The late, renowned Madhubani artist, Jagdamba Devi, embodied the true essence of Indian traditional art today: a deep and thorough understanding of the art form, the religious significance and cultural impact of the traditional craft, astounding artistry and passion, and an unwavering faith in her calling for this craft.
Madhubani paintings (also known as Mithila paintings) have been practiced by local women for generations, and today, it is regarded as a living tradition of Mithila. With artworks on themes of religion, love, and fertility, the art portrays the social structure and the cultural identity of the region. There are three main themes in Madhubani art, which is also known as Mithila art: religious festivities, social scenes like a wedding ceremony or even friends playing, and elements of nature such as elephants, crocodiles, and fish.
Born in Bhajparaul, Madhubani, on 25th February 1901, Jagdamba Devi has won the hearts of many with her intricate, spell-bounding paintings.
She was said to have spent most of her life in the village of Jitwarpur in Bihar.
She did not get a formal education, yet her attitude towards art was comprehensible, and her drawing techniques were highly effective. In her works, she uses natural hues with a strong emphasis on red.
By mixing gum with goat milk, she created soft, rich, and cardinal shades of red that usually formed the backgrounds of her paintings.
If the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's friend Pupul Jayakar had not invited Bhaskar Kulkarni, the chief designer of the All India Handicrafts Board, to visit Madhubani in 1966, this unassuming village in north Bihar might have remained anonymous to the rest of the world.
When Kulkarni arrived in Jitwarpur, he was blown away by the Madhubani paintings created by a small group of women.
On ceremonial occasions, they would create designs such as Kohbar or Baans, Sita’s Swayamvar, the tryst of Radha and Krishna, or playful themes of Ras Lila with Krishna besotted by gopis on the mud walls.
They were motivated by Kulkarni to make these patterns on handmade paper that were to be shown in galleries around the country and overseas.
Madhubani painting has been confined to a small geographical area of Mithila for centuries, and the techniques have been passed down through the generations, thus the content and style have remained essentially unchanged.
Kulkarni met Jagdamba Devi on this visit in the 1960s. Jagdamba married while she was very young. She did not have children.
While staying alone at Jitwarpur, she began painting beautiful murals in bright colors on the walls and the bridal room (also known as Kohbar ghar).
Her hobby soon evolved into a passion. Kulkarni was blown away by her creativity.
Jagdamba Devi's art was popularised by Kulkarni and Pupul Jayakar, the cultural advisor to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Padma Shri was bestowed to the artist in 1975.
She was the first of her kind to receive such a high honor and was followed by two others from her village, Sita Devi and Baua Devi, in receiving this award.
Many countries have collections of Jagdamba Devi's paintings.
Some of her works are also on exhibit in the Sabarmati Ashram, which has its distinct character.
A majority of her paintings feature depictions of religious tales and epics in various forms and have a dazzling mix of dark and light shades.
Unfortunately, the accomplished artist passed away in 1984.
Author: Akash R. Ekka Editor: Rachita Biswas