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Hindu Folk Painting In Mithila Bihar

A short essay on Hindu folk painting in Mithila – Bihar in India

Extending from the foothills of the Himalayas in the north to the Ganga River in the south is the land of Madhubani, the heartland of Mithila, with vine-covered mud homes almost invisible, the trees forming an evergreen canopy dotted with colorful birds of every kind.

Being the birthplace of Nyaya Sutras, Vaisesika systems, Mimamsa, Buddhist and Jain philosophers, the janmabhumi of Mata Sita of Ramayan, the seat of tantric cult and associated with religious practices, an abundance of literary works in Maithili language had reached a crescendo with Vidyapati’s scholastic works and to their elevated mythological system. The most interesting example can be traced to the story of Sama Chakeva (preserved in Skanda Purana), a folk festival.

Sculptures in bronze, stone, and ivory have been unearthed from ruins of temples with an amazing variety and complexity ranging from carved wooden articles to delicate miniatures in silver. Terracotta images depict the characters of folk stories, puppets educate, and paintings inspire every religious and social occasion. The expressions on paintings are more from within. The hereditary art is ritualistic and the areas painted are consecrated. The paintings adorn the aripana (floor), kobhar ghara (the nuptial chamber walls), gosain ghara (the family shrine) and the kitchen walls.

There are three different schools of folk painting in Mithila region of Bihar. The Kayastha tradition is characterized by line works in red and black. Typical are the Kobhar paintings, made by suvasini women (married women whose husbands are alive). The pictograph is rich with meaning and symbolizes the purna kalas (concept of fertility). The female khobar is represented by the lotus; the bans or bamboo groves, represent the groom; and criss-cross lines suggest prolific growth. Other symbols of fertility are latpatia suga (a pair of parrots), naga-nagin (entwined cobras), tortoise, fish, sun, moon and bidh-bidhata. Naina Jogin (Goddess with magical powers) is portrayed on all four corners to ward off evil spirits. These paintings provide a colorful access to, and awareness of, iconography and myths bringing about an intrinsic expression of tantric and religious beliefs.

The colors of Sanatana tradition and the delicate lines of the Kayastha tradition come together in the tattoo tradition. The legend of Raja Sailesha is created by a serial replication of stylized images.

The paintings of Dasa Mahavidya, for instance, with iconographic details and yantras in basic colors highlighting the panchabhuta concept, makes one wonder who the scholar is. Is it the urban graduate or the so called uneducated tribal artist of Madhubani who is able to project such great concepts in simple, precise formats?