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Folk Art as Livelihood
Culture is a great enabler. It fosters social inclusion. We use culture both as a product and as a process. Culture is innovatively used for skill empowerment at grass roots level to build micro enterprise. Cultural traditions are revitalized through training, exposure and promotion. New markets are created and new brands are developed to promote traditional performing and visual arts. Culture thus offers new options for livelihood. Our motto is “To preserve art, let the artists survive”.
  • 1 Art Exhibitions
  • 2 Art for social change
  • 3 Creating identity for heritage traditions
  • 4 Developing Folk Tourism
  • 5 Training Programmes
  • 6 Folk artists perform at a programme on Climate Change
  • 7 Folk for the Urban
  • 8 Innovative Designs
  • 9 Pater Gan
  • 10 Preserving Traditional Skills
AFL in Bihar

Bihar, one of the northern frontier states of India, carries a rich historical tradition which blends with the abundant repertoire of various folk heritage forms. The diverse forms of songs, dances and paintings portray the visage of the local populace entwined into their daily web of life. The traditions, folklores, religious beliefs and ritualistic practices are reflected in these forms.

We are working with 1500 rural artists practicing Lok Geet, Lok Gatha, Lok Nritya and Madhubani painting from nine districts of Bihar namely Gaya, Nalanda, Muzaffarpur, Madhubani, Saharsha, Supaul, Khagaria, Purnea and Madhepura.

Art Forms


Nirgun songs are woven around the theme of the souls meeting with God. The Nirgun followers are believers of a formless God. The believers of this school of thought see the Almighty in all the causes and effects of this world. Saint Kabir has been one of the main exponents of this thought process. Nirgun songs are a medium which the devotee uses to surrender himself to God. The underlying philosophy of the song is- ‘We have come into this world at His bidding and we will all return to Him. During our short time on earth, it is better that we do not get too attached to anything, material or otherwise.’ Like all devotional songs, Nirgun songs help people to maintain a balance, to develop a relationship with our Maker and totally surrender to His will. The local people harbor a kind of respect for the Nirgun artists as they consider them saints. The artists use the title ‘Dass’ once they become saints and start singing Nirgun songs, however, their family retain their original title. The lyrics of the songs have dual meanings. Besides the apparent simple meaning, there is also a spiritual message.

Ramleela often referred as Ram Dhuni is based on Lord Rama’s life story in small snippets. The form contains dance, song and role play. The actors use costume and make up relevant to different characters revolving around Lord Rama’s life. Only one person with the harmonium says the dialogues and the others perform.
One of the most eminent traditional folk dances of Bihar, Jhijhiya depicts a band of young belles adoring and offering prayers in the form of song and dance to please the king of Gods, Lord Indra, for rains and for better yield. The dancers sing and dance to please the Lord of Rain, with their deep devotion. This dance is said to be influenced by the Tantrik cult and performed mainly to protect people from evil spirits. The form is presently practiced by the marginalized community like Paswan, Harijan, Malhar, Chamar and Dom community. It is a dance performed by a group of young women. Songs are an integral part of the form. The performing women place pitchers, with several holes and Diyas (earthen lamps) inside, thus allowing light to come through the holes. The earthen pots carrying the lamps are called Jhijiya. On the lantern there is a Dhakkan (a cover made of clay) with fire burning and dried dung cakes. The women dance slowly with these lanterns so that the holes can be counted. The pitcher has a large number of holes, and should anyone be able to count the exact number, it is believed that the vessel will catch fire, and the woman carrying it will die.
It is a form popular in Muzaffarpur area and is primarily a folk song, dance and drama form. The form Chaupahara is said to have evolved from the idea to do away with the fear of flesh eating animals during nights. So they used to arrange these performances of Chaupahra in order to keep the villagers together and safe throughout the night. The form is primarily based on the theme of Krishna Leela. Chaupahra is performed in circular movement. At the centre of the circle sits the musicians with the instruments like harmonium, naal jhaal and mridang. The role players enact different stories on Krishna’s life in a circular movement outside the circle. Performers use make up and costumes enacting different characters of Krishna Leela.  Most of the text is improvised and doesn’t have any written documents. Gurus though illiterate have knowledge of the 'Hindu puranas'
Madhubani Painting:
Madhubani painting is a style of painting practiced in the cultural region known as Mithila, which covers a part of present Nepal (Janakpur, Sirha, Rajbiraj, Biratnagar) and Bihar (Bettiah, Muzafarpur, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, Mabhubani, Supaul and Saharsa).  Originally called Mithila painting, the art form came to be known more popularly under the name of Madhubani painting, as the Madhubani district has the largest concentration of artists, and came to be known as the main centre of production, export and research.Madhubani painting is generally classified into four styles:  colour painting, line painting, Godhna / Tattoo painting and tantric style. The colour painting as the name suggests uses various colours while the line painting is done with strokes of black ink. Red color is occasionally applied. The Tattoo or Godhna painting is generally paintings of different symbols. Tantric painting is distinguished from other style of Madhubani paintings mainly for the subject it depicts, such as manifestations of Maha Kali, Maha Durga, Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Ganesh along with tantric motifs.  The subjects of tantric painting are based on religious texts and characters related to it. The painting is basically based on scriptures. A picture depicting manifestations of Maha Kali has paintings of Kali, Tara, Bhubaneswari, Bhairavi, Chinnomastika, Bagala, Dhuma, Matangi and Kamala.

Success stories

    • 300 women painters of Madhubani have formed a business cluster Madhurekha to run their own business. They have developed market linkage with some leading designers and boutiques in Kolkata, Patna and Delhi.

    • In the village Satgharha, Madhubani Vidyanand Jha and Chaturanan Jha, both village gurus, used to sell their paintings for Rs 1000 to Rs 3000. Both of them had some supplementary earning from agriculture as well. Now they directly sell their paintings at exhibitions in the price range of Rs 5000 to Rs 7000. Vidyanand Jha now earns Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 per month as an average. He trains several young artists and does not charge anything from them. He can afford to indulge in this social service only because his income has risen at least five times than what it was two years back. More than anything else, both Vidyanand Jha and Chaturanan Jha have evolved as towering personalities who have taken up community ownership and responsibility of safeguarding the pride of their village.

    • Young Madhubani artists like Jyoti Kumari and Bandana Kumari have taken up community leadership roles, and are transforming themselves as well as other young artists into cultural entrepreneurs. Jyoti’s sense of color combination and her finishing touches make her work a brand in itself. Apart from painting she has also completed her Master degree in Psychology from Darbhanga University, Bandana Kumari is pursuing her graduation with sociology honors, she has evolved as a leader of the cluster.

    • Ravinder Yadav’s team from Sourbazar, comprising 8-10 musicians earns close to Rs 45,000 to Rs 50,000 from Jagrans, which are usually two night programs each. His guru, Durga Kant Jha earns around Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 every month from the artform.

    • Turi community, comes under the category of Maha Dalits.Earlier members of this community were only involved in hard labor tasks like digging work or cutting canals. Some of them also make straw baskets and sell them to fruit-sellers who use these baskets to carry mangoes. But now, some members of the Turi community are practicing their Lok Geeti for at least two to three hours daily. They have also been given some instruments and they are going out of the villages to perform. Shibu Turi one of the most prominent artists from this community has performed in many places across India. Several people visited the village during the festival. Hence, for the first time, the village could reach out to the outside world. This exposure ha build up confidence and a sense of dignity and community pride.

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