Dalit March

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Dalit Arts & Culture

Dalit Arts & Culture

Mithila paintings first came into focus in 1934 when William G Archer, a British official, stumbled upon them while inspecting the damage caused by an earthquake discovered wall and floor paintings in the interiors of houses.

From 1936 to 1940 he photographed some of these paintings, some of which are at display at the British Library in London. In 1946 Archer published an article on these paintings and later in 1977, his wife Mildred Archer provided further information and some interpretations of the paintings.

A major turning point however came in 1966 when following a massive draught, the All India Handicrafts Board, in an attempt to rebuild the draught stricken economy encouraged the women of Mithila to transfer their wall and floor paintings (of gods from the Hindu pantheon, floral and geometric designs known as aripan and large colorful images of lotuses surrounded by paired fish, turtles snakes and love birds indicating fertility known as kohbar) onto paper so that they can sell them and generate income for their families. Most commonly these paintings at that time were done by the wealthy Brahmin and Kayastha women. Ganga Devi from the Kayastha caste and Sita Devi from the Brahmin Caste were the two pioneers of Mithila paintings on paper and their art was received enthusiastically by the public. They evolved two distinctive styles of painting. Ganga Devi did extremely detailed kanchi or line paintings using fine nib pens and only black and red ink, producing a kind of painting that came to be associated with the Kayastha community. Sita Devi developed the bharni style or filled associate with the Brahmin community. This style depicts large, colorful figures made using a straw or a bamboo stick either frayed at the end, or with a rag or wad of cotton at the tip, to serve as a reservoir for the paint. Through the 80s and 90s many other women of their caste followed their lead.

Between 1972 and 78 Erika Moser, a German anthropologist, made several visits to Sita Devis village, Jitwarpur to study and film the crafts and rituals of the Dusadhs, a Dalit community. Moser urged the Dusadh women to also start painting on paper to generate additional income for the house. Unfamiliar with the complex imagery used by the Kayastha and Brahmin women, the Dusadh women encouraged by Moser, began to take inspiration from their own oral, cosmological and aesthetic traditions and created their own three distinctive styles and techniques. The first, initiated by Chano Devi derived from the tattoo images many of them had on their arms and legs. This style came to be known as godna (tattoo) paintings. These paintings largely composed of rows and concentric circles of flowers, fields, animals, figures and spirits drawn with a pointed bamboo pen and lampblack ink. This style was adopted my many Dusadh women and soon was further innovated to include the use of bamboo brushes and a range of colors made from flowers, leaves, barks, berries, etc. The themes of the paintings also expanded and they came to include complex scenes from their daily village life and ritual practices. The tree of life, images of Hindu Gods and the 27 legendry hero of the Dusadhs Raja Salhesh have also started appearing commonly in the paintings of Chano Devi and other artists using the godna technique.


(Ref: The Dalit Foundation- http://www.dalitfoundation.org/godna.htm)