Reviving the art of Mithila

An exhibition of rare artworks of Mithila painting tradition will be held at IGNCA

An exhibition titled Likhiya, showcasing rare artworks of the Mithila painting tradition will be held at the Indira Gandhi Natinal Centre of the Arts (IGNCA), Twin Art Gallery, New Delhi, from September 6 – 22, 11 am – 7 pm.

In Mithila, painting is writing and is called Likhiya, from where the exhibition gets the title. The mythological origin of Mithila paintings date back to the time of the Ramayana, where Mithila nagari was decorated with wall paintings for the wedding of Princess Sita to Lord Rama. This painting style is one of the oldest traditions evolved, practised, and preserved by women, and passed on orally from one generation to another.

Women in the villages of Bihar, with remarkable skills, have been painting walls in form of bhitti-chitras and floors in form of aripan for centuries. All the rituals, paintings and songs developed when group of women from the villages sat together to paint walls for a wedding, sacred thread ceremony and other local festivals. Mithila painting has always been a group activity which involved women of all ages: the oldest ahibati would put a dot in centre of the wall, middle-aged women would make a sketch and the younger generation would fill the forms.

There are three styles of Mithila paintings namely, Bharni or coloured paintings, practised by Brahmin women, Kachni or line paintings, practised by Kayastha women, Goidana (tattoo) paintings, practised by Dalit women. Today, all the three styles have merged; the Likhiya exhibition comprises all these three styles.

IGNCA has been exploring the creative world of women and their contribution in the making of Indian civilization through various programmes and research projects, field studies and documentation. The IGNCA, between the years 2006-2011, initiated several projects documenting the oral traditions of women of Mithila. While some of these projects were brain child of Professor Madhu Khanna, the then Head of Narivada Programme at the IGNCA, the other two projects documenting the living traditions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata were carried out at the Janapada Sampada Division, IGNCA, with Professor Molly Kaushal as the Principal Investigator and Project Head. Under these projects, the Kala aur Katha workshop brought together sixty women artists from different villages of Bihar on the occasion of Madhushravani Parva. The festival was documented along with its fifteen narratives, songs and rituals associated with the festival, and at the same time these were visually created on canvas in the form of large Mithila paintings for the first time ever. The workshop Gunavati Nari celebrated feminine power, produced paintings of women characters, both mythological and historical. The workshop on Rishikas depicted Vedic deities and women scholars such as Vac, Apala, Indrani and Shradhha.

The Mithila Ramayan workshop was called Sitayan in which the ten scrolls were painted from the perspectives of women of Mithila. The Sitayan scrolls depict wedding rituals and Kohbar images in details. Along with it, fifty women artists from different villages of Bihar, painted episodes from Mahabharata, popular in the Mithila region.

The Likhiya exhibition displaying rare and unique artworks from the archives of the Janapada Sampada Division, IGNCA, and personal collection of Madhubani artist Manisha Jha is divided into six parts. The first section starts with the artworks of the Mithila painting artists from late 50's to 80's era, and depicts the journey of the younger generation of artists as well. The rest five sections display selected Mithila paintings from the above-mentioned workshops held at the IGNCA, where the oldest participant was of seventy-five years, while the youngest was eighteen year old. These workshops produced paintings which were of 22' by 7' size, which is a remarkable achievement in itself. The exhibition displays artworks of five Padma Shri Mithila painting artists – Jagdumba Devi, Mahasundari Devi, Sita Devi, Godavari Dutt and Baua Devi, and several National Awardees artists such as Manisha Jha, Leela Dutt, Urmila Devi, Jamuna Devi, Bharti Dayal, Ambika Devi and several others. Interviews of the women Mithila artists would also be shown at the exhibition, adding a unique dimension to it. A unique installation of the Madhushravani aripan will be installed at the exhibition, along with live demonstration of Mithila painting by artists. A catalogue with detailed information about the journey of the Mithila art along with images will be accessible at the exhibition through sale.

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