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Please call (559) 446 0499 or email brij@indiatravelerusa.com to plan an Eastern India Journey with visit to the women Mithila painters in the villages of Madhubani

Madhubani is a town and municipality in Mahdubani district in the Indian state of Bihar. It lies about 26 kilometers or 15 miles northeast of Darbhanga town. Prior to independence of India this region belonged to Darbhanga Raj, the largest Zamindari (landlordship) of India.

Madhubani literally means a Forest of honey. Madhubani is the cultural heart of Mithilanchal, the region where Maithili Bhasha or language (a dialect of Hindi) is spoken. Madhubani is the birthplace of many famous literary people (authors and poets) as well as the home to Madhubani paintings. The whole eastern region of India comprising of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa celebrates the festivals of Goddess Durga and Saraswati. On the road from Patna to Madhubani one can see many open air studios of the sculptors who make statues with straw base covered with clay. The heads of the statues are made separately and placed on the body once both parts are complete. Finally just before the festivals the statues are painted. In January 2009, my wife, Professor Joan Sharma and I stopped at the Lalitpur village where we saw Suresh Pundit making Saraswati Statues. His 12 year old son, Dilip Kumar, was assisting him in his open air workshop. In December 2010 we stopped at another sculpture studio with the a group of students and community members from Fresno, California, on our way from Vaishali archaeological site to Madhubani. India - Madhubani Art Workshop Study Tour was sponsored by College of Arts and Humanities of California State University, Fresno and India Traveller planned and operated this group. Professor Joan Sharma and myself co-directed and accompanied this group tour in India. 11 Students and 7 community members participated in this study tour. The students were entitled to 3 units of credit for participating in the study tour and writing a paper on their experience.

It is locally believed that Madhubani painting tradition started when Raja Janak (from the Hindu Epic Ramayan) commissioned local artists to paint murals in his palace in preparations for the marriage of his daughter Sita to Lord Ram. The paintings were originally done on cow dung and mud coated walls. The Kohbar Ghar or the nuptial chamber was the room in which the paintings were traditionally done. Originally the paintings depicted an assembly of symbolic images of the lotus plant, the bamboo grove, fishes, birds and snakes in union. These images represented fertility and proliferation of life. There used to be a tradition that the newly married bride and groom would spend three nights in the Kohbar Ghar without cohabiting. On the fourth night they would consummate the marriage surrounded with the colorful painting. The Mithila paintings were done only by women of the house, in all the villages of Mithila region in India & Nepa, mainly by the Brahmin & Kayastha caste and only on occasion of marriages. There were some subtle variations in motifs and style of painting done by women of various castes. In most of Mithila region the tradition did not survive to the modern times but in villages in Madhubani area, the painting tradition is still alive and evolving. The Dusadh (farmer) caste and other lower caste women painted using motifs from pre-Aryan traditions including the depiction of Raja Sahlesh.

Around 1934 for the first time the paintings were noticed by Mr. William Archer, an official of the British East India Company. Mildred, his wife and he later documented their black & white photographs in a book that they published. This book is still preserved in the India Library in London.

In 1960s, the All India Handicrafts Board sent Bhaskar Kulkarni, a Maharashtrian artist from Bombay (now Mumbai) to the Madhubani villages to ask the women to paint on paper so that they could sell the art work for an additional source of income after a drought affected this area. This change of background gave flexibility and the women started to innovate and add mythological tales from Hindu epics as their motifs in the paintings. They also used scenes from pilgrimage centers which they visited. The women also started using industrially manufactured paints which gave more color choices.

One of the earliest pioneers of Mithila paintings on paper was Ganga Devi. She painted until her death in 1991 and her works are in collections of local and foreign art collectors. She had a very turbulent life in which she was repeatedly humiliated by her husband and her in-laws. Her husband married a second wife and he along with his new wife robbed Ganga Devi of the few meager possessions that she had in her in-law’s family. Later in life she suffered from breast cancer that she fought valiantly and survived the deadly illness with sheer will power and strict adherence to the long and painful medical treatment. In 2009 Joan and I visited the home of Ganga Devi in Rashidpur village. None of her descendents paint any more. Her in-laws family never liked that she painted. She never taught any one in her husband’s family to paint. She wanted at one point to will her entire life savings to the son of the second wife of her husband but after an incident in which the husband’s family hit her scull so bad that she had to be treated in intensive care unit, she decided to will her fortunes to her brother’s family. One of her major art creations is preserved in the Craft Museum in New Delhi where she painted an entire Kohbar Ghar. Nearby the home of Ganga Devi we visited the home of Manju Devi. Unfortunately she was away in town to attend an art class in 2009. In her absence her sisters sold us a painting done by Manju Devi. Finally in 2010 we met her with the Fresno State Group and saw more of her art work. In the same village we visited the home of Lila Devi where we saw some of her latest art work.

In modern times very few houses have painting on the walls of their houses. In the upper caste (Brahman) villages one does not come across many painted walls with some exceptions. The family of Santosh Das have quite a few paintings on the outer and interior walls of their homes. Joan and I visited Jitwarpur village next to view the Dussadha Caste village. They do Godhna or tatoo art on paper. We were invited in the home of Lalita Devi, a middle aged, paralyzed artist, who was working on a large painting at the time. In the same village we visited the home of Urmila Devi and purchased one painting. The other famous artist, Channo Devi, was ill but her husband, Randi Paswan, showed us her art work including a huge mural painting on a scroll of about 5 x 20 feet. Joan took many photographs of these Madhubani female artists and their art works.

In Mangroni village we visited the house of upper caste artist, Rambharos Jha where we purchased 3 small art pieces done by him. His sister Amrita Jha also paints and showed us her art work.

Our guide in this tour of Madhubani villages was Ishu and he took us in the evening to his house to meet his uncle, Santosh, who is an alumnus of the MS University in Baroda. He showed us a big collection of his art work and was kind enough to let Joan take photographs of some of his major art series. His latest series of paintings were on Godhra riots in Gujarat. It was Makar Sankranti festival day. Ishu and his uncle, Santosh, invited us to a delicious dinner in their home and offered sesame seed Laddoos, a typical desert for the Sankranti festival. In 2011 we had more time at the house of Santosh and filmed a lot of his latest art work in high definition DVD. In 2011 we also visited Jay Nagar near Nepal border where the Maharaja of Darbhanga built some beautiful palaces and temples. Later we visited the Darbhanga city.

Unlike many other traditional folk arts, the Mithila art work in Madhubani region has evolved with time and is still developing and blossoming. The artists in remote villages are spending their life savings for getting the latest education in art at prominent art colleges of India and then returning to their villages to continue the wonderful artistic tradition of Mithila region.

In December 2010 my wife, Professor Joan Sharma and I co-directed the 'INDIA - MADHUBANI ART WORKSHOP STUDY TOUR' that was sponsored by College of Arts and Humanities of California State University, Fresno. There were 20 participants in this tour. It was the first group tour to visit Madhubani and neighboring villages with foreign participants.

There are a couple of hotels in Madhubani town that offer facilities that are more suitable for tourists from western countries. Very few foreigners visit this region and my company, India Traveller, is the first one to arrange a group tour to this region.

Madhuyamini Inn with 16 rooms is the best hotel in the town.
Hotel DG has 10 double bedrooms and 7 twin bedrooms.

Distance from Madhubani in Kilometer and Miles:

Darbhanga: 37 Kilometers or 23 Miles
Jay Nagar on Nepal Border: 15 Kilometers or 9 Miles
Vaishali: 150 Kilometers or 93 Miles
Patna: 170 Kilometers or 106 Miles

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