Bihar is one of India’s most underrated states. It has a rich history, and was the cradle of several great ancient empires- the Guptas, the Mauryas and the Magadha kingdoms. It hosted many great ancient universities like Nalanda, and has always been at the crossroads of many different cultures and civilisations.
Art styles of Bihar
With the birth of great civilisations, cultures of sophistication and artistic excellence emerge. The state of Bihar, the cradle of several of India’s mightiest empires, is no exception. The arts and crafts that have evolved over centuries and even millennia still survive in the state today. The state, though not at its finest moments in history in terms of governance, development and politics, continues to be a gold mine for every art lover.
Madhubani art is one of the most popular folk art forms from the state of Bihar. Madhubani paintings were said to have been created at the request of Lady Sita herself, who requested that her wedding to Lord Ram be documented in the form of paintings. Today, it is renowned across the world for its intricate and beautiful representations of nature and rural themes.
Sikki Grass Craft
Sikki grass is a unique variety of grass that grows in the marshlands around Bihar and Nepal. Golden in colour, sturdy and durable, this grass is used to make a variety of useful items like baskets, storage boxes and bread serving bowls. The craft is believed to have started about half a century ago in this region, and has gained popularity over the centuries. While the grass was initially used to make objects for utility, it is now used to make decorative items and toys as well. It was awarded the GI tag of Bihar in 2007.
Manjusha art developed in the region of ancient Anga, which, today, is the Bhagalpur area of Bihar. The art has unique origins in the region and was said to have originated amidst the miraculous acts of Lord Shiva himself and the devotion of a lady named Bihula to her husband, Bisashari. The art is unique in many ways. It incorporates only pink, green and yellow, and even the outlines in the painting are drawn in green. The borders are intricately drawn and are of great importance in the art. It was granted the GI tag in 2021.
Tikuli art is a unique painting style that has its origins in Bihar about eight hundred years ago.Traditionally, intricate scenes centred on rural life are ‘drawn’ by guiding molten glass. However, today, the art is made by painting enamel designs on timber. This trend started in 1954, when Upendra Maharathi, a prominent Tikui artist, went to Bihar and brought this idea back. The ‘tikuli’ or bindi shape is an important shape used recurrently in the paintings. It is one of the most beautiful art forms of Bihar, and is in dire need of revival.
Traditional Papier Mache
Papier mache in Bihar has been practised for centuries and possibly millennia. Here, local ingredients have been chosen and utilised in order to maximise quality and durability. Traditionally, papier mache is used to make decorative masks, but today, objects of utility are also made with the technique here. Traditionally, papier mache crafts in Bihar are made of old paper, methi(to keep pests away), multani mitti, and wheat flour paste(as an adhesive). After the desired sturdiness of the item is achieved, it is painted vividly in traditional designs. The end result is a beautiful piece of history to decorate your home.
Lacquerware in Bihar has been around for centuries. Lacquerware is employed for a variety of uses in the state, the most interesting of it being creating faux ornaments in plays and theatre. The craft is made by making a mixture of clay with lac to strengthen it and subsequently heating it to make it mouldable. It is then covered with patterns made of molten coloured lac in order to make it appealing to the eyes. Items made can range from vermillion boxes to bangles. The lac crafts of Bihar are still widely used and preserved and their future seems bright.
Patna Kalam is an offshoot of Mughal miniature paintings that developed around the state of Bihar. It integrated Mughal and Persian miniature styles with the British colonial style to create a unique art style that represented the common man during Colonial Indian times, a first for Indian art forms at the time. It saw patrons in both the Mughals and the British. Thereafter, following independence, it died out as a result of a death of interest. Today, few pieces of the art remain even in museums, but the legacy of Patna Kalam lives on.
Bihari Earthen Crafts
While the fundamentals of earthen pottery and crafts are no different than elsewhere in Bihar, the earthenware of Bihar has rightfully earned its name and fame. Earthenware here has been practised for millennia here, at the focal point of the growth of many great empires. The boom of the region’s earthenware industry was under Mauryan rule, when a concerted effort was made by the state to encourage skilled craftsmen.
The craftsmen of Bihar incorporate many breathtakingly intricate designs with traditional motifs into their earthenware that ranges from basic pots to extremely intricate toys and incense dispensers. Brahmdev Ram Pandit, an earthenware craftsman from Bihar even received the Padmasree in 2013 for his extraordinary work.
Bamboo grows widely in the state of Bihar, and has been used for ages to make items of daily use and for decoration. Strips of bamboo are interwoven to create beautiful and useful baskets, chairs, lampshades and other utilitarian items.
Sujini or Sujani embroidery was a household craft which originated when mothers of the region came up with an ingenious way to utilise old clothes by embroidering them to create soft blankets for babies. This style of embroidery is practised in the Madhubani and Muzaffarpur districts of Bihar by rural women. The embroidery constitutes simple and delicate designs depicting rural life and traditional motifs. It received a GI tag in 2007.
Khatwa Applique Work
Applique is the art of sewing together different smaller pieces of cloth to create a harmonious, single larger piece that is uniquely beautiful. The Khatwa applique work of Bihar, unique to the Northern districts of the state, employs similar techniques. What is unique about the work is the fact that the applique work is not simply some pretty cloth, but also incorporates motifs, themes and narratives on the lives of artisans and rural life in general. While this craft was historically sold only in and around Bihar, designer brands are picking up on its beauty and bringing it to the global stage. It was granted the GI tag in 2007.
The arts and crafts of Bihar represent the state’s rich history and artistic heritage. The arts and crafts of Bihar are more than just visually appealing; they are living expressions of rich artistic lineages surviving through millennia, and of history itself.