The beautiful arts of Bihar - Manjusha, Tikuli & Madhubani -

Bihar has a rich historical past. Right from ancient history to the present century it was always a center of attention of historians. The craft of each state in India, including Bihar reflect the influence of different successive empires and civilisations.

Madhubani Paintings

Madhubani painting, Kohbar

(Source: Artist Pratima Bharati)

Madhubani paintings are among the most famous paintings in the world. This popular art of the Mithila region expresses the creativity and sensitivity of its people. Like any folk art, it also shows the psychology of the society to which it belongs; it reflects the morals, values and customs of the region in a very interesting way. This style of painting has been traditionally done by the women of the region, though today men are also involved to meet the demand.

Madhubani paintings are characterised by figures that have prominently outlined, bulging fish-like eyes and pointed noses. Originally the painting was done on freshly plastered mud walls of huts, but now it is also done on cloth, hand-made paper and canvas. Interestingly, these paintings are done using fingers and twigs as well as matchsticks and pen nibs in the modern day. The themes & designs widely painted are of Hindu deities such as Krishna, Rama, Siva, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Sun and Moon, Tulasi plant, court scenes, wedding scenes, social happenings etc. Usually bright colours are used in these paintings with an outline made from rice paste as its framework. There are rarely any blank spaces in these paintings. If there’s a border, it is embellished with geometric and floral patterns. Natural dyes are used for the paintings.

Manjusha Paintings

Manusha painting

(Source: Artist Anjana Kumari)

Manjusha Art is a heritage of Ang Pradesh (present times Bhagalpur in Bihar district). This art has been prevalent in Bhagalpur for a long time. Manjusha Art came to the forefront between the time periods of 1931-1948. It is said to be the only art form in the history of India which has a sequential form of story displayed in a series pictorially. Hence, it is also called scroll painting.

The name of this art form also holds an interesting story. The Sanskrit word Manjusa means a ‘box’. These boxes were made from bamboo, Jute-Straw, and paper inside which the devotees kept their ceremonial materials.

Manjusha art was traditionally carried out in two parts by two different castes. The Kumbhakar caste was associated with shaping the pots on which the Manjusha art is painted and worshipped during the festival, whereas the Malakar caste was responsible for preparing the actual Manjushas and painting the art on these structures.

The boxes were illustrated with paintings that tell a tale. And the tale was of Bihula who saved her husband from the deity’s wrath and a snake-bite and also of Bishahari or Mansa. Manjushas are a sequential representation of a story and are displayed in a series. They usually tell a tale about a mythological character. The cultural feats of Indian mythology have always fascinated people from around the globe.


Tikuli Art

tikuli painting

(Source: Artist Upasana Karn)

Tikuli is the word that is used locally to describe bindi, a dot worn between the eyebrows as an accessory, but it is much more than just an accessory. In the past, the bindi was created as a symbolic means of worshipping intellect and conserving the modesty of women. But in contemporary Bihar, it has now become a symbol of empowering women.

Tikulis were made by melting glass, blowing it to a thin sheet and tracing the design patterns in natural colours. These were further embellished with gold foil and jewels. The bindis embodied with elegant and detailed designs could be seen adorned by the queens of royal families and women of the like.

The process of making these paintings is very tedious and time-consuming. From cutting the hard board in different sizes to painting sharp black lines in one stroke for smoothness and fineness, the process involves 15 stages. Fine brushes and enamel paints are used to make these paintings. The themes used mainly portray myths from the life of Krishna, as well as Indian wedding scenes and the festivals of Bihar, thus forming a visual text for the Indian context in some way.

Once a household name for the most rich and intricate art form, until a few years ago, faced the threat of extinction; or so to speak. No work that compares to Tikuli art can be found outside of Bihar. It is an intricate technique that requires a great deal of skill. Today, Tikuli art is often implemented in other forms, such as wall hangings.


These art forms are of considerable cultural value and have a vast heritage attached to it. It can also be acknowledged as a means of empowering women artists as women are mostly associated with these paintings. And it goes without saying that it is high time that the necessary measures are taken to protect this canvas from going blank forever.


~ Written by Khushi Daryani


1 comment

  • Anjali Bawase: April 11, 2022
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    Dear friend we are looking for these art forms especially manjusha and tikuli paintings, could you please send me the name and contact details of these artists. Thanking you Anjali

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