Arts - Crafts - Music - Dance - Drama

As would be expected of any ancient civilization, Bihar has a very rich tradition of folk art. In the north, the predominant theme are from the myths and legends of Hinduism. The Hindu deities, Lord Rama and His consort Seeta; and Lord Shiva and His consort, Parvati, form the main theme of folk paintings. Lord Krishna and His consort, Radha, are not as common a theme as they are in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Also included, either under the guise of the Hindu deities as couples, or more overtly by paintings of man and woman as husband and wife, is the theme of procreation. These paintings frequently adorn the nuptial chamber, the kohbar, of a newly married couple on their wedding night.

One of the art forms of Bihar, the Madhubani School of Painting, has lately received much attention and poularity. There are quite a few websites devoted to Madhubani painting. Hence their effort will not be duplicated here. Rather, the viewer is encouraged to visit one very scholarly of these sites. I simply would like to add that the credit for bringing recent and massive popularity to this art form goes, in large measure, to the Late Lalit Narayan Mishra. In his capacity as the Minister for Railways in Mrs. Indira Gandhi's cabinet, reproductions of these paintings adorned the coaches of many fast and super-fast trains, beginning with the Jayanti-Janta Express (Samastipur to Delhi.)  Copies of the paintings became a hot-selling item for both native and foreign travellers. The reproductions could be found in plenty, for instance, among the hawkers in the bustling streetside market along the Janpath (near Connaught Circus) in New Delhi - a must for the foreign tourist! Credit is due also to Mr. Bhaskar Kulkarni, erstwhile member of the Indian Handicrafts Federation. He was the first to organize an exhbition of this school of paintings at New Delhi in 1967. This brought instant international recognition.
The background of this page is from a madhubani painting. Please click here for the original image and some explanatory comments about the image (the latter, of course, only for those who may need one!)

Mention must be made of the Patna School of Painting or the Patna Qalaam, which sadly does not exist any more. This offshoot of the well-know Mughal Miniature School of Painting flourished in Bihar during early 18th to mid 20th century. The practitioner of this art form were descendants of Hindu artisans of Mughal painting who facing persecution from the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb found refuge, via Murshidabad, in Patna during late 18th century. They settled in the eastern part of modern Patna, in Patna City, in the following areas: Lodikatra,  the Chowk, Diwan Muhalla, and Machharhatti. They found patronage from th zemindars (landlords) and the British officials. They shared the characteristics of the Mughal painters, but unlike them (whose subjects included only royalty and court scenes), the Patna painters also started painting bazaar scenes. This was not just an artistic expansion, but was indeed a shrewd move! It not only enriched the style of painting, but also brought commercial success among the common citizens including British officers and their wives.  It is, of course, not the purpose of this short narrative to give a detailed account of this lovely and distinct art form that flourished in Bihar for almost two centuries. However, the following may be stated here: It is this school of painting that formed the nucleus for the formation of the Patna Art School under the leadership of Shri Radha Mohan.  From a modest beginning in one single room on the Govind Mitra Road in Patna, it has  blossomed into the Government School of Arts and Crafts, currently housed in a large building near the Patna Museum.  Radha Mohan was a disciple of Shri Mahadev Lal (circa 1860-1942), the last Master of the Patna qalaam. Some examples can be found at the Gallery located in the School mentioned before.

After lying in a moribund state for years, the Patna School of Arts and Crafts now is showing signs of life. Prof. Anunay Choubey, a renowned teacher of English in the Patna University, the author of an authoritative dissertation on the American poet, Ezra Pound, and a gifted artist in his own rights, only recently (September 1999) has been named to head this intitution. And, we are delighted to report, he has accepted this responsibility. We wish Anunay Godspeed in this very important responsibility. Under his able leadership, we have no doubt, the former lustre will be restored to this august institution, and the traditions it represents will become vibrant again, in no time.


The artisans of Bihar have been very skilful in creatings articles from local materials. Baskets, cups and saucers made from bamboo-strips or cane reed are painted in vivid colors are common articles found in Bihari homes. A special container woven out of sikki grass in the north, the "pauti",pauti and other containers.jpg (87637 bytes) is a sentimental gift that accompanies a bride when she leaves her home after her wedding. Indeed, for the bride, next to the wooden container for "sindoor" (=vermillion), namely, the "sinhora", this is a precious gift  that she treasures for her entire life. In the picture on the right, the "pauti' with its lid partly open occupies the center. If you wish to view an enlarged image (87k), please click on the picture.

The weavers of Bihar have been practising their trade for centuries. Among their products in common use are the cotton dhurries and curtains. They are produced by artisans in central Bihar, particularly in the Patna and Bihar-Sharif areas.  purdah1.jpg (14635 bytes)purdah2.jpg (14745 bytes)

These colourful sheets, with motifs of Buddhist artifacts, pictures of birds, animals, and/or flowers, gently wafting in the air through doors and windows, blown by a cool summer breeze, used to be one of the most soothing sights as one approached a home or an office! [Two examples are represented here. For an enlarged view, please click on the picture.]

Woolen carpets are woven in the Obra area of Aurangabad district.

The weavers of the north, particularly in the Madhubani and Darbhanga area, under the influence of Gandhiji, beginning around 1917, after the succesful Champaran satyagraha,  started spinning cotton on their charkha and producing Khadi cloth by the "miles"! This practice continues. After independence the weavers were organized into Weavers Co-Operatives. Their product is sold through outlets of the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan.

wpe2E.jpg (9853 bytes)Bhagalpur [to map] is well known for its seri-culture, manufacture of silk yarn and weaving them into lovely products.  This silk is of a distinct and special type. It is known as the tussah or tusser silk. Here is a link to a commercial site specializing in silk products including Tusser || And another one. Besides Bhagalpur, other areas in India well-known as centers of silk weaving are - Kashmir in the north; and in the south, Bangalore and Tanjore

Biharis, not well-known for self-promotion and entrepreneurship, did not exploit the commercial potential of these products for a long time. After independence, Shri Upendra Maharathi, originally from Orissa and himself a gifted artist, made a great deal of effort to revive and popularise Bihari arts and crafts and bring it commercial success. With support from the first Chief-minister of Bihar, Shri Shri Krishna Sinha, he was very successful. The result was the formation of the Bihar State Cottage Industries and Handicrafts Board. This organization supported the artisans and sold their products through their own outlets, The Bihar State Cottage Industries Emporium, located thoroughout Bihar and also at New Delhi, close to Connaught Place on the Baba Khadak Singh Marg among the emporia of various states.  However, like everything else, this activity also languishes in present day Bihar.


Folk-music is an integral part of daily life all over rural Bihar. The songs of shepherds grazing their herd, riders hauling produce or goods on their bullock-carts, or men-folk gathered under the shade of a banyan or peepal tree during summer or around a fire in winter, fill the air with their sweet and haunting sounds. Meanwhile, women also, milling wheat or maize on a hand-mill- "the chakki" or "jaanta"  entertain themselves by singing while doing the chore.

Many songs are associated with the seasons, festivala or rituals. During the monsoon season as the much need gentle rains come down, young women on their swings sing songs called, "kajari", "jhoomar", and "barahmasa" (roughly translated, the Four Seasons!) "Chaiti" and "baisakhi" are songs of the hot summer season. Folk-songs are an integral part of the chhath festival. Also, during the spring season, the festival of Holi, (the rites of spring) is associated with its own raucous songs, the "phag" or "phagua" with the accompaniment of a huge drum, "the dhaal".

A wedding is enveloped with folk songs, each distinct for the many parts of the ceremony, and climaxed by the heart-rending songs accompanying the bride's departure from her old home where she had spent her entire life till that time, leaving all her kith and kin behind for her new and unknown home, the home of the bride-groom. These are the songs of "bidai". It is indeed a rare soul who is not moved at the lyrics and sounds of these songs. Another kind of folk-song, and a joyful one, is"the sohar", which celebrates the birth of a baby.

Some recently written songs, particularly in Bhojpuri (the language of Champaran, Saran, Bhojpur and also of eastern UP), have acquired the status of folk songs. They are "firangia" written by Manoranjan Prasad Sinha (late Principal of Rajendra College, Chhapra); and "batohia" written by Babu Raghubir Narayan. The enormous success of the first Bhojpuri film, "Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chhadaibo" (1960's), has contributed much to popularize folk-songs of Bihar. Indeed, there are many recording studies at present in Patna which record these songs for commercial purposes. One of the leading exponent of Bihari folk-songs is Shrimati Bindhyavasani Devi of Patna.


Unlike Bharat Natyam of Tamilnadu, Odissi of Orrissa, and Manipuri of Manipur no distinct Bihari dance form has received recognition. Santhal dance.jpg (51437 bytes)However, the people of Bihar, particularly the aboriginees of the south, posses a very rich and distinct dance form. Their dances in the forest, specially at dusk, performed under colorful flowering trees, such as the palaas, are captivatingly romantic. Indeed, it has been rightly said that dance and music are the very fabric of adivasi life without which life will not exist for them! A picture, alas, just a picture, is on the right. If you wish to view an enlarged image please click on the picture.

A well-known folk-dancer in the north was Shri Bhikhari Thakur. His dances to the tune   of Bhojpuri folk-songs was extremely popular.

Among the current leading exponents of a classical or light-classical Indian dance form, kathak, is Ms. Shovana Narayan. She, and her troupe, have performed all over the country and at many places abroad. This distinguished daughter of Bihar is also: (i)  a Gold Medalist M. Sc. in Physics from the Delhi University, (ii) an officer of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service, and (iii) the wife of an Austrian diplomat, Mr. Traxl, currently accredited to India as Ambassador of Austria!

Credit must be given also to Shri Hari Uppal for his success in building a magnificent School of Dance at Patna, the Bhartiya Nritya Kala Mandir. This is situated close to the AIR studios on the Fraser Road.


Folk-drama always had a place in the Bihari culture. Examples of this can be found in the ram-lilas enacted at various times in the year and also episodes from the epic Mahabharta. Also, particularly in the north, during the marraige season, light hearted performances of "netuas" can be seen. "Bahurupiyas", prevalent more extensively in West Bengal, can also be found performing in villages and on city streets, particularly in the south. Drama had always occupied an important place in Hindi literature. Indeed, as pointed out elsewhere on this site, one of the earliest piece of Hindi literature is a drama, Bhartendu Babu Harishchanda'smoving play, "Harish Chandra". (Scholars reading this piece will probably be reminded also of Kalidasa, Banbhatta, and Shudraka, of ancient India and the Sanskrit literature.) Bihar had many writers who distinguished themselves as playwrights. Among them are, Prafulla Chandra Ojha "Mukta", Jagdish Chandra Mathur, Acharya Devendra Nath Sharma, and Dr. Jitendra Sahay. With the establishment of the Patna station of All India Radio (AIR, in late forties) the dramatists of Bihar received much recognition. Muktaji became a full-time producer and director of radio plays at the Patna station of th AIR.  One of the most successful playwrights, though in a regional language, namely Bhojpuri, was Professor Rameshwar Singh "Kashyap", a native of Sasaram and Professor of Hindi at the Patna University. His creation.."Loha Singh"..centered around the character of a retired British Army veteran of that name and played by Kashyapji himself, was a regular weekly feature of AIR Patna. It is no exaggeration to say that things would come to a standstill, all over Bihar, at every episode that was broadcast. Huge masses of people (not owning a radio-set) will gather around "paan" (betel) shops in the evening to listen to the broadcast . Scenes and dialogues were mimicked by the masses for weeks! Professor Kashyap died recently of diabetes.

Shri Rambriksha "Benipuri" (of the Muzaffarpur district) was a distinguished playwright. Due to the great quality of his work, the noted thespian, Prithvi Raj Kapoor (perhaps, better known as the father of his famous sons - Raj, Shami, and Shashi - of Indian cinema), had become a close friend of Benipuriji and was a frequent visitor to Bihar.

Dr. Ghoshal,  an eminent physician and Professor of Medicine at the Patna Medical College (then Prince of Wales Medical College) was an ardent fan of drama. Under his patronage many plays using local talent were performed - in Hindi, Bengali, and English. He was responsible also for bringing many touring companies to perform, mostly at Patna. Under his initiative, a theatre was built - the Rabindra Bhavan, on Beer Chand Patel Marg (formerly Gardiner Road.) Earlier stages available in Patna were at the Wheeler Senate Hall on the campus of the Patna University, and the Lady Stephenson Hall, in Central Patna; and, of course, in auditorium of colleges and schools.