History has been kind to Bihar. As part of the Ganga river plains, Bihar was always a centerpiece of tradition and culture in India. Multiple ancient empires have risen here and they have left their mark in the region’s culture. The richness of the art and handicrafts of the state are a good evidence of that.
There are many different artforms practiced in Bihar that have gained acclaim. As Bihari people have migrated all over the nation many of them have practitioners all over India.
This a traditional art of painting unique to the Mithila region of Bihar. Mostly associated with women, this style of painting is very ancient. According to the Ramayana, this art is said to have started off by the commissioning of paintings by King Janak for his daughter Sita’s marriage to Rama.
The Madhubani style usually depicts gods and goddesses and natural objects like the sun, moon, trees etc. It was earlier done on mud walls of village homes but has now been expanded to canvas, paper and even cloth, mostly sarees.
Due to the fact the Madhubani paintings are isolated to a single region, they have been awarded the Geographical Indication (GI) Tag by the Govt. of India in 2007. They are now highly popular in the international scene.
This a form of miniature painting derived from Mughal miniature paintings. It was also influenced by Persian and British (Company) styles. Unlike Mughal paintings which depicts royals, Patna Kalam focused on the common man and his struggle for life. It was painted on various surfaces like paper, mica and even ivory diskettes.
These paintings were painted straight on the surface using brushes without using any pencilwork. They depict only the subject itself without any foreground, background or even landscapes. Sadly, the art was only sustained by Western patrons and died out soon after the British left India. Only three collections remain of the Patna Kalam paintings, one in Patna Museum, one in Khuda Baksh library in Patna and the last at the Patna University’s College of Arts and Crafts.
This is an intricate art made by painting enamel on hardboard and embellished by gold foil and crystals. It is inspired by the ‘bindi’ or ‘tikli’ worn by Indian women and has been a feature of Bihar’s art landscape for over 800 years. In the olden days, ladies of the upper class used to wear bindis made out of blown glass and embedded with gems.
Sadly, with machine made bindi’s of the modern era, the art of ‘Tikuli’ fell behind. Then the Patna based artist, Ashok Kumar Biswas singlehandedly revived the art by merging it with Madhubani paintings. Nowadays Tikuli arts not only adorn women’s foreheads but also decorative wallplates, coasters, table mats, wall hangings, penstands, trays etc.
Tikuli art is now highly sought after due to its attention to detail and because they are heatproof and waterproof.
An artform endemic to the Bhagalpur region in Bihar, Manjusha actually refers to a temple box in which devotees would deposit their offerings. This artform began from the decorations on these temple boxes and consists of a series of paintings depicting the story of Bihula-Bishari, where a bereaving wife(Bihula) travels to the underworld to rescue her dead husband from the hands of the deity of death and also the snake goddess Bishahari who is known for her fierce protectiveness.
Manjusha and Madhubani may have originated in Bihar but they are fundamentally different artforms and are practiced by different regions. An easy way to separate them is to see the number of colours used. Manjusha artist only use pink, green and yellow compared to Madhubani, which can have a variety of colours.
Nowadays Manjusha paintings can be found on clothes, coasters, trays etc.
This is the art of making embroidered quilts with simple stitches and readily available fabrics. The traditions has its beginnings in the tradition of taking old fabrics and stitching them together to form a quilt for a newborn child. Nowadays women stitch sujani designs into sarees, wall hangings, cushions etc.
Sujani (or sujini) is done by 15 villages surrounding a village called Bhusura in Mujaffarpur district of Bihar. In fact, Bhusura is only 100km distant from Mithila.
Bihar has been blessed with lots of deposits of good quality stone. So there was no surprise that stonework rose to prominence in the ancient times. The evidence of this can be seen in the stone edifices, statues and pillars dating back to the dynasties of old, scattered all over the state.
In these days the city of Gaya is the prominent center of stone carving in Bihar. Artisans over here work with locally sourced green-black stone, blue-black pot stone and a variety of other stones. Aside from statues and idols, stone work is used to make mortar and pestles, coasters, plates, bowls, large platters for offerings in temples, drinking glasses and many other household items.
Due to their widespread acclaim, stonework from Bihar is exported worldwide.,
Bamboo and Cane Craft
The nature of the soil and the climate in Bihar is highly favourable to growing of bamboo. This makes it the ideal material to make household items on the cheap. It was the same thought that encouraged kings to patronize bamboo and cane arts in the state. The advent of modern tools and the material’s environment friendliness has meant that the art is now in great demand.
Bamboo and cane products nowadays include baskets, woven mats, furniture and even decorative items. Once the mainstay of the Bhotiya tribe of the Himalayan foothills, the success of these products is encouraging other people to join in to meet demand. Many of these items are exported overseas.
Brass and bell-metal work is relatively new to Bihar, being only 300 years old. Inspired by the techniques utilized by the Dokra tribes of West Bengal and Odisha, artisans were patronized by the rulers in the past to produce idols of gods and goddesses.
Nowadays, artisans produce idols, statues, bowls, plates and decorative items. Unlike Dokra products these do not have a tribal theme and are more modernized. The distinctiveness is fading away though, with Dokra artists learning more modern techniques.
These products have a high demand in the international market and thus, tend to command good prices.
Sikki or ‘golden grass’ is a golden coloured grass that grows all over middle-eastern India. It is considered auspicious in Bihar and is used for weaving decorative items and objects of utility like baskets. These items lightweight, organic and biodegradable, and are thus getting attention in the international community.
Khatwa Applique Work
This is the art of stitching pieces of fabric on a bigger fabric to form decorative designs. Not to be confused with patchwork, where different fabrics are stitched together to form patterns, applique work like this only attaches patterns on a base fabric. Khatwa is commonly applied to wall hangings, tents for festive occasions, table cloths, clothes and even curtains. These pieces are mostly sold in local markets and fairs.
Bihar is land rich in culture, and the popularity of its art reflects that. Here at Art2India we are working tirelessly to bring these artforms to the common masses, so that both artists and customers can benefit from it. There are many more artforms hiding in the dark still, which we hope to revive by generating public awareness. Please help us by spreading the word about these beautiful artworks so that everyone can know.