[The above painting is done by famous artist and cartoonist Mahendra Shah.]


[The History of Mithila Paintings is provided by Dr. Kailash K. MishraDr. Kailash Kumar Mishra is an anthropologist who works as free lance scholar and looks after the Bahudha Utkarsh Foundation as its founder and Managing Trustee. he can be contacted at  kailashkmishra@gmail.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Ph: 09868963743]

The 5000 years old Indian culture has given successive generations a wonderful mindset tuned in amalgamation of tradition and modernity, and value system, which has been retained with excellent continuity despite the passage of time, repeated foreign invasions, and the enormous growth in population. It gives them a unique personality today, as it has done in the past. In fact, these constitute enduring imprints on Indian consciousness. The 20th century is significant in many fields and art of course is an area to be mentioned. As culture has a curious way of belonging to its times, and yet of being removed from it. Culture has its own agenda and has habitually risen above the conditions prevailing on the ground in every period of human history. “The songs, dance-forms, literary activities and works of art produced in the 20th century have found new expressions and have gone to prove that this century has not only been the greatest in human history but has also been a period of new discoveries and radical renewals. While all the art forms have exhibited significant achievements, several entirely new ones have been invented and popularised such as cinema, pop music, and television documentary (Singh B. P. 2003:35)0.” Mithila painting, also known as Madhubani painting, is in its originality an art form practiced by the women of all castes and communities of the region. The women of this country from time immemorial have been involving themselves in the various forms of creativity. The best one can find in their creativity is the relationship between nature, culture and human psyche. Also they use only those raw materials, which are available easily in abundance in the locality they are surrounded with. Through folk paintings and other forms of art they express their desire, dream, expectation and amuse themselves. It is a parallel literacy by which they communicate their aesthetic expression. Their art of creativity itself can be treated as a style of writing by which their emotions, expectations, freedom of thoughts, in the maryada1, etc. Their background, gender, aspirations, hope, aesthetic sensibility, cultural knowledge, etc., find expression in all possible forms of their art. What one needs is to know the level of their enculturation and mode of learning before talking or writing about their art. Putting women in the center, this article is written on the Mithila painting, folk creators and the state of painting, in the same spirit.

No region of this great country is untouched with the creativity of the women. We see the example of phulkari in Punjab, warli in Gujarat, chikan embroidery in Lucknow, weaving in the North-east, kantha in Bengal, miniature paintings in the state of Rajasthan, ketharisujani and of course mithila paintings in the Mithila region of Bihar.

The Mithila painting is one of the living creative activities of the women of this region. It is a famous folk painting on paper, cloth, readymade garments, movable objects etc., mainly by the village women of Mithila. Originally it is a folk art, practiced by the women of all castes and communities, including the Muslims, on walls and floors using the natural and vegetable colours. Later some people took interest in it and motivated the women to translate their art from walls and floors to the canvas2 and now the new form has given this a very distinct identity in the art world as well as in the market. This folk art has a history, a cultural background, women’s monopoly and distinct regional identification. Where is Mithila? What is the cultural and historical significance of this land? Why is it that this art is that special in Mithila? These are the few questions that deserve an answer before anything can be written about this art form.

Far away from Indian big cities and the modern world lies a beautiful region once known as Mithila. It was one of the first kingdoms to be established in eastern India. The region is a vast plain stretching north towards Nepal, south towards the Ganges and west towards Bengal. The present districts of Champaran, Saharsa, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Supaul, Samastipur etc., and parts of Munger, Begusarai, Bhagalpur and Purnea of Bihar cover Mithila.  It is completely flat and free from rock or stone. Its soil is the alluvial slit deposited by the river Ganges, a rich, smooth clay dotted with thousands of pools replenished by the monsoon, the only reservoirs until the next monsoon. If the monsoon is late or scanty, the harvest is in jeopardy. But if the rain god is kind, the whole plain bursts into green from October to February, dotted with man-made ponds where beasts and peasants bath beneath ancient vatvrikshas3. Madhubani is the heartland where the paintings are more profuse than elsewhere. “The region’s rich vegetation so impressed ancient visitors that they called it Madhubani, ‘Forest of Honey’ (Vequaud, Yves 1977:9)”4, the name of the most acknowledged district for this painting. In this mythical region, Rama, the handsome prince of Ayodhya and incarnation of the Vishnu, married princess Sita, born of a furrow her father King Janaka had tilled. Mithila is that sacred land where the founders of Buddhism and Jainism; the scholars of all six orthodox branches of Sanskrit learning such as Yajnavalkya, Bridha Vachaspati, Ayachi Mishra, Shankar Mishra, Gautam, Kapil, Sachal Mishra, Kumaril Bhatt and Mandan Mishra were born. Vidyapati, a Vaisnav poet of 14th century was born in Mithila who immortalized a new form of love songs explaining the relationship between Radha and Krishna in the region through his padavalis and therefore the people rightly remember him as the reincarnation of Jaideva (abhinavajaideva). Karnpure, a classical Sanskrit poet of Bengal, in his famous devotional epic, the Parijataharanamahakavya gives an interesting account confirming the scholarship of the people of Mithila. Krishna tells his beloved Satyabhama, while flying over this land on way to Dwarka from Amravati, “O lotus-eyed one behold! Yonder this is Mithila, the birthplace of Sita. Here in every house Saraswati dances with pride on the tip of the tongue of the learned (Mishra, Kailash Kumar 2000)”5 Mithila is a wonderful land where art and scholarship, laukika and Vedic traditions flourished together in complete harmony between the two. There was no binary opposition. 


Footnotes and References

0 Singh, B.P.                Bahudha: Occasional Essays, New Delhi, Saulabh International Social Service Organization. 2003.

1 Cultural and social boundaries to regulate life as per the structure of the society.

2 Paper, cloth, movable objects, readymade garments etc.

3 Banyan tree.

4 Vequaud, Yves   Women Painters of Mithila, Thames and Hudson, London,  1977.

5  Mishra, Kailash Kumar                 Structure and Cognition of the Folksongs of Mithila, Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Darbhanga, L.N. Mithila University. 2000.