Mithila was the ancient country. It has been more frequently used for somewhat fluid cultural region than for a definite political or geographical unit. The land of it comprised the present districts of north Bihar, India and southeast of Nepal. The people living in this part are called Maithil, which was one of the names of Sita, princess of Mithila. It is supposed that Janakpur, a historical city in the southeast of Nepal was the capital of the ancient Mithila, the kingdom that was first to make contact with oriental cultures and consequently strengthened its own. At present Janakpur is the center of Maithili culture.
Mithila is the region of Maithili speaking people where ancient ritual practices have survived unhindered for centuries. Several traditions of women’s floor- and wall- art were associated with these ritual practices, and continue till recently in their orthodox form. W.G. Archer named a communal activity rooted in tradition the art of art in Mithila, as Mithila Art. Mithila art is inseparable aspect of Maithili culture. It is a part of family ceremonies, village festivals and religious celebrations. Maithili women whether literate or illiterate, the upper caste or lower caste make this art on these occasions. As more sophisticated art is practiced by upper caste (Brahman and Kayastha), the schedule caste or backward people draw very simple arts of animals like horses and elephants and different plants which are not complicated and complex but very innovative and unique in their designs and motifs.
Mithila folk art is mainly divided into two groups: floor drawings or line drawings on the ground known as Aripan and the wall arts or mural arts known as Mithila arts. Various female members of the household draw the Aripan or floor arts on ritually prescribed occasions on clean swept ground of the courtyard or inside the house. Aripan represent a purified space for ritual and domestic ceremonies. There is not a single house in Mithila in which ceremonies are held without Aripan. It is not considered good to worship the earth without drawing different auspicious design.
Aripans are mostly in the nature of semi-geometric floral design. Each diagram has well defined center on which an installation of a sacred pot, a plate, a basket or a seat is made for ritual purpose. The subject matter of Aripan generally falls into five groups- I) Images of human beings, birds and animals including fish, peacocks and snakes, along with natural phenomena; ii) flower (lotus), leaves, trees and fruits; iii) Tantric symbols e.g. tools (hammer,….); iv) Images of gods and goddesses; v) Lamp, mountain, rivers etc. Figures and symbols used in the Aripans express the cosmological concept of Tantra.
Girls from watching the work of their mothers, grandmothers and other relatives and neighbourss, learn the art of Aripan or floor drawings has been handed down generation to generation. In drawing Aripans, no brushes are employed; the drawing is usually drawn through nimble fingers. The material used is powdered rice made into paste with water, which is called Pithar in Maithili. But sometimes-dry powder (made of rice) is also used. Besides this natural white colour (of rice powder), sometimes turmeric is mixed to produce the yellow effect, and sindur (Vermillion) for red is applied. The ground is smeared with clay or cow dung before drawing for lending sanctity to the yantra.
Wall arts are drawn on the occasion of some festivals; annual ritual events and important sacraments such as births, sacred thread ceremony, a child tonsure ceremony, wedding etc. The inner and outer walls of the houses are embellished with decorative motifs and mythological scenes after white washing every year on the occasion of Deepawali, the festival of lights. The images of snakes are drawn on the occasion of Naag panchami (festival of worshipping the god of snake). On Durgasthami (the eighth day of Durga festival) the mud walls flanking the entrance of the room of family deity are smeared with rice paste on which the women of the family paint the images of Durga astride a lion or a tiger in red clay. In some cases only a circular or a triangular female head is depicted.
Marriage is one of the most important occasions to be blessed with Mithila arts. Various motifs are painted on the walls of the bride’s home/or on the paper wrapping various packets of Vermillion powder used for the wedding ritual.
Kohbar (lotus) motif: Symbolizing female beauty and fertility, the main purpose of this motif is to create a suitable atmosphere for celebrating the honeymoon night successfully.
Kamaldada (lotus pond) motif: Symbol of female sexual organs, this motif is meant to enhance the sexual stamina of the newly married couple. Maithili women artists are very innovative and imaginative and paint this motif according to their own original ideas and imaginations.
Daswatara (ten incarnation of god) motif: Specifically used on the wrapper of the Vermillion sent by the bridegroom’s parents for the face showing ceremony of the bride, as well as for the Gauri Puja (worship of goddess Gauri for bride). It is said that Sita (Goddess Sita), the constant companion of Rama (God Rama) performed this ritual after her marriage, so it has become customary in the whole Mithila region. A clay elephant and a decorated pot, which holds on oil lamps, are also made and used for this puja (worship).
Bans (Bamboo) motif: The bamboo plant is the symbol of male regenerative energy and the male sexual organ. The bans motif is also painted on the Kohbarghar (nuptial chamber) where the newly wed couple is supposed to celebrate honeymoon night, as well as on the auspicious occasion of the ‘Duiragaman’ or second marriage, which generally takes place one year after the marriage.
Latpatiya Suga (a couple of parrots) motif: This symbolizes and is meant to encourage the union of the bridegroom and bride. The parrots are often depicted chasing each other as a prelude to mating.
Bidh-bidhata (female and male birds): This motif symbolizes the future destiny of the married couple bidhata is a manifestation of Brahma, creator of universe, and the maker of the fortune of each individual. He is believed to record an account of a person’s entire future, writing every event-the prosperities and adversities and even accidents and death in details.
It is popular belief that the bidhata writes this record on the occasion of the birth of a child, and determines the child’s fate. For this reason a good, unused pen is kept beside a newborn baby.
Pan ke ghar (house of betel leaf) motif: This depicts a beautiful structure covered with betel leaf creepers. Betel is planted near a pond or inside a thatched roof hut. The plant is considered to be very pious and auspicious. It is thought to increase fertility and energy in the body (when women chew the betel leaf, it brings out the colour of their lips and is used instead of lipstick).
Drawings of the wedding party itself may also adorn the walls of the family courtyard, celebrating the occasion. In addition to all these motifs, the images of many birds and animals, sun and moon, and people have specific interpretations. An elephant stands for good luck; a fish for fertility and good luck; a parrot for love and affection. Peacocks, tortoises, and scorpions also appear frequently in Mithila art and have specific meaning. Human figures may be used to tell stories and illustrative events.
There arts have always been temporary because of their dependence on walls, generally made of mud, which account for their fading away so soon, say, after five or six years. It is because of their temporary nature and sudden disappearance or washing away, due to the crumbling of the walls, that there is hardly any segment of the wall arts done in the past. The ritual bound tradition of floor and wall art with local natural colour (red from red clay, black from root, yellow form turmeric or petals of flowers) by women were still prevalent in the 1990, when the handmade lokta paper was introduced as the surface art by Claire Burkert to the Maithili women of Janakpur and its neighboring villages. Once the art descended from the walls or scrolls, they became freer in expression with the easy availability of modern brush and acrylic colours.
These artists departure from the repetitive art of magical symbols, ritual motifs and Aripan, which they have inherited as a part of living. Gradually led to distinctive artistic creations. Thus, the most of Mithila art started capturing the everyday life of Maithili people, moments of performing rites as it became exportable product now-a-days except the handmade lokta paper and handmade cotton clothes, this art is done on note-books, photo-frame, writing sets, recycled cards, mirrors, ceramics, bags and cushion covers, table cloth, ash-tray, T-shirts and tapestry. Its market value has been increasing day by day. And most of the women artists of Mithila are able to earn decent income from this art that is a kind of empowerment.
COLOURS USED IN MITHILA ART
The women artists of Mithila use different local colours in their art. Generally they use bright and brilliant colours which make their arts very pretty and at the same time very attractive. They use bright red, yellow and black colours. These three colours are frequently used which are very natural such as black is from soot, red from local clay and yellow from petals of flowers or turmeric.
They use indigenous colours in their art to make them attractive and lasting. They prepare vegetable colours from different flowers, fruits, barks and root. The gum prepared naturally from the babul tree is mixed in the colours for durability. Black is generally obtained by lamp spot. It is easily dissolved in gum water. A light colour is obtained by mixing cow-dung and gum in fresh water. The bark of peepal tree is dried in the sunrise and then boiled in water till it yields a pink colour. Blue colour is obtained by crushing the berries of the wild herb. It is called Sikkar in the local language. The juice of herb is collected in a cup and dissolved in gum arabicum and there after it is filtered through clothes. Dark green is made from the leaves of the saim creepers and parrot green from the sepals of the Gul mohar. These colours are used to their imagination and vision. They also sometimes use watercolour mixed with rice powder (which is called pithar in local language) and vermillion (sindur in local language)
They (women) mix local colours extracted from the goat milk or the juice of bean plants. Generally they do not use brushes, but they applied the colour with a piece of raw cotton or lint attached to the end of the bamboo splint. They prepare their brushes by wrapping cotton around one end of a twig or matchstick. For several years however, they use different acrylic colours and brushes for arts.