In the early eighties, Sachchidananda Vatsyayana led a group of Hindi litt?rateurs to all the places associated with the legend of Janaki, Janakapur being one of the most prominent among them. Later, he edited a lyrical travelogue Jan Janak Janaki to mark what he called Janaki Jiwan Yatra. In his preface to the book, Vatsyayana writes that to unearth the purpose of a journey can be the very purpose of it. The Mithila Yatra of a group of eminent Nepali and Indian visual artists at the behest of the Janakapur Municipality is a more recent trip of self-exploration.
The Yatra has produced a few fine canvases of
contemporary art under the blandly-named rubric "Made in Janakapur". Along with select pieces of traditional Mithila arts and crafts, these paintings are being exhibited at the Siddhartha Art Gallery. The Gallery plans to take the exhibition to New Delhi as well.
The renewal of interest in Maithili culture is not a day too soon. Ignored by the courts of both Nepal and India for about three centuries, Maithili art, literature and culture is stagnant. It lacks the dynamism and inventiveness needed to survive in a competitive world enamoured by the constancy of change. Novelty may not be culture, but a society that doesn't constantly inspire innovation decays and dies.
The works of art on display at the "Made in Janakapur-A Mithila Yatra" show are representative of the journey of sensitive artists to their inner selves. Paintings such as Aditya Basak's illusionary Maarich or Ragini Upadhyaya-Grela's deeply moving Marani Devi ko Betha can only be "made" when refined senses confront the soul. Such encounters are often independent of time and space. Despite that, the expressions that have come out of Mithila Yatra carry the resonance of their context, and convey the specificity of Janakapur. The "Made in Janakapur" tag may not be as hackneyed as it sounds in the first instance.
In these trying times, solace can be found in works of art that represent the real essence of Mithila-the ultimate triumph of truth at the end of every trial and tribulation in any society. Janaki wasn't born; she was the manifestation of mother earth, and her beloved maiti is not a destination. A Mithila Yatra is always a beginning, a spirit that Batsa Gopal Vaidya seems to have caught in his eponymous work (acrylic on canvas).
(The exhibition is on until 23 May at the Siddharth Art Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited, from 11AM-6PM daily, except Saturdays. For more details ring 411122.)