Women Custodians of Tradition

Women Custodians of Tradition

Sudha Jha Pathak (Bennett University, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1835-9.ch009
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Hidden in the obscure spirals of rural subconscious of Bihar are vast memories of history, culture, and tradition. These memories are invoked and brought forth by the subtle nuances of folklore, song, and painting by women. A sub-stratum of women memories of power and energy has existed since the ancient past where women were the repositories and sustainers of heritage. Madhubani painting can be said to be a creation of communal spiritual experience. It can be comprehended not just as an aesthetic wonder but also as a representation of collective mind, expressing millennia of traditional knowledge of the women artists and a form of transmitting a series of ancestral motifs. The uniqueness of this beautiful art form along with its specific geographical location has led to it being conferred its own geographical identification or GI tag by the government. The region has evoked the interest and appreciation of art connoisseurs, scholars, and tourists from all over the world, thus creating a niche for itself in the world of art.
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“History is to be seen displayed in full detail in the villages of India-provided one has the vision and insight required to read that history”(Kosambi, 1997).

History has witnessed the growth of rural centres of socio-cultural, religious life of great antiquity. These pockets of cultural resurgence were spread out all over the country. Besides the existence of numerous outstanding urban centres of art and culture, the hinterlands and the rural expanses also witnessed a healthy and major proliferation of various art forms of brilliance and ingenuity. It steadfastly made possible the emergence and expression of beautiful practices of art and culture and witnessed remarkable achievements in the domain of art, language and music which have transformed the villages and provided life and sustenance to culture and tradition.

India has the distinction of having its historical elements being conspicuously visible and manifest in the arts and culture of the villages. History is richly portrayed in the rural arts of India which are the visual expression of the common folk of rural India. It represents the art of the people tuned to the rhythm and various manifestations of nature along with a central concern for the earth as the basis and cornerstone of the human life. The Mithila or Madhubani painting can be said to be a creation of the community’s spiritual experience. This art of the rural people is imbued with the moorings and memories of their culture and tradition, as it also represents an art manifesting the social rituals, fertility, rites to invoke the gods, and the kernel of energy and power within the community. These rural arts thus incorporate within its wider domain the artefacts of history and of the living present as well as their relationship to the past.

The woman artist enjoys a pivotal and unique position in the Mithila tradition of art as she symbolized the artistic creative process inherent in this tradition. She is the channel by means of which this inherited tradition of art flows, made more auspicious and relevant in the context of the present. This river of tradition and knowledge flows in the subconscious and the heart of the women who have acted as the repositories and nurturers of heritage and culture. These memories are invoked and brought forth by them through the subtle nuances of folklore and art forms.

Mithila has had a rich intellectual, cultural legacy and its art expressions has a distinct identity of its own. Art plays a pertinent role in the sustenance and support of cultural traditions besides providing a voice to the creativity of the women artists of the region. This chapter focusses on women of Mithila who have acted as custodians of the tradition of Madhubani paintings which are not just an aesthetic wonder but also a medium of expression of the traditional knowledge of the artists acquired and refined along the timeline of a millennium. This chapter focuses on how the woman artist is the channel by means of which this inherited tradition of art flows and blossoms, increasingly becoming more celebrated and popular in the context of the present.

There is a need to preserve this ancient ethnic art form which is intrinsically embedded in Mithila’s culture and tradition. Unfortunately, this great art heritage is getting lost in the process of commercialization and mass production. Using art as a tool and means for commodification leads to a loss of tradition as the artisans have to alter their work in terms of themes, designs keeping in mind the demands of the market. This chapter focuses on the need to address the issues involved in the preservation of this art form which is getting lost in the quagmire of cheap imitations and blatant profit motives.

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