Mithila Painting (english)


Madhubani District, Bihar

Located between the Himalayan's foothills and the Ganges' plains, the Mithila (today the Bihar state) was the first Aryan Kingdom, 1500 B.C. It was there that the founder of the Jaïnism was born, and also where Buddha found the enlightenment. However, even when nearly all India was Buddhist, almost only the people from Mithila remained devoted to the most ancient Veda texts.

Nowadays, the Bihar is one of the most densely populated and the poorest state of India.

In this ancient Kingdom, only women are painting and they pass on their knowledge from mother to daughter. We can distinguish three different styles, corresponding to three different casts : the Brahmins find their inspiration from the sacred texts and are the only ones who can choose their own colours. The Kayastha (cast just below the Brahmins) also get inspired by the sacred texts but they can only use black and red colours, enhancing the work on drawing and painting. The Brahmins and the Kayastha' pictorial style is known under the name of "Mithila painting".

The third category is the Dusadh (nominally "watchmen" according David Szanton). They are not allowed to represent divinities and can only find inspiration from the vegetal or the animal world. Their style, known under the Godhana painting is easily recognisable because of their bistre coloured background which is done with diluted cow dung.

Originally, all these forms where ephemeral and done during special rituals, directly on the house's walls and floor. In the 60's, with the help of the Indian government, the women could start to express themselves on paper or on canvas. These new media helped them to promote their art in India and many other countries.

It is important to precise that among an important production, often with not much artistic interest, only few women were spotted for the exceptional quality of their work. It is also interesting to know that today, although the majority of the woman is now creating works on paper, all still continue to paint following the ritual and ephemeral way of their ancestors.

The origin of Mithila painting seems very ancient, although it is impossible to precise its date. Only the Brahmins and Kayasthas's drawing style could give us some indications : the characters represented have a long nose and it is the way they used to designated the Aryan invaders : "the long noses". Also the drawing style itself, showing people always in profile is very similar to the ones which decorated the Cretan vases. The first motives drawn on paper by the Dusadh were directly inspired by their tattoos. We know that the tattoos is one of the art forms among the most ancient. The origins of some of the motives still used by the Dusadh could find its roots in these very ancient times.

Links :
Contemporary Tribal and Folk Arts of India
Mithila Painting

Copyright textes, photos et collection : Hervé Perdriolle