According to Hindu legend, Mithila painting originated during the wedding of the divine couple at the heart of the Ramayana, Lord Rama and Sita, daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. In celebration, the king asked his people to create heaven on earth, and they did so by painting murals on their homes. For generations, the women of Mithila painted murals on their mud homes, but as time went on, brick became a more popular building material, and mural painting decreased. Mithila painting traditions were carried on with the use of other supports, including paper, cardboard, metal, and fabric.
The Janakpur Women’s Development Center is a women-run NGO based in Kuwa village in southeastern Nepal. Its mission is to promote Mithila arts and economically empower Maithil women through art and crafts. Currently, the center employs 40 women who work in five sections at the center to produce fine art, screen prints, embroidery, ceramics, and paper mâché crafts.
Manjula Thakur is manager of the painting section at the Janakpur Women’s Development Center. Like many of the other women in the collective, she learned to paint from her mother, who painted gods on the local sacred pavilion built for Brahmin boys’ haircutting ceremonies. She says becoming a professional artist has helped her build a better life for herself and her family while connecting to her family and cultural heritage, and she has used her income to send her son to school.
The JWDC is recognized for having developed innovative products based on Mithila culture, including paintings on paper, cardboard masks, embellished watering cans, and colorful stuffed animals that bring traditional Janakpur paintings into three dimensions. To date, the center has trained hundreds of women who carry on the aesthetic and spiritual legacies of their ancestors through the arts.