How 'Mithila' Museum in Japan is showcasing the Indian Madhubani painting?

The Mithila Museum, a brainchild of Tokio Hasegawa, located in Tokamachi hills in Japan`s Niigata region, stands tall as a global art exhibition: it houses about 15,000 exquisite Madhubani paintings, and exhibits these paintings to tens of thousands of visitors, mostly arts aficionados and artists from India throughout the year. As discussed in a previous post on Madhubani paintings, this ancient Indian art form, which dates back to the 7th century A.D, is on the verge of extinction sans patronage of the Indian Government.

The 60-year old Hasegawa does not want the Madhubani Paintings, which originated in the Indian state of Bihar, to disappear like “Ukioye”, a dominant Japanese traditional art form from the 17 century in Ado period.

The idea for the museum sparked to life when a students’ group having 80 Madhubani paintings approached Hasegawa in 1982. They had bought the Indian paintings when they toured Bihar, and were searching for a place to exhibit the paintings. Hasegawa had earlier left the bustling capital city of Tokyo to live in the isolated mountains in his pursuit to stay close to his artistic passions. A vacant primary school there was converted to a museum for this very purpose. He then toured India over 20 times — travelling from village to village meeting new artists, collecting their art works, motivating them and bringing them back home where they’re also offered food, lodging and a decent monthly salary.

Renowned Mithila artist Ganga Devi made her first appearance at the museum in 1988. Ever since, several Indian painters, including the 78-year-old artist Karpuri Devi, have been invited to practise their art form, making use of traditional techniques on a new material developed by the Mithila Museum. Hasegawa made full use of the opportunity to learn and understand more about Indian culture.

Besides being part of the NPO society, Hasegawa became an active campaigner to take Indian culture to the global stage, and in 2003 became the chairman of the organizing team of “Namaste India”, a festival that brings out the cultural values of India, held every year in Tokyo.

In addition to Madhubani paintings, he is also actively engaged in reviving other Indian art forms such as Maharashtra’s Warli folk painting and terracotta. You can see Giant terracotta figurines put on display at the large sprawling wooden museum, in addition to a Saraswathi temple. Only natural exotic colours like black from khol, red from geru and green from bean leaves are put to effect in the intricate painting form. No artificial colours are used to up the originality factor, though artists do a bit of improvisation on the subjects.

The 'Mithila' Museum has brought the two culturally rich countries of India and Japan together with harmonious artistic interface and cultural confluence. The Indian embassy here in 2007 awarded Hasegawa with special recognition for strengthening cultural ties between the two countries.