Mithila Painting : Introduction and ImportanceFor centuries, the women of the Mithila region of northern Bihar and southern Nepal have done wall and floor paintings on the occasion of marriages and other domestic rituals. These paintings, inside their homes, on the internal and external walls of their compounds, and on the ground inside or around their homes, create sacred, protective, and auspicious spaces for their families and their rituals. Although the images were similar, women of different castes developed distinctive styles of painting.
In the aftermath of a major earthquake in 1934, William Archer, the local Collector, inspecting the damage in Mithila's villages, saw these wall and floor paintings for the first time and subsequently photographed a number of them. Recognizing their great beauty, he and his wife, Mildred, brought them to wider attention in several publications. In the 1950s and early 1960s several Indian scholars and artists visited the region and also became enamored of the paintings. But it was not until 1966, in the midst of a major drought, that the All India Handicrafts Board sent an artist, Baskar Kulkarni, to Mithila to encourage the women to make paintings on paper that they could sell as a new source of family income.
Although traditionally, women of several castes painted, Kulkarni was only able to convince a small group of Mahapatra Brahmin and Kayastha women to paint on paper. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, two of these women, Sita Devi and Ganga Devi were recognized as great artists both in India where they received numerous commissions, and in Europe, Japan, Russia, and the United States where they represented India in cultural fairs and expositions. Their success and active encouragement led scores of other women to paint. Many of these women have also been recognized as artists of national and international stature. Furthermore, women of several other castes, are now paintingmost especially the Dusadh, a Dalit community, and also small numbers of men.
Over time, aside from the growing diversity of people painting, the subject matter of the paintings has expanded to include ancient epics, local legends and tales, domestic, rural, and community life, ritual, local, national, and international politics, as well as the painters' own life histories. Artists of different castes and genders are now borrowing themes and styles from one another. Mithila painting has demonstrated extraordinary vitality and become a vibrant and aesthetically powerful tradition.