Down the ages the women of Madhubani have been painting colorful pictures on the walls of their homes. This art is a tradition that has been passed on from mother to daughter over centuries thus keeping the art alive – just like an eternal spring……………
The first thing that attracted my attention, after entering Jitwarpur, was that yellow building. A small group of girls was entering that building. A few years back when I first visited this place, I had heard the interesting story of the making of this building. A German lady, who was also an art connoisseur, Erica Smith, builds this building in the early days of the eighth decade.
It was the year of 1968 – the entire land was in the grip of a terrible famine. Imbued with zeal to help the famished villagers, Erica Smith trotted through the Madhubani villages. Gloom all round, but she was suddenly struck by the bright figures on he mud wall of the hutments. Bewitching and dreamy, Erica was told that this was done by an unlettered Belle who, when cajoled by her, unhesitatingly reproduced it on a sheet of paper. Then Erica bought a lot of paintings and took them to Germany with her. She gave the artists their remuneration. After a few months, She came back again. The villagers found it strange, that Erica wanted to spend the money; she had gained from selling the paintings, on the progress of that village. She bought a piece of land and thus started the work of this building. She felt that this would help the art lovers, who came from various places to buy the paintings, as they wouldn’t have to move from one village to another and one home to another, to buy the paintings of their choice. It would also help the artists as they would find it easy then to sell their paintings. She later helped to form a committee which worked for the welfare of the artists. The money that was still left was used by her to get the ponds of the village cleaned.
“Erica is no more but still the villagers remember her” says K.K. Putty. (Madhubani based Putty is a reporter of Hindi daily.) I had requested him to accompany me.
The rhythm that the word “Madhubani” – generates, have an old anecdote attached to it. Centuries ago, the bees might have been making their hives in the jungles that lay near to the village- subsequently, the villagers regularly extracted “Madhu” or honey before the arrival of rainy season. Hence the place came to be known as “Madhubani”. Tilling the earth, in those days of hoary past, was not a very easy job, for to grow crops, the people had to depend totally on nature god. They needed grace of the god for good crops. Hence, “Madhu” or honey was the only thing that could provide sweetness in their lives.
Over the last 3000 years, the warlike Mongols and Persians Made several invasions on Mithila – region. The new marital – relationship took place and an inter- mingling of different race too occurred.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to say whether the people of Mithila could retains their original racial identity or they looked different from their neighbours. However, they kept intact their ancient tradition of art and painting.
]The ancient literature of Mithila also speaks about this art. The great Maithili poet Vidyapati mentioned about it in his poems. Over the last few thousand years, the women painted colourful pictures on the walls of their palm leaf – grass thatched huts located under the cool – sheds of banana and mango orchards on lying at the banks of ponds.
Here, I met her grandson Lallan. He took us to his home at request. He welcomed us with some cold water of the well and some tea. There are many specialties of Madhubani. Hospitality and politeness in their language are some among them. These lessen the tiredness of the visitors and guests.
While sauntering around the hamlets, strewn in Madhubani which is famous for its Madhubani painting, One finds a close link between the locale of the stories of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya and these villages having Squat – little huts, banana orchards, ponds having tranquil green waters and “makhana”. As a bonus, you can find little naked children running to and fro, in the mud and dust. Truly it appears that we have landed in the home of a “character” of the novels of Sharat Babu.
The next moment I found myself standing in front of one of the most popular Madhubani painters, Mahasundari Devi’s house, in Ranti. I gave a knock at door; which after a few moments, was opened by her daughter–in-law, Vibha Das, who herself is an expert Madhubani painter and has, been awarded by the Bihar Government.
Mahasundari preserved them, but unfortunately, in a house – fire, it burnt down to “Maa ji (Mahasundari Devi) ko iska dukh ab tak hai” says Vibha.
Many paintings were lying here and there in the house. Great art connoisseur Ananda Coomarswamy, comes to my mind at this sight.
“How holding exhibitions of folk art objects is justified? When art critic like Ananda Coomarswamy poses such anxiety, it is perhaps fully correct .According to him we should make access to such artists directly. We should observes art works of these artists in its natural perspective by going to their villages and their premises; only then we can visualize their real expression, People of the various countries of the whole world, for the patronage of their folk art did not go to art galleries. Rather they themselves engraved pictures on the walls and floors of their houses and doing so through their creativity they remained developing their mental bliss and aesthetic sense. They preserved the continuity of the human feelings through colours and figures, and on the basis of the same they made their monotonous daily life into colorful and pleasurable. Madhubani folk painting is of the same patter and form.”
You would be surprised to know that this art, after remaining in unknown for generations, came into the focus of the world due to a disaster. In 1968, a grueling drought hit the villages of Mithila. The people started perishing due to hunger. Till then, only a, handful of people knew about this art, However, the Ex-union Minister, Late Lalit Narayan Mishra was well acquainted with the characteristics features of Mithila Paintings. The well known connoisseur of art from Maharashtra Late Bhaskhar Kulkarni too was fond of this particular school of painting. So were Late Upendra Maharatti and Pupul Jaykar they knew about it.
They came here with a plan in their mind: they distributed papers to the people of Jitwarpur and Ranti and asked them to paint on them. After collecting those pieces of art, they went to Delhi. There, the people showed massive interest in such paintings for their originality, colours combinations and thematic specialty. The Mithila painting immediately carved out a place for itself among the art lovers.
After this, the papers began to be distributed and paintings began to travel in different directions. It is very rare that a disaster causes such type of miracles. From the wall of villages of Madhubani, the paintings, descended on the papers and cloths. Now, these paintings are getting displayed in art galleries, beautifying the wall of massive bungalows and adding glamour to the plush drawing rooms both in India and aboard. They are also finding their places in five star hotels, airports, railway stations and ports. The fashions mongers are using Madhubani painting as an independent fashion mode for women. The exhibitions of Madhubani painting have been staged in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. In Germany, Japan, France, Poland, Denmark. Italy. Canada and USA, this particular form of painting have also been exhibited.
In 1970, this century’s old school of art got the governmental recognition. The presidents Award was conferred, for the first time, upon Jagdamba Devi of Jitwarpur for promoting the Madhubani painting. She was followed by Sita Devi, Mahasundari Devi of Ranti and Ganga Devi. They got Padmashree also. Several painters traveled abroad also during the (overseas) exhibitions of their paintings.
We are now in the same village where one can see riot of colours. I can’t believe this that I’m among those artists whose creations is spread all over the world. Serene rural environment. simple honest and innocent artists. Nobody will think of these lady artists that they would ever have crossed the doors of their houses.
“Will you buy my painting?” a small girl asked me thinking me an outsider. “Yes, surely! But have you made this painting?” I wanted to know. “Yes, I have. Let me bring it.” She ran away to her house after saying this. She came out after a few moments with a small painting in her hand. “Here it is. But I’ll give it to you in free… if you’ll have my photograph taken.” She looks at my camera with curious eyes. And then she gave a wonderful pose.
The Sun was about to set. Girls were coming out of that building on the outskirts of the village, which was built by Erica Smith and where these girls went to learn painting. We also took our car and got set to return. I took leave from Putty in Madhubani and I left for Patna.