A young entrepreneur who has revived an art form that was on the verge of being forgotten in the country of its origin, Trishna Singh Bhandari is a student of environmental law and has completed her Bachelor’s degree in India and Masters from Australia. As the founder of Mithila House, Singh has helped provide a source of income to many Nepali female artists by promoting Mithila art in an eco friendly way as well.
How would you describe Mithila Art?
For me Mithila art has a very personal connection. My ancestral background is from a small village named Aurahi in Mahottari. We used to visit our village frequently and back then Mithila art used to be everywhere. Just a glimpse would captivate you with its vibrant art style. You know there are so many narratives and stories to be told from just a glimpse of it. So, for me Mithila art is not only an art form but an entire culture waiting to be explored. It really shows what the tarai is actually about.
Can you tell us briefly about its history of origin?
So, Mithila art dates back to the 7th century from the time of King Janak. History tells us that the story of its origin starts from the era of Ramayana. For the holy matrimony of his daughter Sita, King Janak ordered a large mural of the wedding procession which spread from Janakpur to Ayodhya.
Another way to understand its history is by going through the research of a British Governor who while excavating, had found pieces of Mithila art on walls in India. It intrigued him so much that he started researching vigorously about the art. And what he found out was that Mithila art originated from Janakpur itself.
How is Mithila art different from other art forms?
This art form has many elements supporting it to convey a message of co-existence between people, nature and animals. Every element of Mithila Art has a history and meaning behind it. It symbolizes their lifestyle and their religious beliefs. So, this is what makes it unique from other art forms. It has a lot of narrative and history behind it.
Was this art form influenced by any other arts?
Not really, because it's an independent art form on its own. It is very old with a rich history. As far as I know, I don't think it was influenced by any other art form but it could be possible that this art form may have influenced other forms of art. But Mithila art is a genuine art in its own right.
What is the story behind opening Mithila House?
Basically when I returned to Nepal after completing my studies, I went to Janakpur where I met a few local artists, who used to make Mithila art on kettles and bottles. And they asked me if they could sell those products in Kathmandu. I told them to send pictures so that I could post them on my social media for marketing. I did all the market research on Mithila art products here in Kathmandu and found its art limited to simple things like coasters. But I wanted to take it one step further so I started Mithila House.
When was Mithila House established and does it have any other outlets apart from Sanepa?
We started Mithila House in 2018 but its presence was only in social media. We had no physical store back then. 2019 was the year when Mithila House got its first physical store. At the moment we don’t have any other outlets apart from Sanepa but are planning to open one in Pokhara, Butwal and Janakpur as well in the future.
Why does Mithila House think it is important to promote this art form?
When speaking about the cultural heritage of Nepal, if you see politically, socially and culturally, most of the times, madhesh and tarai aren’t given much importance. They are always a step behind. Whenever someone wants to give souvenirs or gifts to their friends, it's always either pictures of mountains or aakhe jhyal etc. Because of these biases and negligence towards the rich culture, history of the tarai and its arts, we here at Mithila House think it is important.
What sort of products can we find in Mithila House and are they customizable?
All our products are hand painted or hand embroidered. We have a huge range of products and services here in Mithila House. You can find Mithila paintings, Mithila art embroidered on masks, copper bottles, T-shirts, clothing such as sarees, shawls etc also depicting this art form. And recently we have also experimented fusing Dhaka and Mithila embroidery for that contemporary look. For the summer collection we have embroidery on linens which is customizable according to your preference. We also provide house decor, kitchen decor and art class services.
What measures are you taking to promote this art form and how has it impacted your life?
I really believe in collaboration and Mithila house is a collaborative set for it. We have collaborated with a bunch of other companies like Tekka for making Mithila art on banana fibers and producing various products. Similarly, we also are collaborating with Eco Orb who make papers from elephant dung on which we have Mithila paintings. Being an environment activist I have incorporated such traits in Mithila house as well. For me at the moment whenever I meet with people, they start talking about Mithila art which has really helped me to understand this art more and also to educate other people.
How many artists are currently associated with Mithila House?
Talking about artists we have two artists currently here with Mithila House as permanent staff. We also have about eight to ten freelancing artists who are young women studying and working at the same time. Apart from that, we have one collective in Baluwa, Mahottari. There are about fifty women working in that collective, ranging from 15-65 age group. So, we are working with three generations of women there.
What values do your products provide to your customers?
They can get the sense of belonging that they are actually purchasing something that is going to contribute to people from their own country. At the same time all of our products are eco friendly so using our products is indirectly helping them preserve the environment as well.
What message would you like to send to the people and youth for promoting Mithila art and other art forms as well?
I think people need to have a bit of collaborative spirit in them. If you want to succeed in anything, you have to have an open mind about everything. You have to learn to research your market thoroughly. As Kathmandu is a very small market, it is important to learn to collaborate with people to succeed here. We hear a lot of talk about promoting local or go local but actions speak louder than words. Only speaking about it won’t make a difference. We all need to act as well. We all need to do our own research about the local market.