Maithili Culture

Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Madhubani, Darbhanga, Samastipur, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Begusarai, Khagaria, Katihar, Madhepura, Saharsa, Supaul, Purnia, Araria, and Kishanganj districts in Bihar broadly form the Mithila region. The culture of this area is known as Maithili culture.

The language spoken in Mithila region by the majority of persons is the indigenous language of Mithila, Mithila-Bhasha or what is now called Maithili. This language resembles to a great extent with the Bangla language.

The custom of salutation is an integral part of the daily duty in this area. The manner of salutations, of course, differs according to the degree of seniority or superiority of the man to whom salutations are offered. Salutation with touching the feet or knee is supposed to be the most intimate and affectionate salutation. This, however, not offered to everyone. Rising of both hands and touching one's forehead and using the word " Pranam" or "Namaste" is the usual mode of salutation.

Whole of the Mithila region is essentially paddy growing. There are rivers, tanks, and marshes, which grow fish in abundance. The numerous mango orchards of Darbhanga in this region are famous for luscious produce in the summer.

The ponds and marshes grow water berries like Singhara, Makhana. There is a rich incidence of livestock and plenty of milk and milk products are produced. The moist climate of the district encourages a good outturn of vegetables. Plantain clumps, guava, Khajur and Tal trees are quite in abundance. Rice and pulses with their bye-products like chura, sattu, wheat, vegetables, milk, curd and other milk products like Kheer, Chhena, etc., form the essential diet of the common man who is not below the margin of subsistence. Fish, curd and sweets are very popular items and the non-vegetarians give fish preference to meat. 
The people of this area are extremely fond of papad. Amawat (dried mango juice cakes), Anchar (pickles), badi, preparations of Makhana and Singhara that occur in abundance. Savouries and appetizers like chatni, chauretha (fried leaf of tilkona mixed with powdered rice) are in great demand. Puri and Kachauri prepared in good ghee are still quite common in the village households. Plantain leaves are in common use in place of plates and Puri and Kachauris are often served on the thambapat (chip of the trunk of the banana plant). Vegetables are usually served in a typical Maithil home in small leaf cups (donnas) out of the banana leaf or khoksa leaf. On the average there will be 5 or 7 types of preparations of vegetables in the household. If more types of vegetables are to be served it should be in odd numbers. 
Usually vegetables are cooked without salt and especially among the Maithils salt is served separately. Milk, banana and sugar are served in separate leaf cups; Maithils take a lot of pan leaves with jarda (tobacco) and betel nut. The manner of serving the food is artistic and in great contrast to that in other areas. Mashed potato will be served in shapes of birds, boats, etc. Scrupulous neatness in cooking and serving food is observed in the Srotriyas house. Spices and condiments and chilies are much in use. Onion and garlic are also in use but not much by the orthodox Srotriyas.

The food in a Maithil Brahman house is very much akin to the food in a Bengali household in the interior of Bengal. Muslim influence is seen in various types of meat preparation, patronized more in the urban area. Some of these preparations are biriani, kalia, korma, kofta, kabab, and murga-mosallum. The other types of meat preparation like roast, cutlets, chops and various kinds of pudding are also in the menu of such persons. Tea drinking has become a common habit and teashops are to be seen often in big villages.

Since the majority of the population is still vegetarian, it should be mentioned that although the common vegetables of the different seasons in this part of the country are available in abundance, pickles of vegetables are also made. The cooking medium is still mustard oil, hydrogenated oil and ghee.

The dress of the Hindus of Mithila is a blending of different items of dress shared in common with people all over India. The distinction of their dress lays not so much in the articles of wear as in the manner of wear. There has also been an adoption of the dress after European style, introduced through long contact with the British, which has been more common in the urban areas.

The Maithil Brahman wears a sanchi Dhoti, Khutia Mirjai, Chadar, and keeps a gamchha (a towel) always on his shoulder, satha pag over his head and shoes. The peculiar headgear pag, a twisted chadar worn over the upper part of the body in a peculiar manner, an achakan or a long loose kurta with dhoti usually mark out a Maithil Pandit. But an orthodox Brahman still wears the prescribed dress and instead of modern shoes or sandals; he still wears chamaraundha shoes, etc. In the urban areas the Maithil dress is going out and pags are rarely seen.

The woman's dress differs from urban to rural areas. In Mithila women wear a sari in a peculiar manner. First there is an undergarment like petty-coat or janghia tied to waist near the navel. The sari is tucked round the waist but the peculiarity lies in the manner of tucking the koncha (pleats). The pleats are not tucked near the navel but on the left side of the waist and the anchal (edge of the sari) covers head. This traditional type of wearing a sari is common generally in the rural areas. In the urban areas the sari is worn in the more customary manner, i.e., tied round the waist with the pleats tucked at the navel and the anchal over their head.

Religious Beliefs
The people of the area are mostly Hindus, but the Muslims form an important minority. The Hindus are divided into several sects. There are Shaktas, Shavians and Vaishnavas. Shaktas worship Mother Goddess in her various forms, namely, Durga, Kali, etc. Shavians worship Shiva, Mahadeva with His consort Parvati or Gouri. Vaishnavas are devotees of Vishnu or his manifestations in Ram and Krishna. Besides this triad, i.e., Shakti, Shiva and Vishnu, Ganesha and Surya (the Sun God) are daily worshipped. The five constitute the Panchadevata of the Hindu daily worship.

Most of the major systems of Indian philosophy, namely, Vedanta (from Janak and Yajnavalkya), Mimansa (from Jaimini), Nyaya (from Gautam), Sankhya (from Kapil), Jainism (from Mahavir) and Buddhism (from Buddha) owe their origin to the land of Mithila, though indeed this region has always remained the bulwark of Mimansa. It was due to the onslaughts of the intellectual giants of Mithila mimansakars, such as Kumarila and Prabhakara, and of Mithila naiyayikas, such as Udayanacharya and other, that even during its halcyon days Buddhism could not penetrate into and become popular in the land of Mithila, the great center of Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu worship and the home of Sanskritic and Shastric learning.
 The only Buddhist influence that can be marked on the religion of the Maithils is seen in the tantric forms of beliefs and practices, which found favour here during mediaeval times. Maithils are Shakta in their original religious convictions. Every Maithil family has a temple of its own where one of the forms of Shakti is enshrined for daily worship. Since Shakti is the divine spouse of Shiva, Shaktism is only another form of Shaivism. Vaishnavism is a later influence, which percolated from the south.
 Thus the three main figures that have inspired the Maithils are Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu. Three-fold mark are worn on the forehead by the Maithils; the horizontal lines marked with ashes represent devotion to Shiva, the vertical sandal-paste in white represents faith in Vishnu and the dot of sandal-paste in red or vermilion signifies Shakti. Literary sources and archaeological finds at a number of places, however, testify to the popularity of some other divinities as well, divinities like Surya, Kartikeya, Balaram, Pradyumn, Aniruddh and Hanumant, all of whom were held in great reverence. Their carved presence, discovered on the doorframes of several houses, shows the multiplicity of gods and goddesses the Maithils worshipped. 
While the Vaishnava festivals, the works of Vidyapati, especially his versions of the Bhagawat Purana, the mellifluous Radha-Krishna lyrics and the Krishnaite songs of Umapati of Tirhut, reveal the hold Vaishnavism had on the Maithils, the images of Surya discovered at many places and the old Sun temple at Kandaha (Saharsa) with an inscription which has been traced to the time of the Oinwar Brahman ruler, Narsimha Deva, prove the prevalence of the Sun-cult as well.

The religion of a large number of the Mohammedans closely approximates to that of the Hindus. They freely indulge in superstitious observances and copy Hindu rites; some even join in the worship of the Sun and offer libations like Hindus; and one curious feature of the Shab-e-barat is the offering to deceased ancestors of puddings made of flour. The more ignorant have a pantheon of village gods; like Hindus they resort to exorcism in case of sickness; and it is perhaps not too much to say that with them Islam is not so much a question of religion as of caste.

There are certain forms of worship common among Mohammedans, which are neither based on the Koran, nor, apparently adopted from the Hindus. The most common of these is the adoration of departed Pirs. When a holy Pir dies, he is supposed to be still present in spirit, and his tomb becomes a place of pilgrimage to which persons resort for the cure of disease or the exorcism of evil spirits, or to obtain the fulfillment of some cherished wish.

The Panjikars
The Maithil Brahmans may be categorized into four groups- Srotriyas, Yogya, Panjivadha and Jaiwar or Srotriyas and non-Srotriyas. Even among the Srotriyas there are eight levels. Their marriage system is the same but they differ in certain rituals.

The Panji (Chronicle) system and the Panjikars (Chroniclers) have a great influence on the social and religious life of the Maithils.

It is said that during the reign of Maharaja Harisimhadeva, last of the Rajas of Mithila in the 14th century, an interesting case was brought to his court. A married female was held up for un-chastity and at first held to by guilty. She appealed for la reconsideration of her case. The case was re-examined and she was found innocent. This case compelled the king to call a meeting of the Brahmans of his kingdom. When the Brahmans assembled in the king's court, the king considered each and every Brahman's ethical bend and he evolved out the Panji system according to which a systematic genealogical table of every Maithil Brahman family and of the Maithil Karan Kayasthas was recorded and a class of people known as Panjikars (Chroniclers) had to maintain and continue this chronology. In fixation of marriage of a Maithil Brahman, these Panjikars maintain a list of boys technically known as "Adhikarmala". The relatives of bride's side chose boys or bridegrooms from this very "Adhikarmala". The Panjikars help them to give the ropes about the eligibility of marriage between a boy and a girl.

A village, named "Saurath", in the Madhubani district, at a distance of about 29 kms north of Darbhanga town, is the venue where a "Saurath-Sabha" is held every year during the Hindu calendar months of "Jyestha & Aashadha". This Sabha is a most auspecious social assemblage where the marriages of Maithil boys and girls are fixed up by the "Panjikars" (Registrars). Thousands of people congregate at Saurath village on this occasion.

The folk-dance tradition in Bihar has distinct streams. The folk dances of Mithila are religious, social or sectarian. In the religious type, gods and goddesses are invoked through the dance, performed to the rhythm of folk songs and such musical instruments as the Dhol (drum), Pipahi (an instrument like the Shehnai), Pakhawaj and Danka. The Ram-leela nach, Bhagat nach, Kirtaniya nach, Kunjawi nach, Naadi nach, Vidyapat nach and Puja Arti nach are all religious folk dances of Mithila.

Songs and musical instruments accompany folk dances for men and the footwork of the dancers is in tune with the Swar and Tal of the music.

Some of the dances, exclusively for women are Jhijhiya nach, Jat-Jatin nach, Sama-Chakwa nach, etc. The only mixed group dance is the Saturi dance of Mithila, apart from the mixed folk dances of the tribal people. In the family dance, called Bakho nach, the husband and wife participate on the occasion of the birth of a child or on a similar joyous occasion. The different lower-caste groups have their own exclusive dances, such as Chamar natua, Kanala mai nach, Dampha-Basuli nach (only for shoemakers), etc.

The regular history of Mithila music dates from Nanyadeva (1097-1133), a great patron of music and author of a standard work on this art. He developed the popular ragas on regular lines and influenced Mithila art to a considerable extent. Maithil musicians, who seem to have been more popular outside Bihar, enriched Nepalese music and carried the traditions of their land to Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Singh Bhupal of Nepal, a writer on music, was, in fact, no other than a Mithila ruler of the fifteenth century. A still greater name is that of Jagadhara, the famous fifteenth century Maithil commentator of Malati-Madhava.

The Maithils succeeded to some extent in preserving their rich art traditions. This art is exclusively practiced by the women folk of Mithila region. It is, therefore, also known as Mithila Paintings. Primarily it is an art done mainly by the Maithil Bahaman and Maithil Kayasthas and then it was followed by the other women folk of Mithila. Mithila Paintings are of two types. The one is Bhittichitra and the other one is Aripana.

Bhittichitra are mainly done on the mud-walls of a house at three places, namely (1) Gosain-ka-ghar (i.e. the room of the family goddess or deity "Kula Devi"), (2) Kohbar-ghar (i.e. the room of the newly wed couple) and (3) Kohbar-ghar-ka- Koniyan (i.e. the verandah or the outer side of the Kohbar-ghar where the friends of the bridegroom use to sit and chit chat). These paintings are executed by the Maithil women folk on the outer and inner walls of a house at the above mentioned places on the auspicious days like Vivah (marriage), Upnayana (janeu) ceremonies or on festival days like Dussehra and Deepawali or on the occasion of Vratas i.e. on the occasion of the performance of some rituals. These types of paintings on the mud walls of a house are commonly known as Bhittichitra.

The paintings done in the Gosain- ghar (Kula-Devi) include the figures of various gods and goddesses depicting Durga, Kali, Ram and Sita, Radha and Krishna, Shiva and Parvati, Gauri and Ganesha, the ten incarnations of Vishnu and the Sun and Moon whose presence through pictures bring prosperity and joy to the family. 
The subject matter of Kohbar paintings of Mithila may be classified in three types, namely religious, secular and decorative. The religious paintings include various gods and goddesses; while the secular and decorative paintings contain various symbols of prosperity and fertility such as elephant, horse, fish, lion, parrot, turtle, bamboo, lotus flower, puraina leaves, pan, flowers, creepers, swastika, shankha etc. Besides these we also find in these paintings aspects of agricultural animal life. The general motifs or the designs include conventionalized flora and fauna, circles in series, spiral or curvilinear devices, series of short lines and footprints etc.

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