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Madhubani Magic of Gangadevi

By Aditi De; Illustration by Sudheer Nath

Aditi De of the 'Women's Feature Service' writes about a meeting she had in the 1980s, with Gangadevi, the gifted painter of Mithila. Gangadevi is largely responsible for placing an ancient art, practiced for centuries by the women of her village, in the artistic map of the world.

Face to face, Gangadevi, seemed shy at first glance. She drew the pallav (the border of the sari) of her brightly coloured cotton sari over her head, and pushed her black-rimmed spectacles firmly onto the bridge of her nose.

Madhubani Magic of Gangadevi, Features for kids: 127_1.gif Gangadevi had just returned to India after attending the Festival of India in the United States. Her mind was alive with all the strange scenes she had seen, the people she had met, and she needed to record all her experiences on paper. Gangadevi had just been honoured with a National Award for Crafts by the Indian government.

Before our eyes, we watched America reborn through Gangadevi's vision. She dipped her quill into a pot of black ink, and quickly put it to grainy, handmade paper. Black lines emerged as tall skyscrapers, with an upright rectangular shape within. What could it be? A lift, with a hat topped, shoe-clad man in it! Soon, we watched a long car, almost as long as the road whiz by. Women in knee-length skirts and men in checked shirts tucked into jeans, with young kids in tow, appeared on the scene through Gangadevi's drawing.

Gangadevi was born in the Mithila region of Bihar. She lived all her life in the region. What made her special was the unique gift she possessed - her magical fingers. Fingers, which drew absolutely spectacular line drawings of the myths and religious symbols of India.

This gift is not unique to Gangadevi alone. For over three thousand years, women in the Mithila region have been painting such beautiful sketches.

Maybe it has something to do with the historic value and beauty of Mithila. "Mithila," Gangadevi revealed, "once stretched from the right bank of the Ganga to the foot of the Himalayas, one of the first kingdoms of eastern India. Both the Buddha and Mahavira, founders of Buddhism and Jainism respectively, were born in the Mithila region."

Most of the 30 million people who live in the Mithila region are farmers. The soil is fertile, and crops include wheat, rice, lentils and sugarcane. Early visitors loved its lush greenness so much that they called it Madhubani or the 'forest of honey.'

Gangadevi's paintings too are referred to as Madhubani. Few things best portray the beauty, lushness and colour of the region, as her paintings.

But why are women the painters here? It could be because Mithila is a matriarchal society, where daughters inherit the property from their mothers. The social conventions that bind girls in other parts of India from expressing themselves, do not apply here. Though poor, the girls of Mithila are encouraged to paint freely.

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Madhubani Magic of Gangadevi [Features for kids]
By Aditi De; Illustration by Sudheer Nath


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