The state of Bihar is rich in its arts and crafts, which is quite evident from the fact that it is home to some of India’s first paintings, including the famous Madhubani paintings and the miniature paintings done on paper and leaves, wall decorations, patchwork, applique work and local handicrafts.
Mithila, a region situated to the north of Bihar, is the place where the Madhubani paintings are believed to have originated. These paintings are Bihar’s most unique folk art, done on either paper or canvas by the women of Mithila.
Art and Crafts of Bihar
The Miniature paintings make use of leaves or paper and depict the lives of Buddha or Mahavira. They are sold to the pilgrims and tourists in Bodh Gaya and are quite popular.
Bihar is also famous for stone pottery, white metal statuettes, bamboo artifacts, wooden toys and leather goods. Wood inlay is another ancient craft quite famous here. In this craft, the craftsmen use different wood and metal to create inlaid designs for table toys, wall plaque and trays. In north Bihar, a special grass called Sikki is found which when dyed in bright colours and woven with the natural grass makes excellent attractive baskets, boxes and figures.
Madhubani painting, also called Mithila Painting, is a traditional folk art of Bihar which has succeeded in creating a place globally. Madhubani painting has been done traditionally by the women of villages around the present town of Madhubani and other areas of Mithila region of Bihar. The painting was traditionally done on freshly plastered mud wall of huts, but now it is also done on cloth, hand-made paper and canvas. The colors used are derived from plants.
Madhubani painting is a traditional Indian art form mostly done by women. Madhubani paintings mostly depict nature and Hindu religious motifs, and the themes generally revolve around Hindu deities like Krishna, Ram, Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Natural objects like the sun, the moon, and religious plants like tulsi are also widely painted, along with scenes from the royal court and social events like weddings.
These paintings were usually made on the eve of important dates, to mark the ceremonies to be performed, like a wedding, festivals, religious events etc. Traditionally, rice ground into paste was used to create these works of art.
Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan is able to mobilise and maintain interest in Madhubani paintings, thus keeping alive a centuries old art form. Today, not only women but also men are learning the Madhubani art of painting.
Manjusa art is believed to be the only art form in the history of art form in India which has a sequential representation of the story and is displayed in a series. This is also called a scroll painting. Manjusa art is a folk art of Bhagalpur, Bihar, and has been dated back to the 7th century. The name Manjusa is also associated with an elaborate story, a goddess and also a festival celebrated in Bhagalpur.
The Sanskrit word “Manjusa” means a box and Manjusas are temple shaped boxes, made of bamboo, Jute-Straw and Paper inside which the devotees keep their ceremonial materials. These boxes are however illustrated with paintings that tell a tale. The tale is that of Bihula who saved her husband from the deity’s wrath and a snake-bite and also of Bishahari or Mansa, the snake goddess known for her anger when displeased but also her fierce protectiveness when propitiated. Earlier the story called `Bihula-Bishahari Gatha’ had an oral tradition of being sung though, nowadays not too many people sing it, but in Assam and Bengal the tradition is still continued and the songs are sung with the story of Bihula. It is a well-known folk art.
In an attempt to save this art form from extinction, in the year 1984 the Bihar government made an intitative called “Jansampoorna vibagh” in which they went to the villages of Bhagalpur and showed them slideshows of Manjusa art and educated people about this traditional art form encouraging them to revive this age old tradition. This initiative has led to other governmental and non governmental organisations to come up with unique plans to promote this art form by using them as a mode of communication in various schemes.
Patna School of Painting or Patna Qalaam (Patna Kalam) or Company Painting is a style of Indian Painting, which existed in Bihar, India in the 18th and 19th centuries. Patna Kalam caught the connoisseurs eye for its clear stylistic difference and unusual use of water colours. For the first time, there was a rich coherence between realism and visual perspective.
This style combined elements of the Mughal and British styles of paintings so well, that it was called the Feringhee Kalam (the White man’s art). The paintings were done on surfaces as diverse as paper, mica and even ivory diskettes, that were used as brooches. That it was the world’s first independent school of painting which dealt exclusively with the commoner and his lifestyle also helped Patna Kalam paintings gain in popularity. The subjects of these paintings had always been the common man and his mundane routines. It’s basically a miniature form of painting which has, because of its unique style and form, occupied separate shelves at art galleries in London and museums in Prague.
Having its origin in Patna city, the craft, which is believed to be around 800 years old, involved melting glass, adding traced pattern in natural colours and thereafter embellishing it with gold foil to create the “tikuli” or “bindi”, which is worn by married Indian women on their forehead.
Bamboo & Cane crafts
The bamboo and cane crafts of Bihar have a rich historical past that is amalgamated with the preferences of the modern urban people. As Bihar is affluent in the tradition of the powerful dynasties like Magadha Majanapadas, Mauryan Empire and Gupta Empire, the artisans had received encouragement from them. With the introduction of modern technologies the bamboo and cane craft of Bihar has flourished. As the time precedes the tradition of the past and the style of the modern age have developed the cult of the bamboo and cane crafts of Bihar. This has also led to improvements of the products at a high grade with subtle changes.
The bamboo and cane crafts of Bihar have unique features that carry intrinsic beauties and great creativeness offered by the local artisans. Initiated in the prehistoric age, the bamboo and cane crafts of Bihar comprise utility items like baskets, household wares, woven mats, furniture and cane products like cane furniture and other decorative objects. The majority of artisans are the tribal people of Bihar who etch out the lifeless bamboos and canes with dexterity and turn them into exquisite art pieces that are of great value.
The abundant accessibility of bamboo and cane in the areas of Tarai and Bhabhar has aided the bamboo and cane craft of Bihar to reach its zenith. An oldest form of creation of bamboo and cane crafts of Bihar is basketry that is used to serve the purpose of utilitarian item as well as suit other needs. The artisans of Bihar make deft synthesis of Japanese techniques with the Indian tradition and given rise to a complete unique crafts of bamboo and cane. The Bhotiyas, which are the tribal from the Trans-Himalayan region are skilled bamboo and cane artistry.
A vast variety of baskets, cups, saucers created by them for local consumption has now found an export market and considering the financial assurance from these crafts the non-tribals are now taking up basket making as their profession too. The designs of these bamboo and cane crafts vary from simple plain weaving or ribbing and sometimes painting the bamboo-strips or cane reed in vivid colors.
The artisans while creating items from bamboo and cane keep in mind about their longevity that follows the style as well. They sometimes use bamboo stems or culms with smaller diameters along with cane in whole or split form for creating a variety of baskets, furniture, mats etc. Large containers are made and these are used widely for storing grain among the local people of Bihar. Apart from these bamboo and cane crafts, Bihar is adored for its creativity in making furniture out of bamboo and cane, woven mats for floors etc.
The availability of raw materials, suitable weather, numerous artisans and land for bamboo agriculture have fastened the growth of the bamboo and cane crafts of Bihar.
Bill-hook, knife and a jak (v shaped wooden frame) are the essential tools required for bamboo craft. Saws, hammers, pliers and pincers in addition to daos and knives are used for making bamboo and cane furniture.
Brass and Bell Metal art is about 300 years old in Bihar. It is popular for decorative items like idols of God-Goddesses, statues and other daily utility items.
Bell metal is a mixture of copper and tin. Wax and wood which are essentially needed for these forest based metal crafts, are naturally available in abundance in tribal areas of Bihar. The craft received patronage from the Royal families, who used to pay the artisans to make idols.
Brass or bell metal craft items are prepared by melting the metal using a lost wax technique. All individuals and group artisans work around their houses or at a common place. Raw materials required for bell metal art are cluster of bees wax, brass metal and fire wood. The raw materials such as wax and metal are purchased from market. The others like clay and fire wood etc. are collected from the nearby forest itself. Artisans use a mixture of wax and resin and also pitch from coal tar.
They mix two kilograms of pitch with 250 grams of resin, melt the two items and strain them separately. Then they mix the two and heat the mixture over fire, stirring it all the while. This process of mixing takes two hours or sometimes more. The mixture is strained again before using. The manner of use of this mixture is identical with that of resin. These artisans are very precise in their work and follow their technique meticulously.
The next step is to wax them. The wax wires are prepared by pure bees wax. The wires are separated and attached with the clay model from its front to back in a round fashion. The whole of the clay image is covered with the wax wires and then they make several designs with these wires. After the desired designs on the image are completed, it is immediately coated again with clay. This time they use local soil added with sand and goat dung. At the time of coating, a hole or an opening is generally kept at the base of the image.
The metal is then taken in a container. Generally the metal is brass or bell metal. The container is then covered with a clay cup and is put into the furnace for two to three hours. After that the molten metal is poured on to the image through the opening. Then the mould is kept for cooling. When the mould is cooled then water is sprinkled on the image, which makes the clay coat to crack and break. The metal moulds into the shapes and designs made by the wax wires. Thus at last an artistic bell metal or brass object is ready. The image is then scrubbed with sandy clay to give it shine. Sometimes they are even polished with wet tamarind.
As the Bell Metal products started easily flowing into the external markets, the number of artisans involved in the craft increased and so did the production.
Crafting products, mainly various forms of utilitarian containers, figurines of Gods and Godesses, and toys, using Sikki grass were an integral part of the living heritage of the women of the part of Northern Bihar, which used to be known as Mithila. This used to be one of the 5 forms of hand crafts that a lady was supposed to be expert in, namely – Painting (this art form has become famous as Madhubani / Mithila painting), embroidery (known as Suzni craft), embroidery (known as Kashidakari), Papier mache craft and Sikki grass work). Before marriage, a girl’s skill in these 5 crafts used to raise her demand as a bride in the village, and products made in these five crafts was to go as a part of the dowry from the girl’s side.
The Sikki grass craft has thus have been existing since hundreds of years, and it is difficult to ascertain exactly how old this craft is. However, as a craft being used for commercial use has been a more recent phenomenon, over the last couple of decades.
Papier mache is an ancient craft of Bihar that was used for the preparation of masks for different dance forms. It is a construction material made from a paper pulp. Newspaper or waste Paper, multani mitti, methi powder (for fragrance and protection from insects) and adhesive made from water and wheat flour is used for paper mache crafts.
First, the dry paper is soaked in water for about one week. After it has fragmented in the water, it is crushed in khal musal, or beaten with a hammer, to make it into a paste. Multani mitti is soaked in water for at least 24 hours. Then, the paper, multani mitti, methi powder and adhesive are mixed together to form various shapes and sizes. Whole process is done by hand and at the end the shapes are dried and painted to give it a perfect look.
At present paper mache is used in production of utilitarian accessories and households. There is a huge collection of paper mache crafts in the museum of Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan. The institute also gives training on paper mache to the students and artisans.
Stone Carvings (Pattharkati)
The tradition of the stone craft of Bihar dates back to the ancient eras and it had reached its zenith during the Mauryan period as the dynasty was characterised by its craftsmanship. The Pattharkatti region of Atri in Gaya is one of the major centres of stone craft in Bihar. Other centres are located in Nalanda, and Patna. The stone craft of Bihar demonstrates some huge statues of the great sage, Buddha that are basically found in the neighbouring places of Gaya. Including these, various Stupas and monasteries stand as the great examples of the excellent artistic quality of the artisans of Bihar.
Among the most popular stone carvings, the Ashoka pillar at Sarnath is the beautiful piece that exhibit marvellous art of stone craft of Bihar. Black stone artisans of Gaya in Bihar are also well acclaimed for their creation of the Vishnapad temple in black stone in Gaya.
The stone craft of Bihar follows the traditional technique of polishing which is practiced at Patharkatti in Gaya district. The availability of a huge variety of stones with the accessibility of dexterous artisans has been the reasons of the development of the stone craft of Bihar.
The state is abundant in supplying lustrous gray green stones with black variety, blue black pot stone and several other stones from which several artifacts are created by the artisans. These stones are used not only to create deities or religious figures but are used in creating household items such as thali, bowls etc.
The Gaya town of Bihar presents a huge variety when it comes to stone crafts like statues, images, pestle, stem handled drinking glasses, smoothly turned out coasters and large platters customarily used to serve offerings to deities at temples, the mortar kharal (medicine grinder) tableware, plates, tapering glasses, glass covers etc.
The stone crafts of Bihar are also famous for architecture works of fountains and tables. Including these artifacts the deft artisans of Bihar create numerous traditional Buddha figurines and excellently carved the images of Lord Ganesha.
The traditional craft of Bihar, the stone craft has gained its popularity in the entire country and in the whole world as well for the creative designs amalgamated with rich Buddhist tradition. The masterly creations of the artisans have attracted the fancy of the tourists and have promoted the tourism of India to some extent. The innovating ideas of the artisans with the changing trend and style of craftsmanship have been alleviating this craft.
Pottery & Ceramics
Pottery and ceramics have been an important part of human culture for thousands of years. From prehistoric storage jars to tiles on the space shuttles, pottery and ceramics have played a key role in innumerable human endeavors.
In art history, ceramics and ceramic art mean art objects such as figures, tiles, and tableware made from clay and other raw materials by the process of pottery. Some ceramic products are regarded as fine art, while others are regarded as decorative, industrial or applied art objects, or as artifacts in archaeology. They may be made by one individual or in a factory where a group of people design, make and decorate the ware. Decorative ceramics are sometimes called “art pottery”.
Pottery is generally considered to be containers made from clay. “Pot” is a term used for any number of container forms. Both words derive from the Old English potian, “to push”. When we consider how the potter pushes as they throw the clay on the wheel, it is easy to see how the process got its name.
Bihar has a rich history of clay pottery work. Since the time of Mauryan and Gupta this art has been in practice in Bihar. The archeological excavations at places like Nalanda and Rajgir had confirmed the existence of this artistic craft in Bihar.
Beautiful earthen utensils and tiles are made by potters of Bihar. They have the abilities and skill to do artistic and beautiful paintings on earthen pots. Patna is very famous for such work. Patna is also famous for making earthen statutes of various gods and goddess.
From time immemorial Bihar had a history of wooden craft which consist of manufacturing of wooden furniture and toys. Right from the time of Mauryan and most particularly form the time of Ashok it has remained high on scale in terms of artistic beauties, creativity, durability and cheap price. During Ashok’s reign beautiful royal throne, royal gates or doors and panels of temples were manufactured by wood artists of Bihar. This ancient art has not only been preserved but also has been converted into a means of livelihood by artists of Bihar which is one of the few places where wood carving work is still practiced.
Bihar is one of the few places where the wood carving and inlay work is done with wall plaques, table tops, pens and paper cutters being from wood and inlaid with diverse materials ranging from metal, ivory, stag horn to chips of different wood.
Patna is a very famous centre of wooden toy making.
Textile – Sujini Embroidery
Sujani (or Sujini) is one of the most popular form of conventional art and craft prevailing in Bihar. It is a traditional quilt made in the rural areas of that state. The art has been preserved in the remote villages by the women who prepare articles of great aesthetic value, primarily meant for household use. Created with the simplest of stitches, with readily available fabrics and at times with well-worn pieces of clothes, the Sujani works are generally crafted by women in their free time at home.
The craftswomen produce furnishings such as bedspreads, wall hangings, cushion and bloster covers, as well as clothing items like saris, dupaattas, and kurtas.
Traditionally, at the time of child birth, patches of different colored cloth from old saris and dhotis were sewn together with a simple running stitch to make a quilt called Sujani. The purpose of using old cloth with sujani was very specific – to wrap the newborn, to allow it to be enveloped in a soft embrace, resembling that of its mother.
Three or four sections of saris or dhotis were laid on top of each other and quilted with the thread that was unpicked from the used garments. The stitch filling of the motifs was done with a simple running stitch and the outline of the motif was usually done with a chain stitch in dark color.
The Sujini is distinctive for its transformation of a traditional craft into a vehicle for expressing contemporary social and political themes. These narratives proclaim that social change is the essence and purpose of the craft revival. Tragically similar stories abound: drunk, disabled, absentee, or unemployable husbands, unsympathetic cruel and demanding mothers-in-law, property that has been mortgaged to pay off debts. A typical quilt is divided into two parts. One side seeks to portray the realities-a drunken man beating his wife; a man giving dowry; men cloistered in a village meeting, and women in purdah. The other side seeks to express a vision – a woman selling her produce in the market; a woman addressing a meeting; a woman judge, and power!
Sun and cloud motifs signifying life-giving forces, fertility symbols, sacred animals, fantastic winged creatures for protection against destructive forces, and other motifs to attract blessings from the gods. Different coloured threads were also symbolically used, such as red, signifying blood, a life force, and yellow for the sun.
This Sujani technique of sewing together layered pieces of old cloth is deeply rooted in two ancient beliefs. First, cloth bound together by Sujani served a ritual function – it invoked the presence of a deity, Chitiriya Ma, the Lady of the Tatters and stitching together these disparate pieces symbolically embodied the holistic Indian concept that all parts belong to the whole and must return to it. The second purpose of stitching pieces of old cloth together was to wrap the newborn; to allow it to be enveloped in a soft embrace, resembling that of its mother. In fact, the word Sujani itself reflects this principle – ‘su’ means easy and facilitating, while ‘jani’ means birth.
Today production of Sujini embroidery is done mainly in about 15 villages adjoining village nameld Bhusura in Ghaighatti block of Muzaffarpur district in Bihar and also in some pockets of Madhubani. Bhusura, the village where Sujuni was developed is less than 100 kms away from the center of Mithila painting. The rural women of Muzaffarpur district of north Bihar now continue to embroider in the Sujini tradition, using a combination of a fine running stitch. This is an ideal vehicle for assisting the many Rajput women who are living in poverty, but are prevented by social custom from working. Women can now earn money while practicing a craft that their fathers, husbands, and in-laws deem ‘respectable’. Craft revival is often characterized by nostalgia for perceived aesthetics and lost skills.
Textile – Applique
Khatwa is the name given to appliqué works in Bihar. Khatwa is about designing by cutting of one fabric and stitching the pieces to another fabric. Khatwa is mainly used to create designer tents, canopies, shamianas and much more. Making of such tents involves work by both men and women. While cutting of clothes is done by men, women use their expertise in stitching part. Khatwa is also used in designing women garments as well. This is where the real talent of Bihar people is seen in the work. The designs created are more sharp, intricate and highly appealing. Most of the garments shop sell these highly artistic clothes.
People in some villages of Bihar are involved only in art works and it is their main source of income. Since the same skills are passed down to generations, the expertise and innovations are immaculate. So when you are visiting Bihar, don’t forget to buy yourself some really great paintings and some exquisite clothes.
Source: Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan