pottery, bamboo and leather goods, and applique work. But Bihar’s most famous and fascinating indigenous art forms, by far, are its Madhubani Paintings. This art is a strict monopoly of the women of Mithila. Done in primary colours of natural origin on paper and cloth, they narrate mythological and religious events. North of the river Ganges, in the state of Bihar lies a land called Mithila, shaded by old mango groves and watered by melt water rivers of Nepal and the Himalayas. The men of the community have been famous as priests and scholars. The women largely illiterate find cultural expression through exquisite paintings created for ritual occasions. They cover their courtyard walls in abstract images in brilliant colour, resembling in form and function the sand paintings of the Navahos. In the 1960s some local officials realized that if the women would only put some of their paintings on paper there might be a worldwide market for their creations. They proved to be correct and it is a mild irony in Mithila that the fame of the women has surpassed that of the men, because Mithila Art, otherwise known as Madhubani Paintings also, is now recognized throughout the world. The art of Mithila is linked to religious ceremonies, particularly marriage and its consequence, procreation. Interspersed with the Vedic marital rites, with the Sanskrit chanting by the Brahmins, is a tradition controlled by the women and devoted to female deities Durga, Kali and Gauri. The bride and groom are pulled away by the women for their own ceremonies devoted to Gauri in which men other than the groom are forbidden. Gauri is the goddess to whom the bride has prayed since childhood to bring her a good husband. These ceremonies are performed in courtyards before painted images of the goddesses. The function of the paintings being ritualistic the art is very symbolic. The primordial energy of the universe is embodied in various female forms, both living women and Goddesses. Some common themes include one of the Snake goddess, a form in which snakes are worshipped at Nag Panchmi during the monsoons, a time when snakes abound. Durga astride her tiger is another common representation. Probably the most powerful symbolism is the one associated with Duragoman Puren. A single seed that is dropped in the pond produces many lotus flowers, an appropriate thought for the bride and the groom at the time of their wedding. Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth, is a newer and common addition to the repertoire of Mithila symbolism. Among the male deities Ganesha, Krishna and Shiva are more commonly depicted. Trees, birds and animals are extensively used in combination with other ritual and religious paintings. Sometimes, rarely, one will see these alone without religious implication.
The paintings on wall have deeper themes, also narratives, for they are the stories being told sometimes in a series of panels. Apart from their decorative purpose, they also constitute a form of visual education like picture books, from which ones learns of ones heritage. Some outstanding ones are done in the Madhubani area. They have a naiveté and simplicity which perhaps is their attraction that both soothes and pleases the eyes.
The multiarmed DURGA riding the lion flanked by serpents, with their upraised hoods, is awesome. The subject matter varies according to the occasion. The Gods and Goddess are normally there to bless. Their most elaborate picture is in the nuptial chamber the “Kohbar Ghar” designed to bless the couple. Here there will be divine couples like
SHIV-PARVATI, RADHA-KRISHNA, then the signs of fertility and prosperity for good luck like elephants, fishes, parrot, turtoil, the Sun, the Moon, bamboo, shrubs in bloom and trees laden with giant flower. The women with very limited resources use indigenous colors that they can make themselves and find bamboo sticks wrapped in cotton for painting. Painting on the wall