Mahasundari Devi, just like her name, was much the same as an incarnation of a goddess, with her purity and heavenly devotion towards art making her a figure of admiration.
She was born in a Karn Kayastha family at Chatra village of Benipatti on 15 April, 1922.
Studied till eighth grade, she was deemed as barely literate in her childhood but her aunt taught her how to paint Madhubani paintings and since then, she had never looked back.
Motifs and Patterns She Drew
On special occasions, she would draw images such as Kohbar or Baans, Sita Swayamvar, or Radha Krishna on the mud walls of her home (at her in-laws' house).
Bhaskar Kulkarni, a well-known art collector, became aware of this and encouraged her to produce similar patterns on handmade paper so they could be displayed in galleries both domestically and overseas.
Prizes And Awards
She went on to win prizes for her outstanding artwork from three Presidents, Dr. Neelam Sanjeva Reddy, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, and Pratibha Patil, giving the Madhubani painting industry a new dimension.
Her son Bipin Das recalled, "Her works were displayed at exhibitions across the globe and earned her accolades, but I couldn’t forget the joy and excitement on her face when she got Padmashree in 2011".
In addition to the Padma Award, she also received the National Award in 2007 and the Shilp Guru Award in 1997, the highest honour the Madhya Pradesh Government has established for folk art.
The Traditions of Mithila
The Bihar district of Madhubani, which shares a border with Nepal, continued to be her karma bhoomi.
The Mithila people speak their own language and have a more than 2,500-year-old sense of regional identity.
Lord Mahavira, Lord Buddha, and Sita are three of the most well-known people who are speculated to have been born in the area (the legendary wife of Rama).
The people of this region believe that the land of Mithila is holier compared to other parts of Bihar.
Due to the historical reality that Mithila was the first territory to come under the influence of the Aryan civilization, this type of perception gained traction.
The Maithili also take great honor in their heritage, language, and traditions.
In light of this, Mahasundari taught Vibha Das, Abha Das, and Runa Das—her three daughters-in-law—the fundamentals of Madhubani painting.
Vibha has received a national award for her outstanding artistic creations.
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Painting was traditionally one of the arts that were passed down within families in the Mithila region, primarily by women.
Paintings were typically done on walls during holidays, religious celebrations, and other significant life events like marriage, birth, and the Upanayanam (Sacred Thread Ceremony).
Apart from the freshly plastered mud walls of huts, where the painting was originally done, it is now also being done on cloth, handmade paper, and canvas.
The subject and style of Madhubani painting have essentially remained the same over the years because it has only ever been practiced in a small region of Mithila.
How Mahasundari Devi Popularized Madhubani Art
Parts of Darbhanga and Madhubani were destroyed by an earthquake in the area in 1988. Damage was also done to Darbhanga Maharaj's palace complex, which was full of artwork two centuries ago.
However, Mahasundari Devi popularised this art form not just in the nation but also in the west throughout the course of the following three decades.
Her artwork is greatly admired by Nitish Kumar and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chair of the Planning Commission.
She had asked him to create budgetary allocations for artists to make paintings and permit the government to buy their works on a yearly basis when they had last spoken.
She also wished for the creation of a regional arts development institute and museum.
But when she passed away on July 4, 2013, at the age of 92 due to severe breathing problems, her wish also disappeared.
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Author and Editor: Diya Mondal