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June 27th, 2004

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09:04 pm - Mithila to Morang
An artistic journey
by Sarad Pradhan

Only few people know how rich is the culture of Janakpur and Morang as Nepal is always treated as a Himalayan kingdom by foreigners. The image of Nepal as a beautiful Himalayan kingdom cannot be ignored but in the meantime it is important as well to look into the diverse culture of this kingdom. During religious occasions like the Vivaha Panchami and the Ram Navami, there is no dearth of pilgrimage tourists making a bee-line to Janaki temple at Janakpur. But apart this, another facet of Janakpur is the highly refined and traditionally honed artistic skills of the Maithil women . And, this kind of special ethnic painting legacy is also unique in the sense that it is unlike anything seen in the high hills or mountain regions of Nepal. If you wish to know more about it, visit during festival time. Even the innocuous-looking thatched Terai huts are enlivened with numerous varieties of mud-wall, trace and even floor painting in multiple hues.

As Nepalese people living in Terai are very close to wildlife such as peacocks and elephants, their pictures come alive on their walls, as they are believed to be symbols of prosperity and good fortune. Besides, multi-hued images of deities like Shiva, Ganesh, Rama and Vishnu, often seated on their mythical mounts, bring the traditional painting skills of the Maithil womenfolk alive. On Maithil womenfolk alive. On occasions like weddings, these women depict the brides and bridegrooms in all their local finery often drawn on the sides of the decorated palanquins that form part of the marriage processions. Colourful sketches of parrots, turtles or fish–symbolising happy martial unions and fertility–are also usual .

Another form of artistic expression amongst Maithil women is in the shape of what is known as the Alpana or Aripan. These multi-coloured flowery designs, also known as Mandalas in popular parlance, are drawn either on the courtyards or thresholds of their houses. It holds a special religious significance. Their objectives are believed to be to welcome gods and goddesses who visit the localities on particular religious or holy occasions. The Alpanas may also include images of parrots, cuckoos and other birds and animals, apart from sketches of auspicious trees, flowers and fruits. As these Alpana are for good luck and prosperity, they believe that it should not be erased before the given time. If they fade away or are washed-out by the rain-shower, the exercise are repeated on the advent an other festive season. The same, however, does not necessarily apply to their interior design painting meant to decorate their sanctum sanctorum. Apart from the usual icons and figurines mentioned above, murals depicting various events and episodes drawn from popular epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are also evident in quite a few houses, and they are also meant to last longer.

In districts of Morang, Sunsari and Jhapa of eastern Nepal, similar wall murals can be seen both within and outside many Tharu houses. While some believe them to be imitations of the Maithili cultural heritage, others are of opinion that they are the reminiscent either of the rich Rajasthani styles or the famed Kangra valley paintings. As far their concept of the Alpana goes, however, it is possible that it was originally inspired from Bengal across the Nepal-India borders where, on the one hand, there also are fairly large settlements of Tharus and, on the other, the flair for exceptional Alpana art amongst Bengali women is almost universally recognised. Tattooing is also treated as a fairly common ‘folk art’ both in Mithila and the Tharu regions in the Terai. Tattooing of forearms and even calves and feet appears to be a favourite among Tharu women. Such body area bearing blue and black needle pricking may depict either their own names, the names or images of their deities, or floral designs like the lotus and the rose, besides even various animals and birds. The lotus, particularly, is relatively pervasive, as it is believed to symbolise the female creativity, sex and energy. It is also not uncommon for such tattooing to be arranged on the holy occasion known as kohber(arranged within the four walls of the bride and groom when they are together) as a part and parcel of their honeymoon celebrations.

Lydia Aran, in her book The Art of Nepal, has aptly explained what Mithila painting means for the Maithil women. Says she, “ For several thousand years now the women of Mithila have cultivated the ceremonial art of drawing and painting on the mud walls of their house, the floors of their courtyards and, later, on paper as a form of worship and instrument for ritual, and a means of communication between gods and men. Tharu women, unlike Maithil women, appear to be greater extroverts. They are believed to hold a certain command over their household chores. Tharu women often design the columns of their verandahs as special specimens of individual artistic expressions, each one often different from the other, and, therefore, understandably unique. Erotic symbolism, especially on occasions like village-weddings, is not an exception either.

The local myths and legends of yore find familiar representation in both the Maithil and Tharu painting. Like in Mithila area, Tharu women are also prone to wash away one set of traditional paintings and replace them with another as a new festive occasion approaches. A tour of the Maithil and Tharu areas may give a unique and memorable experience to those who wish to see the real indigenous art of Nepali women living in Terai as they are as rich as mandala paintings of high Himalaya of Nepal.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:June 28th, 2004 10:42 pm (UTC)


this really sounds cool. have u ever gone to nepal before? isnt it weird how we look at other peoples culture and wonder why they did it. maybe its be cause we just sometimes dont understand. lol. but all in all very intresting.
Date:July 10th, 2004 12:04 pm (UTC)

Re: wow


yea, I'm from Nepal =p
Date:January 21st, 2013 05:17 pm (UTC)
nice article

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