Bihar's Mithila region is renowned for its Madhubani art but there is more to the state's art and handicrafts heritage. With a long tradition of producing paintings, metal craft, terracotta art, stone carvings and more, these handcrafted products are fighting a tough battle with machine-made made mass-produced goods.
On your next trip to Bihar, take a look at its locally produced handicrafts and support the artisans and industry behind it. They are not only beautiful in and of themselves but also make for excellent souvenirs and interior decoration items.
An art practised in and around Patna, Tikuli is said to be nearly 800 years old. It takes its name from the local name for bindis worn by the women on their foreheads. Traditionally, glass would be blown into thin sheets and cut into circular shapes. These would then be layered with gold foil. With the help of tools such as sharp bamboo pens, designs would be drawn on the circular pieces, filled with natural colours and sealed with gum. These designer tikulis were in high demand among royal families and women from wealthy households.
Without the support of wealthy patrons the art has almost became extinct. According to reports, the artist Upendra Maharathi was inspired by the Japanese style of using enamel paint on wood. In the 1950s he demonstrated how the tikuli art style can be carried out on engineered wood. Instead of being used simply for adornment the art is now expressed on utility and decorative goods such as coasters, trays, wall decorations, etc.
The influence of Mithila's painting style on contemporary tikuli art is considerable. Award-winning artist Ashok Kumar Biswas trained rural women in tikuli art so that they could be self-sufficient. According to Biswas the art style is experiencing a resurgence in cities like Patna, Varanasi and Kolkata.
With its genesis in legends, Manjusha is an old art form largely practiced in the Bhagalpur area of Bihar. It is said the art form originated in this area which was part of the ancient Anga kingdom.
Traditionally, the paintings revolve around the folklore of the Bihula-Bishahari. The colourful paintings are done on pots and boxes associated with ceremonial practices and are narrative in form. In some households these would be painted on the walls of a newly-wed couple's room.
A detailed study revealed that manjusha follows rules pertaining to symbolism and style. With the passage of time these rustic and inexact drawings display a cleaner finish, and it is not unusual to find geometric patterns and other motifs in the paintings. The art can now also be seen in textiles in line with the changing market economy.
Handcrafted products made from various kinds of metal have long been prevalent in Bihar. Munger and Banka in Bihar are known for their silver jewellery while the districts of West Chamaparan, especially Bettiah, and Vaishali are known for crafting idols of gods and goddesses from brass and ashtadhatu, or octo-alloy.
The ancient ruins scattered in Bihar that date back to the Mauryan period speak volumes about the master stone carvers of the region. Patharkatti in Gaya district is one of the main centres of stone carving today. Small colonies of craftspeople can also be found in and around Patna and Kaimur. Granite stone is typically used for making these stone crafts.
The eastern Indian plains are known for their terracotta craft and Bihar is no exception. It's one of the oldest crafts of the state and, like stone craving, dates back to the Mauryan period. Human and animal figurines and toys, both for religious purpose and household use, are made from terracotta. The Darbhanga and Madhubani districts of Bihar are well-known for this art form.