Mithila Museum in Japan

Mithila Museum in Japan
Partha Desikan

The following recent news release through Bihar Times is heartwarming. Mithila is dear to Indian minds because of its hoary association with the incomparable heroine of Ramayana, but its association with the very special Madhubani art form of Bihar is no less significant.

It does not seem to matter that there is some uncertainty as to which part of the region is believed to have housed Janaka’s capital.The traditions of the ancient art form are inextricably linked with the name of Mithila. One hopes that the first sentence in the report is an exaggeration and that Madhubani is not really endangered.

Patna, (Bihar Times): The traditional Madhubani painting and several other art forms may be facing extinction in India, but they have found some lovers in far away Japan. The Land of Rising Sun can boast of a museum exclusively dedicated to their preservation.

Do not get confused: Mithila Museum is nowhere in Bihar. It is situated in Tokamachi hills in Japan’s Niigata prefecture. It is a brainchild of Tokio Hasegawa, a musician of repute. The Museum is now a treasure house of 15,000 exquisite Madhubani paintings and attracts hundreds of artists from India throughout the year.

“I did not want this spiritual (Madhubani) art form to disappear like our own ukioye (Japanese art from the 17 century in Ado period). Today even if we want to set up a museum we cannot as most of our paintings are with collectors and museums in the west,” says 60-year-old Hasegawa on his endeavour to save the art form that originated in Bihar.

“The paintings are being kept at the museum for eternity,” he told the news agency PTI. The idea for the museum came when a group of students approached Hasegawa with 80 Madhubani paintings in 1982 which they had purchased during a trip to Bihar and were looking for a place to exhibit them.

Hasegawa, a 16th generation Tokyo resident and a renowned musician, had at that time “escaped” city life to live in the mountains to be more close to his music and god.

“So we decided to covert a vacant primary school for a museum,” says Hasegawa. With this began a long journey which took him over 20 times to India––collecting art, encouraging artists and bringing them over to Japan.

Since 1988, when the world renowned Mithila artist Ganga Devi came to Japan, the Mithila Museum has invited various painters who practice their art form using traditional methods on a new material developed by the museum.

Hasegawa would travel from village to village in search of artists and then met Ganga Devi.

The artists are provided food, lodgings and a monthly salary during their stay.

Seventy-eight year-old artist Karpuri Devi says: “I have come nine times to stay at the museum and really like being here. We practice our art and Hasegawa helps us with new ideas.”
Hasegawa as tried to learn more about Indian culture. Along with NPO society, he was part of a campaign to popularise Indian culture and in 2003 became the chairman of the organising team of Namaste India, an annual festival showcasing the country, held in Tokyo.

He says he overcame financial problems and the apathy of governments and officials but friends and families helped him through.

On the awareness among the Japanese people about the Indian culture, he says it is not an easy job but don’t stop the cultural interactions as these are helping to bring the two countries closer.

Recognising his contribution towards strengthening relations between the two countries, Hasegawa was given a special award by the Indian embassy here last year.


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