The phoenix of all the Indian art forms is the Tikuli art. Once a household name for the most rich and intricate art form, until a few years ago, faced the threat of extinction; or so to speak. Tikuli or the traditional Indian ‘bindi’ was once the most ornate form of art adorning the space in between the eyebrows of women. Dating back 800years, the art bears its origin in Patna, district of Bihar.
Tikulis were made by melting glass, blowing it to a thin sheet and tracing the design patterns in natural colours. These were further embellished with gold foil and jewels. The bindis embodied with elegant and detailed designs could be seen adorned by the queens of royal families and women of the like. The value of these tikulis was directly proportional to the amount of detail in the designs of them. They were commercially made available in the cities surrounding Patna during the Mughal times.
However the decline of the Mughal rule resulted in a serious blow to the art and the artists were left without jobs. Slowly, the machine-made bindis that proved to be simpler and cost effective replaced the ‘tikuli’ altogether and the art form remained dormant for years.
One Mr. Upendra Maharathi came as the messiah to revive this art form for its survival in the modern times. His tours to places in Japan gave a fresh direction to Tikuli art to start its journey yet again. The hardwood carvings and paintings seen in Japan became the new foundation for this art which went through further series of transformation becoming more ‘Indianised’. Stories of Mahabharata, Ramayana and Krishna are illustrated in these paintings. These paintings also derive certain elements out of Madhubani paintings which also find their origins in Bihar.
Today, the process involves carving wood into the shape required and finishing the edges to form a frame for a particular design. It is then painted with multiple coats of enamel paint. The entire piece is rubbed with sandpaper after applying each coat of paint giving the piece a different appeal with each coat. The other details of the design are painted after the final coat, completing the entire piece. Altogether a finished product would have gone through a number of tedious steps to get its final elegance. The brushes used here are made out of sable/squirrel hair and are available in different sizes matching the level of intricacy of each design. The steps of carving, edge finishing and tracing are done with their own range of tools and accessories.
Ashok Kumar Biswas, who is a Tikuli artist, has brought about this art form to the village folk of Patna with both men and women involved in making these. These paintings now provide employment to these people and is also reviving the art form considered lost and dying few years ago. The paintings can now be seen on coasters, wall paintings and hangings, vases, jewellery boxes and other artefacts. These artefacts are sold and exported across states and countries and the art form is now being represented in different art and cultural forums across nations. What once left its artists without jobs and homes is now reviving their lives and economy and in turn bringing financial independence to women. A true phoenix of Indian art forms indeed!