Tikuli Art…The revival of a lost craft of Bihar


About 10 km eastwards from the centre of the capital city Patna,lies the old area of Patna. It is called the Patna city or Patna Sahib,being a sacred place for the Sikhs.The tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Shri Guru Gobind Singh ji  was born here.Unknown to many, this place has also seen the origin of a very unique kind of craft,about 800 years ago , popularly known as ‘Tikuli Art’.This art belongs to Bihar and you cannot find it elsewhere.

The word ‘Tikuli’ means ‘Bindi’ in the local language which is a colourful dot worn by the women on their forehead.The Bindi signifies good marriage.With the passage of time,now the Tikuli Art is no longer confined to the foreheads of the women in the the form of Bindi, but has taken various other new forms.It has now transformed into various types of beautiful designed paintings,wall overhangs,boxes,mobile stands etc of different sizes.However, you may be surprised to know that at one point of time, this art form has died and vanished.This has happened because of very less number of patrons of this art available due to the rise of cheap industrial products.In spite of very less demand and their own struggle of survival, some creators of this art did not lose hope and took the initiative to revive this art.Now, you can find this art almost everywhere, right from your drawing room to public places.

Tikuli Art
Tikuli Art (Picture Credit :- Kislaykomal / CC BY-SA)


Tikuli art originated about 800 years ago in the ‘Bindi’ form.Initially,it was created by melting glass.It was then embellished with the gold foil and then various kind of detailed designs were engraved on it with a very fine pen.The work required very high skill,hardwork and time.It also looked very beautiful and luxurious.Therefore,it was highly valued by the kings and noblemen and there were many patrons of this art.With the passage of time, the raw materials used for the creation of this art became a bit costly and hence the artwork too.Further,due to industrial revolutions, various sorts of cheap industrial products became available which started substituting this art.As a result, the demand for this art sharply fell down.

To stay in the business,the artists started exploring new methods to reduce their cost and increasing their revenues.Initially,the tikuli art was only done in Bindi form on glass.The small pieces of glass was a bit difficult to handle.Later,The artists started making design and artforms on larger glass sheets with gold foils.After some time,the gold became costly and the government also started regulating gold.Therefore, the artists started to use enamel paints in place of gold in their craft.

In the year 1954,this art saw a major change.One of the artists, Shri Upendra Maharathi was on a visit to Japan.He observed there that some artists were selling their artforms made with enamel paints on timber.An idea struck him.As glass was a bit difficult to handle,he thought to use timber in place of glass.And,later this thought proved to be a game-changer in the development of Tikuli art.He came back to India and started experimenting with timber and enamel paints with his colleagues in his institute.This experiment proved to be very successful.In first place,it was very safe and easy to handle as compared to glass.Secondly, it was durable and can be easily transported.With the advent of time,various forms of timber like hardboard,MDF etc. came along which further refined this art.

This art kept on flourishing till 1984 when it suffered a major blow by government.Till that time,the Government had been supporting the artisans by buying their art forms and promoted it.It then sold and marketed it through its own channels.The artisans got the money in quick time from the government and did not have to bother on its sale and marketing.It was good for them to focus on their art without worrying about their livelihood.But,in 1984, the government changed their policy and stopped this scheme.The new decision of the government was highly demoralizing for the artists.Now, as the demand grew lesser and lesser, the artisans started facing problems to earn their bread and butter.Slowly, one by one,all the artists switched over to different means of earnings and this craft completely died within a few months.

Tikuli Art
Tikuli Art (Picture Credit :- Kislaykomal / CC BY-SA)

This art may have died forever,but another turning point came in 1996.In 1995,one of the technicians of Cultural Development Commission (Handicrafts),Ministry of Textiles under the Central government,Shri Kamal Narayan Karn,met Shri Ashok Kumar Vishwas,while he was imparting training to his students on Tikuli art.Shri Vishwas had been working and imparting training in this field for last 20 years by that time. Shri Karn was very surprised to see this arts still living and requested Shri Vishwas to revive this art.Very Soon,Shri Vishwas met with the senior officers in the ministry who assured him of all his support and an exhibition was planned.The exhibition was eventually organised in 1996 in the famous Dilli Haat of New Delhi where this art got a new life. The exhibition was highly successful.The government provided further support and soon Shri Vishwas was able to organise many exhibitions at major places and trade fairs with enormous success.Till date, Shri Vishwas has organised more than 100 exhibitions and also represented his country many times abroad.

The best exhibition of my life was in Thimphu (Bhutan) in SAARC International Trade fair where not a single piece of my artwork returned back to India (all the artworks were sold).All the representatives of different countries invited me to come to their country and exhibit my artwork.I went to many countries and also sent the artwork to other countries.

—Shri Ashok Kumar Vishwas,in an interview with DD (Bihar) (Translated from Hindi)

Now,Tikuli art is being admired by my people and many artists are getting their livelihood from it.Many training centres are being run by Shri Vishwas and various other people like him.Some of these centres also impart free training to poor and skilled women which helps in supplementing their income and empowering them. Now, the artisans are stressing on creating durable utility products like mobile stands,trays etc. with Tikuli art so that its popularity and acceptance among the general public will further increase.

Process of creating Tikuli Art…

  • First the hardboard or other similar base material is cut into various shapes and sizes.
  • After cutting,the rough side edges are rubbed with sandpaper to make it smooth.
  • Then it is painted with enamel paint on one side and left to dry for 6-10 hours.
  • Once dried,the back portion is painted with enamel paint and left to dry for another 6-10 hours.
  • Once both sides are dried, the hardboard is rubbed with sand paper to make it smooth and shiny.
  • The process is repeated for four coats of enamel paint on both sides.
  • After 4 coats, the hardboard becomes very smooth and then painting of various designs and figures is done on it with very fine brush usually made with sable or squirrel hair.The theme of the paintings usually range from the stories of Ramayan & Mahabharat,various Gods,festivals,weddings etc.Sometimes,some inspiration from the famous Madhubani painting is also taken.

The revival of this art has only been possible by the resilient efforts of many craftsmen of Bihar,the most notable of them being Shri Upendra Maharathi and Shri Ashok Kumar Vishwas.Every craft needs to adapt itself against the upcoming challenges to sustain itself. Tikuli art is a perfect example how a craft has adapted itself to overcome the challenges of shortage of material,decrease in demand etc.This could have only been possible by the different innovations at different phases and forms.Today, Tikuli art is transforming Bihar by creating income generation opportunities for many people,especially in the rural areas.This art of Bihar has huge potential and needs to be taken to new higher levels by further promoting it.

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