A non-descript village of Madhubani in the north Bihar district has attained a unique distinction. Jitwarpur village, some 180 km from Patna, has become the only village in the country where its three residents have been awarded Padma award. All the Padma Shri awardees are women and the three got the national award in a span of four decades.
Jagdamba Devi, Sita Devi and Baoa Devi are internationally known Mithila artists who propagated the Mithila painting and made it famous not out of Bihar but across the world.
The first to get Padma Shri was Jagdamba Devi. She had been painting the mud houses in her village with her work particularly during marriages and other festivities and would get a few bucks in return. Her nephew Kamal Narayan said that her popularity reached to the chief designer of Union Textile Ministry Bhaskar Kulkarni. After the famine in 1961-62 Kulkarni visited Jitwarpur and was quite impressed. The reports of her artistic work reached to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cultural adviser and friend Pupul Jayakar who highly appreciated and her name was recommended for Padma award which she received in 1975. She passed away in 1984.
The global recognition of Mithila painting was made possible by Sita Devi who though did not belong to this village but had her sasural there. She started working on this art under Jagdamba Devi and promoted by Kulkarni. Her grandson Prabhat Jha said that Eric Smith of Germany and some other foreigners did research work on her works. later on her works were exhibited in USA, Germany, France and Japan. She got the Padma Shri in 1981 and died in 2005.
This year Baoa Devi has been named as Padma Shri awardee. She took the popularity of Mithila art to new heights. She was also a disciple of Jagdamba Devi and started working at the age of 12 after her marriage. After the drawing the designs on paper and cloth, she began sketching and painting on canvas and changing track from the traditional designs she selected the big events for her canvas in black and white as well as in colour, like the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Relaxing in her makeshift ‘studio’ at the Patna Book Fair in Gandhi Maidan here, she was a bit disappointed over the lack of public interest in Mithila artwork and said more awareness about this traditional art was needed to be generated. But she was happy over response abroad. Devi who visited Japan more than a dozen times has exhibited her works in USA, France Germany and other countries.
“I sold one of my paintings in 1970 for Rs 1.50 and two years back my painting was sold for Rs 1.25 lakh in Delhi,” said Devi. A team of artists from Japan has also documented her work.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Germany last year had gifted Hannover Mayor Stefan Schostok a painting by Baua Devi.
Devi came to know about the Padma Shree to her from her village folks even though she was in Delhi but the TV at her home was not working.