bhagalpur: the manjusha art of bhagalpur and its adjoining areas is struggling for survival due to lack of proper encouragement from the government and social organisations, unlike madhubani paintings of the mithila, zadopetiya of the santhal parganas and other folk arts of bihar. the artists associated with it are now compelled to switch over to other trades in order to make both ends meet. incidentally, this art is also attached with the mythological background of ancient bishari puja of the anga desh - by which name this zone was known centuries ago. manjushas are temple-shaped boxes, made of bamboo, jute straw and paper. according to mythological beliefs of the local folks, lord shiva had five manas putris (adopted daughters) -- bhawani, devi, jaya, padma and maina. the daughters, also named as bisharis, had a desire to be worshipped on earth (mrityulok) and they told their father about it. but, lord shiva put a condition -- only if his devotee chano would agree to bow down before them, he would accept their proposal. according to the legend, chano, who was a merchant of champanagari (modern bhagalpur), refused to comply with their wishes. this infuriated the bisharis and as a result, they killed all the six sons of chano and also drowned his ship. soon after the tragedy, sonika -- chano''s wife -- gave birth to the seventh son, bala, who on attaining adulthood was married to an ujjain-based trader''s daughter bihula. despite such a long span of time, the wrath of the sisters had not subsided and they threatened chano to kill his son on the very night of the marriage. chano, however, had prepared a house of iron and bamboo as a precautionary measure, but that could not save bala from instantaneous death by biting of a naag (snake).
bihula then prepared a manjusha-shaped boat and proceeded towards swargalok (heaven) to request the gods to revive her husband. the myth says that the gods were pleased with her concern towards the husband and thus, bala got back his life. when bihula returned from the heaven, she persuaded chano to worship bisharis. and, since then bishari puja is observed in the singh lagna (when sun enters in the zodiac sign of leo) of bhadra month of the hindi calendar for three continuous days. local folks believe that by worshipping the bisharis (the goddesses of snakes), they shall not have any fear of snake-bite. speaking about the manjusha art, chakravarti devi (65), the most experienced of the 20 odd proponents of this art form, said, "only three colours -- red, green and yellow -- are used in manjusha making. the manjushas depict human beings in the form of the letter ''x'' and it also portraits bisharis with their snake force with the weavy lines of decoration. but, we are now able to prepare only 500 manjushas, while in the past we used to prepare more than 2,000 manjushas. it is probably due to decline in the number of ''bishari bhagats (devotees)." she laments about the present status of this art, "sarkar na to paramparik kalaon ko samajh sakti hai aur na hi inki hifajat kar sakti hai (the government can neither understand nor save the traditional form of arts)."