Aripan: Folk Paintings Of Mithila

Dr. Ram Dayal Rakesh

In various Aripan designs, painted in various colors Shiva-Parvati, Vishnu-Lakshmi and various other gods and goddesses are produced with great originality and imagination. Aripan is an example of the prevalence of the Shakti cult in Mithila. Mithila woman specialize in it" (R.K. Chaudhary 1976). The Aripan painting is very auspicious and famous in the whole Mithila region. It has been derived form Sanskrit Alepan which means to smear, and therefore smearing basically refers to the ground with cow dung and clay for ritual purification of space. It is also called Mandala. This  Aripan art is drawn on the several auspicious occasions such as puberty, conception, chhatiyar of newly born child(sixth day rites after birth), Mundan (head shaving of a child), Brata Bandha (sacred thread ceremony), initiation into learning and marriage ceremony. It has different names according to different regions such as Alpna in Bengal, Mehdi in Rajasthan, Rangoli in Maharastra , Chaukapurna in Bhojpuri area, Mandala in Tibetan art and Aripan on Ahipan in Mithila region. This tradition of Aripan is found in Grihyasutra.

The Vastu Purusha Mandala is a schematic mental map of the basis for rationalizing any site. It is not a measured drawing or a contour map, but a code which enables a reading of the site and a resolution of its design. A piece of land once assigned to a dwelling becomes the Mandala within which the world of a man is organized. Its features becomes the features of the Mandala, which in turn adopts its shape and terrain. The concept of the Vastu Purusha: Mandala acts through a site, without which it remains physically non-existent; an ordered field can not exist without a field.


Sun Aripana by Sudhira Karna    Asthadal Aripana by Indrakala Nidhi    Aripana for Kartik Ekadashi by Sudhira Karna


In Brahma-Puran the word Bhumi-shobha(beauty of land) has been used for Aripan. In Naisadha Charitra this word had been used. So, it is a crystal clear that this art has a long and lovely tradition. Its original form is semi geometrical and floral diagram. Each diagram has well-defined center on which a sacred pot, and a plate are kept for ritual purposes.

Aripan is drawn and depicted for purification and beautification of a piece of ground. So, it is painted on the main entrance gate of a house, thresholds and courtyards. It is also decorated in the main residential room. The young and old woman can exhibit their talents and skills while drawing it. Its    diagrams and designs have Tantrik background which is a matter of research. Thus, the Aripan art is more decoration than the floor paintings.

There are many kinds of Aripan art which are depicted and drawn for various purposes. One kind of Aripan is drawn on the auspicious occasion of Tusari Pooja. Young unmarried Maithil girls draw it to get good husbands. Its duration is from Makar Sankranti to Falgun Sankranti.

In this Aripan, they draw temple, moon , sun Navagrah (nine planets). There is Sanjha Aripan which is depicted for worship of Sandhya Devi(goddess of evening). The whole cosmos is drawn and shown in the form of a temple. Panch Dev(five gods) and Sapta Rishis(seven sages) are also depicted in the shaped of lotus Aripan.

Sasthi-Pooja-Aripan is painted when young girls start menstruation. This Aripan symbolizes the creation and destruction of the universe. The Gatra-Sankrants Aripan is the symbol of birth and death. It depicts different phases of life. The Kojagara Aripan is drawn on the leaf of Makhan or, the full-moon festival which falls on the full moon-day of Aswin(September) to please Lakshmi(the goddess of wealth). Chatu Shankh Aripan is drawn on the occasion of Devothan Ekadashi. The figure of sankha (conch shell) is drawn in four corners. Deepawali or Diwali Aripan is know in the Mithila region as Sukharatri Aripan which is depicted to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Swastik Aripan is painted for blessing the younger generation.

Madhu Shrawani Pooja Aripan is drawn on the auspicious occasion of Madhu Shrawani which is celebrated after the marriage ceremony of bride and groom. Dashpat Aripan of men is drawn by woman on the floor. Dwadsha Aripan is drawn on the ground after death of a family member. Gawaha Sankranti Aripan is drawn on the door of Kuldevata(clan deity)in the month of Kartik. Kalyan Devi Pooja Aripan is drawn to celebrate the Kalyan Karika Devi worship (welfare of goddess and planets). Dashpat Aripan is also drawn by woman on the occasion of cultural activities. Different designs of lotus having five petal refers Panchdev(five gods). The third lotus having seven petals represents Saptarishis(seven sages).

Mauhak Aripan is drawn and designed after the marriage ceremony, Sashti Pooja Aripan is depicted to honor Sasthi goddess.  Its main purpose is to generate motherly power in young girls. Shastha Dal Aripan is made to please the mother goddess Bhagwati.

Thus this Aripan art is very cosmic in nature and playful in expression. It is also very bright and beautiful art to look at. The material which is applied in the Aripan arts is mixture of powdered rice with some water. This paste is called Pithar. The woman folk dipping two fingers into the pithar make graceful geometrical diagram with different designs on the mud floor of their living houses, courtyards and thresholds. They also smear red powder on it to make it beautiful. It also points our prominence of a mother-goddess. Three inner triangles symbolize Gauri who is the favorite goddess of the Maithil maidens. Aripan also shows Shakti cult which has a strong hold in Mithila.

Another Scholar has this opinion about Aripan Art of Mithila:

"Aripan are mostly in the nature of semi geometric floral diagrams. Each diagram has a well-defined center on which an installation of sacred pot plate, a basket or a seat is made for ritual purposes. The intricately patterned diagrams are dotted with vermilion at specific pints. Most of these are in the form of a lotus flower or plant." Jyotindra Jain: Expression in Mithila: Tradition and Painting.

Lotus is the common motif in the Mithila art. It signifies the universal life-force and the opening of the consciousness of the divine. It is the Hriday Kamalam, the centralized lotus motif or the sahasradala padmam the thousand petaled lotus which is depicted in Aripans. Lotus is associated with Lakshmi, Vishnu and Brahma but it is mainly associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. the Maithil women draw her feet pointing towards the inside of the house to signify the entrance of the goddess of plenty and prosperity. People worship Lakshmi, the goddess of riches who has been gracing their homes every year and persuaded her to enter once again to provide boons and blessings. 

To conclude, Mithila art has folk motives in its roots which is deeply associated in the Maithil culture. This culture is made to be known all over the world due to its invaluable artistic beauty and legacy. Mithila folk art is getting popularity in the whole world day by day. It has been sprouted spontaneously and has a long tradition. It has been handed down from generation to generation. This saying befits here"Folk art, being a spontaneous expression of the people, retains the past experience of the community and yet also has a vital existence in the present. No wonder, therefore, that is has influenced many movement in art. Its main strength lies in the ability of the creator to visualize and present an object as he sees it and knows it – as well as conveys the experience of the generations before him". Jasleen Dhamija. Indian Folk Arts and Crafts. PP.74.

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