The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vibrant folk forms on festive fabric
- maithili artist meets the mainstream

She had trudged nearly 1,000 miles to exhibit her work. But it was well worth it — almost all her creations were sold out on Day One.

And artist Urmila Devi from Jitawar village in the Maithili region of Bihar has Barisha Srishti Club of Behala to thank. The club committed to promoting folk forms during festivals, brought Urmila and six of her workers to promote Madhubani art in painting, fabric and other decorative work during the Pujas.

With assistant Sawan Kumar, Urmila toiled for over a month to decorate the walls, adjacent to the main idols, besides the several props that had been put up to create the rural effect. “For paintings, we usually adopt the Madhubani style showcasing the Ram-Sita wedding and the peripheral tales attached to it. Sometimes, it could be the Krishna-Radha love story replete with events that dot their colourful lives,” says Urmila, while painstakingly going over the base colours of one of her works. Colours are often derived from vegetables.

The group also highlights the Godhna art that promotes tattooing. History says Maithili women used to promote this to stave off advances from the British. “The tattoo would act as a repellent. Also, since one could not carry ornaments in death, myth has it that these tattoos would act as substitutes,” says Urmila.

In Jitawar, their schedule begins early in the morning. After household chores, the group of six gathers at a common point and ponders over their next creation. “Since Madhubani art can be recreated on various forms such as paper, cloth and tiles, it’s first necessary to work out the base details. For example, on paper, we need to apply cow dung that provides the vignette to the different colours that we use. For other mediums, it could be different varieties of glue,” explains Kumar.

The Kali and the half-woman-half-man (Ardhanarishwar) are the other commonly-used themes in Madhubani art. The colours are myriad, with red or orange as the dominant hue, but the forms are uniform and traditional. So, parallels can be drawn with Durga and Kali, or for that matter Radha.

The Kobar form of art, prevalent during weddings, is also evident. Here, forms of fish, trees and lotus leaves dominate a particular work that is worshipped during weddings. “It also indicates fertility,” explains the duo.

The group had brought to Behala dupattas, garments and wall-hangings showcasing Madhubani art priced at Rs 800 and above. Since Jitawar is not exactly shining on the tourism map, the group has to depend on retailing. “The Bihar government has fixed the rate of skilled workers at Rs 150 per day and unskilled ones at Rs 100. It’s just not enough. Thanks to the city folk, who are giving us an avenue to sell our goods,” says Kumar.

The workshop and exhibition at Barisha Srishti Club paid dividends. Already, the Mithila Chamber of Commerce has booked them to recreate a tableau, while a few Kali puja committees have approached them to decorate their pandals.

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