· When did you start painting?
This is our heritage. Since childhood I have been involved in creating works of art. I never trained professionally for this. At 11 I made my first work of art which was a clay sculpture of Lord Krishna. After this I continued making clay sculptures. At that time, Mithila painting was not sold commercially. It became famous only after Kulkarni (referring to Bombay-based artist Bhaskar Kulkarni’s visit in 1960’s) came and it was then that I also became involved in this. The problem with the clay sculptures that I was making earlier was that people used to worship them and then immerse them in water. It takes one so much effort and skill to make an idol and then, in the end, tradition demands that these be immersed in water! So I started making stone sculptures instead and these were luckily appreciated by many people. I used to make wooden sculptures as well. Then, several people around me started making paintings and that encouraged me to take it up as well. Over time, I have also trained several students in painting. I believe god has given us many art forms- drama, music….
At the age of eighteen, I became very ill and my legs were affected as a result of this. I had to suffer a lot and because of this problem it is difficult for me to leave the village.
· Mithila painting is related to different rituals, pujas…
It is part of our tradition to paint. We have heard that during Janki Devi’s (Sita) marriage ceremony in Janakpur, artists from Devlok came to decorate the rooms. Since then these paintings have been made for occasions such as the sacred thread ceremony, mundan, weddings and others. You can see aripan, which is a type of auspicious floor painting that is necessary for every occasion. Without it no occasion can be considered complete. Our community has been making these paintings for a very long time. First Kulkarni came, then many others have also helped in promoting the art form along the way. Lalit ji who was a minister, also helped a lot. Also there have been many talented artists like Ganga Devi, Sita Devi and Mahasundari Devi who have made this art famous. Mithila art is now popular not only in India but also the world.
· Could you tell us about kohbar paintings, which are made during weddings?
Kohbar art is made by the women in the community, so it may be that I miss some important points in my answer to this question! Kohbar art is a whole, intricate system in itself. The picture is composed of various objects and figures including elephants, bride and groom, navagraha and many other auspicious figures. It is supposed to make the bond between a husband and wife stronger.
· The paintings are based on narratives such as the Ramaleela, Krishnaleela…
There are many artists like Vidyanath ji, Meera Devi, Sudha Devi and Chitralekha Devi that also make paintings based on the Shastras and Puranas. Each of them has a distinct style. Most paintings are indeed based on scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Geeta, Vedas and Puranas.
· Do you use natural colours in your work?
Not necessarily, now we also buy chemical colours from the market. Earlier we used to make colours exclusively from materials found in nature. We do still use some natural colours made from leaf, flower and barks, but the fact is that natural colours need to be protected from water.
· Do you know if the new generation is interested in pursuing painting?
Yes, they are very much interested and are doing some wonderful work. We ourselves are sometimes awestruck by their paintings. Now a lot of young people are interested in pursuing painting and are also very good at it. I feel they are doing much better than us! They pick wonderful stories from the Puranas and illustrate them. They are educated and make paintings by applying their imagination. Now we are lagging behind, and this is a good thing, we are happy with this development.
· What medium do they use?
Earlier, we used to work exclusively on paper but now paintings are being made on different items such as sarees, suits, salwars, cups, plates, lanterns etc. These look wonderful and artists enjoy experimenting with these.
· Apart from the traditional themes, are they making paintings based on other stories as well?
Here we have painters who can paint anything! You give them a story and they will be able to make paintings on that subject.
· Now people are becoming professional Mithila artists. Has this affected the art being produced in any way?
Different organizations work with us. They help us establish market linkages and guide us in making products that have a demand in the market. Exhibitions are held and people also come to the villages directly to buy paintings.
· Could you please tell us about different types of Mithila paintings?
See, what we call Mithila painting is the oldest style. Then there is Godhna painting and also line painting. In line painting the whole painting is made up of just lines and this produces a beautiful effect. There are other kinds of paintings also but I don’t know all the details as new styles are constantly evolving. The world is changing and hence, it is a given that new styles will evolve. These three styles are the traditional styles- godhna, colour painting and line painting were all made in our villages. Also, I want to mention one more thing here, the artists are always in search of new ideas, there’s no limit to their creativity.
· The Dalit community has its own tradition of painting…
Yes they have their own tradition. They make paintings on the life of their main deity who is known as Shailesh. All other castes also have their own stories besides the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which are popular all around.
Satghara, BIhar, October 2015