Etymology: The word ‘Manjusha’ is associated with many interrelated folktales and deities. In the literal sense, ‘Manjusa’ is the Sanskrit word for a box.
Origin: Manjusha is an ancient folk art of Ang Pradesh, presently known as Bhagalpur in Bihar. The art form can be traced back to the 7th Century, but it thrived in the years between 1931-1948.
Location: Manjusha paintings originated from ancient ‘Angapradesh’, which currently includes parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
Relevance: Manjusha paintings revolve around folklore involving the legend of ‘Bihula-Bishari’. These paintings were drawn on boxes which were used by devotees to store ritualistic items for ‘Bishari Puja’. Another ritual that involves Manjusha paintings is one in which the groom is expected to apply vermillion powder or ‘sindoor’ to all four Bisaharis and only then can he join his bride to the ‘Mandap’.
Significance: It is believed that Manjusha art started as a depiction of the flora and fauna that exists around the region of Bhagalpur. The Bihula-Bishahari story also illustrates the immediate steps one should take if bitten by a snake, which touches upon the importance of Ayurveda.
Culture and Societies: Earlier, this art was produced by only two families. The Kumbhakar community would create pots or ‘kalash’ and decorate them with Manjusha paintings, whereas the Malakars would make Manjusha structures and adorn them with Manjusha motifs.
Religious significance: The Kalash and temple-structured boxes are worshipped during the Bishahari puja as locals believe that worshipping the deity would empower them with her strength and protection. Women pray to Bihula for their spouse’s protection and good health.
Understanding the Art
Style: Manjusha paintings only use three colours: pink, green, and yellow. An important and defining factor of the art form is its borders, which are filled with patterns of leaves, triangles, and snakes.
Central motifs: This art form is primarily based on mythological folktales and the motifs, such as ‘Padmavati’, ‘Mynah Bisahari’, ‘Dhothila Bhavani’, ‘Maya/Manasa Bisahari’, ‘Jaya Bisahari’, ‘Chando Saudagar’, and ‘Kalash’ .
Image Courtesy: manjushakala.in
NGO Disha Gramin Vikas Manch and has NABARD launched a three-year ‘Manjusha Art Development Programme’ in all of the sixteen Bhagalpur blocks to revive and preserve this folk craft. Fifty activity-based groups and the large-scale Manjusha Crafts developed under this programme.