Mithila Painting: Local Women Into Art Entrepreneurship

mithila painting nepal

Mithila Painting is a social explanation as it depicts the rural lives of women of the Mithila region. Various scenes from the paintings display female life with a focus on household chores, marriage, and childbirth. It also shines some light on social harmony among women. 

Mithila arts are incredible artwork created by women of the Maithili Community in Nepal. The art form dates back to the early 7th century. It is also known as Madhubani and “Mithila Chitrakala”, the traditional arts belong to the Mithila region of Nepal and India. 

The paintings were traditionally used as a form of decoration during festivals like Diwali, Chath, etc. The arts became an integral part of occasions like marriage and child feeding ceremony. The mud walls of the homes in the villages got painted in white and ochre with abstract designs or scenes depicting daily life in the village.

Moreover, the traditional themes related to Hindu mythology are prolifically used in these paintings. These days Mithila paintings also focus on objects such as aeroplanes and buses among others. These modern-day objects provide a stark contrast between the ancient and modern lifestyle in the art.

Furthermore, Mithila art painting has now evolved and gained contemporary relevance. It has now progressed into a collectible art form. Women artists paint on Lokta paper (Handmade Paper) canvases. These Mithila paintings are now displayed in Mithila art galleries across Kathmandu and around the world. Employment opportunities for women of rural and backward communities have increased significantly.

Similarly, the women drew these extraordinary paintings with their fingers, twigs, and matchsticks. However, with the means of artistry has changed in modern times. The Mithila painting gradually started to appear on paper and canvas as an upgrade from the traditional ways. This increased the popularity of Mithila painting and the evolution of the art form. 

History of Mithila Arts

Mithila Arts

According to mythology, Mithila arts originated from the Hindu epic of Ramayana. King Janaka of the Kingdom of Mithila had hired local artists to make incredible art in the capital city of Janakpur. He did this on the occasion of Sita and Rama’s wedding. Hence, the people of the region started to follow this tradition as well.

Foreign scholars also helped to reach Mithila painting at the world level. Yves Vequad, the French journalist, wrote: “The Art of Mithila: Ceremonial Paintings from an Ancient Kingdom”. He also produced the film “The Women Painters of Mithila,” which increased the interest of the world in this unique art form.

Moreover, Erika Moser, the German anthropologist/ film-maker, inspired the Dusadh community to paint. The Dusadh then started to paint the adventures of Raja Salhesh and depictions of their primary deity, Rahu, based on oral history. The art had bold compositions and figures that have conventional tattoo patterns called “Goidna.” The Mithila art Nepal scene regained a new life and an art form through this step.

The Speciality of Mithila Arts

Mithila art has the depiction of the concept of democracy and the emergence of modern democracy in the paintings. The background and context of Mithila paintings revolve around essential topics related to women. The topics included women’s empowerment, modern democracy, gender equality, among others.

Moreover, the artistry is generally passed on from one generation of women to another in the Mithila region. These paintings on the walls were then done using mud and cow dung. This technique provided accurate symbolic representation as well as uniqueness to the art.

Furthermore, the Maithili community worship Goddess Shakti (Mother Goddess). They also follow the Tantric rituals that have been duly passed on to them for generations. The spiritual aspect of the art also makes it unique.

Mithila Painting Designs and Types

Technically, Mithila arts (painting) are broadly divided into five distinctive styles. The styles are Kachni, Bharni, Tantrik, Nepali, and Gobar. The Kachni, Bharni, and Tantrik styles were mainly done by Brahman and Kayastha women until the 1960s. Brahman and Kayastha are the upper caste communities in Nepal and India.  

Mithila paintings portray the harmony of nature and humanity. They also depict the scenes from the ancient epics and other deities. You will also find portraits of the sun, the moon, and sacred plants like Tulsi. There are also scenes of the royal court and other events like weddings. The paintings are compact with objects like animals, flowers, birds, and different abstract designs.

Moreover, Mithila art is typically done in primary colours of natural origin from cloth and paper. The mythological and religious events get depicted beautifully. Artists use fingers, twigs, brushes, and matchsticks, using natural dyes, and pigments. There are also geometrical patterns in Mithila art paintings.

Hindu Gods and Goddesses like Ganesh, Vishnu, Radha, Krishna, Sita, and Ram are also frequently painted in the Mithila paintings. You can also find the depictions of rituals like birth or marriage. Festivals like Holi, Kali Puja, Durga Puja, Surya Shasti, Upanayana get depicted as well.

Colors in Mithila Painting

Mithila art is famous for its vibrant use of colors in their art. The bright colors make the art attractive and quite appealing. Bright primary colors like red, yellow, and black get used frequently in these arts. Natural forms of colors get used. The color black gets taken from soot, yellow from flower petals or turmeric and red from local clay.

Moreover, the indigenous colors also make them durable and last a long time. The flowers, fruits, vegetables, barks, and roots are a great source of colors. Then, the gum from the Babul tree gets mixed in the colors to make it more durable. The black color from the Lamp spot is easily dissolved in gum water. 

Furthermore, they also use watercolor and mix it with “pithar” (rice powder) and “sindoor” (vermilion). You can mix cow-dung and gum in freshwater to get a light color. Peepal tree barks get dried in the sun and then boiled to get a pink color. Berries of the wild herb get crushed to achieve a blue color. Finally, these colors produce incredible art based on the artist’s imagination. 

Current State of Mithila Painting in Nepal

Janakpur Women’s Development Centre works in providing women employment opportunities through arts. Around 40 Maithili women produce paper paintings in the centre. They also make paper boxes, screen-printed fabrics, and hand-thrown ceramics, among others. 

Moreover, these opportunities not only improve the lives of rural women, but they also empower them. Mithila arts have also expanded from paintings to various other art forms. The patterns or designs of these art forms are now found in multiple daily lifestyle objects. These objects include bags, cushion covers, mugs, carpets, pottery, and others. 

Furthermore, it is also popular on home decor, including napkin rings, lamps, table linens, and even wall hangings. Besides that, there are various Mithila art institutes that teach the technicalities of the art form.

The Final Say

Mithila art painting is a beautiful art form in the Mithila region. Maithili women have painted the mud walls of their homes for over three thousand years. The technique has been duly transferred from mother to daughter in the local communities. The intricate art of depicting Hindu Gods and Goddesses and other objects is alive till today. 

Moreover, this art form is not only culturally significant but also provides employment opportunities. Women across the border of India and Nepal benefit from this art a lot. Art lovers from all over the world, including countries like the USA, UK, Australia, and Russia, have embraced this art. This factor has allowed the art form to grow immensely.

Furthermore, the global recognition of Mithila art has also launched many local women into art entrepreneurship. Janakpur, the capital of the ancient Mithila Kingdom, is also the center of these traditional arts. The city has taken the necessary steps for the preservation and promotion of this ancient art in Nepal. 

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