By Tanvi Akhauri
Dulari Devi lives in a discrete village in Bihar where resources aren’t resplendent and dreaming of a luxurious life seems like luxury itself. However, with her regional tongue in Maithili and undying spirit of keeping alive the traditional culture of her state, Dulari Devi is connecting a thousand hearts across India.
Her story is rife with adversity, trials, subjugation, but ultimate deserving triumph. In her 50s now, Dulari Devi is recognisable as a recipient of the Padma Shri honour and an artist with an impressive body of work that contains knowledge – about history, mythology, culture – that may well become endangered and subsequently extinct if not preserved.
At a conference organised April 15 by the Indian Social Responsibility Network (ISRN) to honour the life and times of Dr BR Ambedkar, Dulari Devi was seated against a magnificent background of Madhubani art, in all probability her own. She recounted her journey, from a child bride to an accomplished artist, focusing on the need to retain folk art.
“Bachhe kitaab toh padh lete hain, painting sikhana padta hai,” she said. [Children can read books, but you have to teach them how to paint.] “When I teach them Mithila art, I make sure to introduce themes of nature and the fishing community I belong to. Traditions should not be forgotten, they should be preserved.”
Dulari Devi, who belongs to the oppressed Mallaah caste, was married off at thirteen to a husband who soon left her. A child she had during her early years of marriage tragically died. Today, she says, when she is asked if she has any children, there’s only one answer: “I may not have kids of my own. But all the kids of India are my children.”
The Madhubani painter is now renowned nation, even world, over for her efforts of art preservation and traditional skill – a step towards actualising the intersectional dream of financial and social empowerment Babasaheb Ambedkar saw for Dalit women.