Manjusha, meaning a ‘boat’ is a lesser known but a beautiful folk art of Ang Region of Bhagalpur, Bihar. It is practiced predominantly by the Malakar & Kumbhkar Castes.
What makes it stand apart from other art forms of the region is that it uses only three colours-Pink, Yellow, and Green. Watch this Video to find out what each of these colours stand for and why you should have one Manjusha at home. The paintings are also called Angika Painting, Snake Painting & Manjusha Kala.
Each Indian art form has a fascinating story behind it. Manjusha is based on the “Bihula-Bishari” folklore.
Whenever, I meet the young bubbly, full of life Anjana Devi, she fills me with Manjusha stories
Although a number of variations of the same tale have been passed on generation after generation but the basic essence remains the same. Here is the story behind Manjusha Paintings.
Story Behind Manjusha Art
There was once a couple madly in love with one another. The husband dies due to a snake bite. The wife is devasted. She fights against all odds to bring back to life her dead husband.
This story of how she brings him back to life has some enthralling narrations. The stories come from all regions of Bihar, e.g. the Savitri and Satyavan story from Madra region, and the more popular Bihula and Bala Lakhendra from Anga region etc.
Manjusha means a ‘boat’
And this boat is where all stories originate. The dead body of the deceased husband, Bala Lakhendra was taken in this boat which was covered with a cloth. Bihula, ensured that the cloth was covered with bright colours showcasing the events of Bala’s life uptil his death in a sequential manner. painted with all the events leading upto his death in a sequential manner.
Manjusha art is said to be the only art form in the history of India which has a sequential representation of the story and is displayed in a series pictorially. Hence, it is also called a scroll painting.
Ever since, during the auspicious month of August, Bishahari Puja, is celebrated. A box in the shape of a temple is made with eight faces that depict the Bihula – Bishari story.
Legends of Manjusha
When I went met the wonderful Anjana Kumari, she told at length all the stories. I would not be exaggerating when I say, Anjana had the story at the back of her hand. She doled out the story of Mansa Devi ,also known as Maya Bishahari, who was the adopted child of Lord Shiva.
I was flabbergasted, for frankly I had no idea that Lord Shiva had an adopted daughter!
“Manasaputri” apparently originated from Lord Shiva’s hair!
In fact, she was born along with 4 sisters. Slowly and steadily the ego of the 5 sisters or “Bishahari” (means poison carrying) inflated. Being Shankhara’s daughter they now wanted to be worshipped, especially by their father’s ardent devotee Chandu Saudagar.
Chandu Saudagar had his own ego. He refused. The Bishaharis got livid. In a fit of anger, they killed all of Chandu Saudagar’s sons with the snakes. Later they also drowned all his wealth laden ships.
Time went past. Chandu Saudagar was blessed with another son. The vicious (pun intended) Bishaharis came back and threatened Chandu that if he still refused to worship them, they would return to kill son Bala Lakhendra on his wedding night.
Years later, when Bala Lakhendra came of age, he was married to a girl called Bihula. Still scared of the Bishaharis, the father Chandu ensured the house was without a window or holes to keep snakes away. However, the 5 Bishaharis managed to enter his room and killed him with their venom.
This entire story was painted on the cover of that boat! And continues to be done so on sarees, dupattas, stoles, as also boxes.
Chandu Saudagar & Mansa
The credit of re-discovering Manjusha goes to W.G Archer who during his India visit in
1934 – 1942, was enthralled with this art. He in fact took this art to London where he arranged a big exhibition in India House to bring it into prominence. Shri Manoj Pandit, I am told is instrumental in encouraging and promoting Manjusha in India all over again. He was rightly then conferred the title of Shilp Guru for this art.
The story mentioned here is believe it or not 1/10th of the actual one and only dear Anjana Devi can relate it in full! When she sits to translate these folk and mythological tales onto the coasters, dupattas, and sarees, she seems to be transported to another world. This simpleton of an artist is super excited each time I meet or call her to place orders. Almost apologetically, she explains “Didi, time lagega” (it shall take time). “Haath ka kaam hai na.” (it is handmade ).
I smile and assure her to take her own time. Handcrafted Stories-take effort, time and love. And so come with a price. Much deserved.