art is the expression of people's sensitivity. Although it is
intimately related to the decorative or lesser arts, while at the
same time displaying an affinity with higher forms of art, the great
strength and importance of popular art reside in the fact that it
simultaneously creates a form of artistic expression while revealing
the psychology of the society from which it emerges, reflecting its
moral values and customs.
people of Mithila in northern Bihar stick to their centuries old
custom and orthodox belief that the land of Mithila or Mithialanchal
is holier when compared to other parts of Bihar. The belief possibly
stems from the historic fact that Mithila was first to be brought
under the influence of Aryan culture. And to this day the Mithilis
take pride in their continuity of language, custom and culture. They
are known to adhere to the minutest details in rituals from birth to
death as per the dictates of the Sastras.
tradition of painting walls for beautification of dwellings in
Mithila is believed to have survived from the epic period. Tulsidas
gives a vivid account of Mithila decorated for the marriage of Sita
with Ram. These decorations are mythological murals, added with
deities of Hindu pantheon, besides regional flora and fauna. The
earthquake of 1988 devastated parts of Darbhanga and Madhubani.
Perhaps, the greatest damage caused was the palace complex, replete
with paintings done two centuries ago, as per the Mithila traditions.
land of Mithila is covered by the present districts of Champaran,
Saharasa, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Samastipur,
parts of Munger, Beguserai, Bhagalpur and Purnea. Madhubani is the
heartland where the paintings are more profuse than elsewhere.
ceremonial folk paintings - popularly identified as Madhubani
paintings are the exclusive monopoly of women artists, passing down
for generations from mother to her daughter. The girl learns to play
with the brush and colours at an early age which finally culminates
in the Kohbar (nupital room), which acquires great sanctity in
the social life of Mithila. All religious ceremonies relating to the
marriage are performed in the Kohbar. The deep (earthen lamp -
a symbol of happy conjugal life) is kept burning in all through for
Kohbar is replete with paintings based on mythological, folk
themes, and tantric symbolism. The paintings in this chamber are
designed to bless the couple. The central theme of all paintings are
love and fertility, though the approach may vary. It can commence
with the story of Sita's marriage or Krishna - Radha episode with the
ecstatic circle in which he leads the gopis. Mithilis are
Sakti worshippers with the influence of Tantric rituals and so
Siva-Sakti, Kali, Durga, Ravna and Hanuman also appear in their
murals. Symbols of fertility and prosperity like fish, parrot,
elephant, turtle, sun, moon, bamboo tree, lotus, etc are more
prominent. The divine beings are positioned centrally in the frame
while their consorts or mounts or simply their symbols and floral
motifs form the background. The human figures are mostly abstract and
linear in form, the animals are usually naturalistic and are
invariably depicted in profile. It begins with the flow of the brush
without any preliminary sketching. Though natural colours and twigs
have given way to brushes and artificial paints, the subject of
Madhubani paintings remains unchanged.
chief exponents of these paintings are the Mithili Brahmins and
Kayasthas. In the village of Jitwarpur (stronghold of Brahmins) and
Ratni (dominated by the Kayasthas) the Madhubani paintings have
emerged as a commercial activity where children can be seen engaged
in arranging the hand crafted paper or fetching the colours. The
commercialisation of Mithili art took place in 1962 when an artist
touring this village was attracted by the murals. He persuaded the
women to paint in their traditional way on paper. 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 preyed for other mediums
and motiffs like greeting cards, dress materials, sunmica etc.
the beginning home made 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
colours 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 diya, dissolved in gum.
colours 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 mutted ones. In another class called the Harijan
style of painting, hand made paper is washed in cowdung. 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.
the Madhubani paintings, Bihar is famous for the Patna Qalam
(paintings). The 200 year old art form traces its origin to Humayun's
exile to Persia, from where he brought a select set of artists to
illustrate Dastan-i-Amir Hamza. The Persian artists who had
migrated from Hirat had mastered the distant lines from the Chinese
and added to it an intense individualism.
greatly encouraged the painters and by the end of his reign a new
kind of painting emerged out of the native and foreign fusion. This
was referred to as Mughal style of painting which further ramified,
later on, into numerous sub schools or Qalams, Patna being one of
them. In words of Abul Fazl, the Mughal paintings are "incomparable,
transforming in animate objects into life through the minuteness in
details, the general finish, the boldness of execution observed in
expertise in painting can best be summed up from his own memoirs: "As
regards myself, my liking in painting and my practice in judging it
have arrived at such a point that when any work is brought before me,
either of deceased or those of the present day, without names being
told, to say on the spur of the moment that it is the work of such
and such a man. If any person has put the eye and eyebrows in a face,
I can perceive whose work the original face is, and who has painted
the eye and the eyebrows."
dislike for art compelled the artist to leave Delhi in search of new
patrons. Their first march was to Murshidabad where the Bengal Nawabs
were at the helm of their golden days. However, the glory of
Murshidabad was shortlived and once again the artists panicked but
this time they packed for Patna, which was fast growing into a
commercial city with various European factories and trading centres.
The migrant artists who settled at Patna produced numerous paintings
which are commonly referred to as Patna Qalam.
earliest among the migrant artists to Patna included Sewak Ram
(1770-1830) and Hulas Lal (1785-1875). Sewak specialised in `Kajali
Siahi' which excludes the pencil work before applying the brush.
Paintings by these two artists can be seen at Patna Museum and State
Art Gallery. Ram Sewak depicted typical Indian occupations of the
kind that generally appealed to the British. He displayed his
adaptability not only in the choice of theme but in technique as
well. His subject includes holy men, farmers, grain sellers, potters,
weavers, musicians, etc. It is astonishing how these descendants of
the Mughal miniaturists who revelled in giving a visual form to
literature adapted their wares to British tastes. Shiva Lal and Shiva
Dyal Lal were famous for their miniatures. Shiva Lal's famous
painting, `Muslim wedding' has been commented upon as the picture
with dignity and restraint in absence of the gorgeous colours and
decorative background of the Mughal paintings. These two artists had
quite a flourishing business at Patna and among their customers were
both Europeans and Indians.
Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library has among its collection two
miniature portraits of Nur Jehan at different stages of her life.
Painted by Syed Moinuddin, they reveal the Bihari miniature akin to
Delhi's ivory discs. Of the two portraits, one depicts Nur Jehan as
an empress dressed in formal regalia with her fair looks although an
element of remorse creeps in. The other painting captures her happier
mood (possibly before the death of her first husband) draped in the
traditional orhni that anchors her maidenly appearance.
theme of Patna Qalam, though on small canvas, centres around the
lives of ordinary people, their profession, customs and cultures of
Bihar. Unlike the Delhi artists, they used the slating dot system. In
the early days, the artists themselves prepared their own paper for
painting and so were the colours assembled from various flowers,
leaves, metals, shellac, clay, etc. Besides paper, paintings were
also made on ivory, metal and mica sheets.
the Britishers left India they purchased a good number of these Patna
Qalams. Thereafter the art was on the scale of decline. Around 200 of
them are preserved in Kensington Museum, London. Patna Museum has 65
of them while Chaitanya Mahasabha, Khuda Baksh Library, Lalit Kala
Akademi, Government School of Arts and Crafts are few of the places
for reviewing this famous school of painting.