Mithila art on the outer walls of the Crafts Museum has been done by two younger artists from the famous Ranti village in Madhubani District – Pushpa Kumari and Pradyumna Kumar. Mithila art has a fairly long tradition of experimentation with secular themes. It was in the 1960s that the Central Government first encouraged women to transfer the ritual motifs they painted on the walls of their houses on to paper, so that these could be sold and provide a regular source of income for families in Bihar, which was then reeling from the effects of severe drought. Here the artists showcase village life with idealised depictions of rural crafts and ritual activity.
A closer look at these panels, and this is true of some of the others as well, is the way in which the artists have included iconic motifs from their traditional repertoire as if to signpost their particular styles of painting and allow for easy identification. Thus, Pushpa Kumari and Pradyumna Kumar have incorporated a Naina Jogin figure in a scene depicting village festivities.
Naina Jogin (literally ‘eye goddess’), a feminine figure with her veil covering all but one eye, is an icon that is included in the ritual painting of the nuptial chamber (kohbar ghar) of a newly-married couple and is meant to ward off the evil eye. In this painting a Naina Jogin-like figure is positioned in the centre of a circle of dancing women. The position of this image, next to a scene of a woman painting the walls of a kohbar ghar, is probably an intentional reference to the original context in which this image would have been placed, as is the figure of the woman painter who bears a striking resemblance to Mahasundari Devi, Pushpa Kumari’s aunt and one of the foremost artists of this tradition.