Today, Dulari Devi is a well-known artist and illustrator in Mithila or Madhubani art. However, this Padma Shri Award 2021 recipient’s life journey so far is an extraordinary story of passion and dedication. Almost akin to a fairy tale, it is enchanting and magical in more than one way. Surprisingly, her fairy godmothers came in the form of none other than the legendary and award-winning Mithila artists, Mahasundari Devi and Karpuri Devi.
Born in 1968 in Ranti village in the Madhubani District in Bihar, Dulari Devi belongs to the Nishad (fishing) or Mallah community. Considered one of the most marginalised sections of society, her journey from a downtrodden caste to a domestic helper to a Padma Shri awardee is nothing short of inspirational.
Dulari Devi’s Early Life
Dulari Devi’s social and economic status very early on in life, left her with few choices. Her family lived in a straw house with a thatched roof. She never went to school or received a formal education. She was married at the age of 12, but she was not happy with either her husband or in-laws.
Two years after her marriage, she decided to call it quits and returned to her parent’s home. She worked as a labourer alongside her mother, but after a while, she found a job as a domestic worker. As luck would have it, she worked in the home of renowned Madhubani artists Mahasundari Devi and Karpuri Devi.
Dulari Devi’s Artistic Beginnings in Madhubani Art
Madhubani art is a popular and traditional art form that is practised in Bihar. Inspired by Mahasundari Devi and Karpuri Devi, Dulari Devi often enjoyed drawing patterns with twigs on the floor of her hut. But her mother discouraged her from drawing as she believed it brought the ill omen of poverty.
However, it was during the training sessions in the home of Mahasundari Devi that Dulari Devi held the paintbrush for the very first time. Two Madhubani stalwarts – Mahasundari Devi and Karpuri Devi painted and conducted training classes for Madhubani paintings. And in their home, under their guidance and patronage, Dulari Devi found her true artistic calling.
Also, as a domestic helper, she assisted both Mahasundari Devi and Karpuri Devi in preparing the canvas or placing and arranging all the materials required for painting, etc. She familiarised herself with the materials, requirements, and methods of Madhubani painting, as she was surrounded by an artistic environment.
In fact, she remembers that while helping Mahasundari Devi prepare for her sessions she was even paid extra. But of course, she is ever indebted and grateful to both the artists for teaching her and guiding her to find both her imagination and style of painting. Both the artists encourage Dulari Devi to not copy paintings, but to use her imagination, to try different designs and patterns, and to find the inherent joy that comes with creativity.
Also read: Madhubani Painting: Bihar On The Front
Dulari Devi: Training and Practice In Madhubani Painting
Devi Ji’s stint as a domestic helper helped her find her first solid footing in the world of Madhubani art. Her exposure to the greatest in the field paved the way for her to achieve and discover her own greatness.
Though the artistic foundations were laid in the home of Mahasundari Devi, Dulari Devi learned the academics and technicalities of Madhubani paintings form at the training institute. Gauri Mishra established an institute to train rural women in Mithila art in 1983. Karpuri Devi enrolled Dulari Devi in this training institute, where she began her formal training and slowly came to be known for her creativity, style, and skill.
Dulari Ji was commissioned to create several art pieces for a documentary about women painters from Bihar, ‘Better to be a Tree than a Girl’. The film is in the research stage and Dulari Ji will star in it as well.
Her paintings also became her source of professional income. She started painting on canvas and also on sarees and other materials. In fact, she sold her first painting on canvas for a mere five rupees. Karpuri Devi was also instrumental in building Dulari Devi’s career as an artist. Whenever she visited Japan or other countries, she took with her paintings of Dulari Devi.
Dulari Devi: Career and Painting Style
Dulari Devi practises both forms of Madhubani art: Katchni, or line sketches, and Bharni, or colour-filled paintings. But she prefers the Bharni style of art more. Her paintings have been displayed in several exhibitions and museums. For instance, her 2018 painting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving at a village in a helicopter’ was exhibited in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. She has also painted several pieces for government offices and instructs children at the Mithila Art Institute in Bihar.
Besides, she published her illustrated autobiography, ‘Following My Paint Brush’ in 2011, which was co-written by Gita Wolf. Martin Le Cause wrote her life story in the French book ‘Mithila’. Princeton University purchased her paintings on the impact of COVID. Overall, though most of her paintings are on traditional Madhubani subjects, such as Gods, Goddesses, the natural environment, etc., she has also demonstrated through her paintings the themes of women empowerment, current affairs and social scenarios.
For her immense contribution to the Madhubani art form and her inspiring journey, Dulari Devi was awarded the Padma Shri in 2021.
Dulari Devi: A Master Artist at Rooftop
Dulari Devi continues to strive in her field, making it clear that there is no stopping talent. The sheer will to learn and find one’s passion and conviction, no matter the odds, is what Dulari Devi manifests throughout her life. Also, she is aware of passing on the baton and giving back to society and thus often visits various schools to teach Madhubani art. She has been instrumental in teaching the younger generation of her family too, including her nephews and nieces.
In her journey as an art instructor, Dular Devi Ji’s collaboration with Rooftop has been valuable in making Madhubani painting accessible to art lovers who are keen to learn and practice this artform. The 10-hour-long in-depth course is completely online, self-paced, and available in both Hindi and English.
She goes into detail about the art form in Rooftop’s Madhubani Maestro Course, covering the history, colour theory, basic motifs to advanced compositions, her experiences as an artist, how she derives inspiration from daily life, and much, much more. Download the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store to learn more Madhubani art from Dulari Devi.
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