This is the story of a rural woman who was blessed with exceptional artistic skill. Ganga Devi, the artist, is not very well known among the general people but that does not transform her extraordinary talent into an ordinary one. She has made a mark for herself through painting and became a great Indian folk painter. Her talent was so eye-catching that it took her from a small native village to Delhi, the Capital of India, and thereafter got opportunities to travel abroad.
A Little know how about Madhubani
Bihar, an Indian state, might have not hogged the limelight for numerous good reasons but that does not mean that it has nothing to be proud of. There are lots of treasures in Bihar which need to be focused and brought into people’s notice. The fact is Bihar enjoys cultural, educational, artistic and traditional richness to a huge extent and has a great contribution towards Culture of India.
Bihar is symbolic to Nalanda University, Chhat Puja (Sun God is worshipped), Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, are the few to name. I deliberately left out one most outstanding heritage of Bihar, the Madhubani Art form, only to draw back your attention on Ganga Devi, the artist who received Padma Shri for her expertise in this very art form. It is specifically practiced in a particular region of Bihar and from being Bihar’s fabulous folk art it has acquired a special position in the folk art section of India too.This region of Bihar has its own history and contribution towards culture of India.
Mithila and Madhubani Painting
It is an art form which has its own mythological and historical lineage dated back to the times of Janak kingdom of Mithila in Bihar. Thus, the Madhubani Painting is also referred as Mithila Painting which is intricately woven with the culture of India. So, it’s not a contemporary art form but was in practice even during the time of Ramayana and as all of us know Ramayana forms a part of Culture of India.
This art form depicts stories from Hindu religious scriptures but some artists have experimented and added a new angle to it. They made paintings which represented not the age-old Hindu mythological stories but a travel history of various places that they visited and through it gave a touch of newness to the basic form of Madhubani Art. Earlier, it was practiced by drawing murals but later it got depicted on paper, cloth and even on means of transport. The artists use various items to draw the geometrical figures such as brush, rice straws, twigs, fingers, matchstick and what not. The colouring is done with natural colours and pigments but the bright shades are used.
Though it’s an ancient art form of India, the popularity of it was regionally concentrated. Gradually, it has started enjoying a fair share of popularity in India as a whole and in the world too. In Mithila almost every girl is into this art form. They love to do it. Among them a few have created name for themselves in Indian art and craft history and have become part of Culture of India. One such name is Ganga Devi.
Life, Inspiration, Work, Death and contribution to Culture of India
In one of her interviews, Ganga Devi said that it was her mother who introduced her to the world of Madhubani Art. She was a resident of Mithila and like every girl of that region she too enjoyed doing Madhubani painting. Ganga Devi started painting while she was a child. Her mother was her inspiration. She gave a rice straw and a few strands of thread to use it for painting and soot was given to use for colouring. Their financial background was not well off but that did not stop Ganga Devi from excelling in her work. She took out soot from the burnt cooking utensils and even used urine of the cattle, goat milk or gum to mix with soot.
Ganga Devi was too good in her art for which reason she got selected for the event “Festival of India in U.S.”. She visited Russia and Japan as a representative of the very rich folk art form of India. The Indian government has also honoured her with a prestigious award, National Award for Craft, and in 1990 she received Padma Shri which was a much deserved honour.
Unfortunately, the great talent faded in 1991. Ganga Devi succumbed to cancer during the year 1991 .The life that started in 1928 went through lots of turmoil. During her illness when she was going through chemotherapy she wanted to divert her mind from the woes of severe pain. So, at that point she started painting the walls of one of the rooms of the National Crafts Museum in Delhi. Though she was in pain, she painted Khobar Ghar, a detailed painting of a nuptial room, on all the walls up to the ceiling. She worked on it for almost four to five months.The art experts opined that it was done very tastefully and worth having a look.The fact is her every painting is a great asset to culture of India.
Ganga Devi had a tormented married life but her talent gave her a respectable identity. She earned a name for herself, brought laurels for the Indian art culture, got exposed to many parts of the world and drew new ideas for her painting. Her best works are: Stories of Rama, The cycle of Life, The America Series, The Japan Series, Snake diagram, The Rural Life and many more.
End of Prestigious Possession
Now, she is no more but her art would speak for her. What saddens is the ‘Khobar Ghar’ which she painted on the walls of a room in Delhi’s National Crafts Museum remained only for some years. Though it should have been maintained properly as a precious art collection, it was demolished by the museum authorities on the grounds of renovation. It is absolutely strange and uncalled for. If the National Crafts Museum cannot keep its proud possession intact then who would be! Ganga Devi’s hard work while battling with cancer simply went in vain.
A Journey so Remarkable
Neither Ganga Devi herself nor her family ever dreamt of the achievement she received in her life. Her skill was exemplary and receiving a Padma Shri was the pinnacle of her artistic career. Her talent and knack for Madhubani Painting did all the speaking in a big country like India. It’s not a journey of an ordinary individual woman from rags to riches but it’s a joy ride of a talented woman to a height of success. She succeeded in showcasing her folk art to the world so much that it made Madhubani Art form a popular name and earned a global fame for India.
The life of Ganga Devi is a lesson that if talent is nurtured with dedication then nothing can hold one back. Though her painting of a Khobar Ghar on the wall is lost, there are series of her priced paintings safely treasured in art museums which speak volumes about Ganga Devi and her Mithila Painting and her contributions to Madhubani Painting and Culture of India are unforgettable.