An Art Lover’s Guide to Bihar

Art, dance and architecture often tell the history of a culture. We are fortunate that India is blessed with various art forms, dance styles and architectural wonders. Bordered by Nepal to the north and three other Indian states to the east, south and west, Bihar is better known as the birthplace of Buddhism. An amalgamation of three distinct regions – Magadh, Mithila and Bhojpur – the state was once considered a center of power, learning and culture during the classical era. From Magadh sprang the mighty Mauryan and Gupta empires that united large parts of modern India. On the other hand, under the leadership of King Janaka of the Videhas, the Mithila region became the center of education and culture, giving rise to the extraordinary Mithila paintings.

Also known as Madhubani art, the painting style is diverse and can be created with fingers, twigs, brushes, nib pens and even matches. Traditionally done on freshly plastered mud walls and cabin floors, the art form’s skills have been passed down from generation to generation. The sheer class of the art form is such that there are five distinctive styles – Bharni, Katchni, Tantrik, Godna, and Kobar. The first three styles (Bharni, Katchni, and Tantrik) were mainly created by upper caste women with their themes illustrating religious tales comprised of extravagant flora and fauna. Run your fingers across the canvas and feel the legends come to life. However, the women of the lower caste used the paintings to communicate their daily lives and interactions with nature. Believe me, the intricate use of color with fantastic designs and exceptional stories will certainly take your breath away.

Although Mithila art is the most famous, the state of Bihar is home to several other notable variations of art forms. Mughals, as everyone knows, have had a significant impact on the Indian subcontinent. From their beautiful architecture to their melodious music, the almighty conquerors brought about a new form of painting by combining Persian style with Indian traditional style. A clear example of this is at the Patna School of Painting, which is based on the Patna Qalaam painting style. Considered an offshoot of the Mughal styles, the Patna Qalaam is heavily influenced by Persian and British styles. Using the colors used in Mughal drawings and shades adopted in the UK, the art form created was a unique piece of magic. Away from the exorbitantly decorated borders used in Mughal paintings, Patna Qalaam narrowed the focus to the subject of the matter.

The paintings of Patna Qalaam and Madhubani are relatively modern art styles that are gaining in popularity. But Bihar’s art story begins in Kaimur, where rock art over the hills shows the culture of the state from prehistoric times. Generations have painted on these rocks and thus one can see the evolution of not only the art form but also the political, socio-economic and cultural reforms in the region. The rocks became a canvas on which the aborigines painted objects and designs that changed their lives, such as the sun, animals, trees, among others. They also dictated their daily events through these paintings, such as hunting.

Bihar’s rich history of art forms doesn’t stop here, the state is home to some beautiful sculptures dating back centuries. The Pillar of Ashoka in Vaishali, inscribed with edicts of the Mauryan king, is a fine example of Mauryan craftsmanship. Another well-deserved example of Mauryan-style architecture is the ornately crafted sculpture by Didarganj Yakshi, which is currently in the Patna Museum. The free-standing statue is carved from a single piece of stone and has close ties to the Mauryan Polish. Polishing is a technique used to give stone materials a remarkable shine.

Bihar’s indigenous art is critical to the region’s cultural heritage. The art forms tell stories from different eras, regions and spectrum of life. Many such indigenous art forms exist all over India, from the Pattachitra in Odisha to the Tanjore art of Tamil Nadu. Plan your inspiring vacation in India and learn about the different art forms that distinguish each state.

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