By Nivedita Nidhi
Mithila, which for some reason has now become synonymous with the famous Madhubani paintings on the contemporary cultural map, has a history of its own. The complete academic mapping of Mithila as a profound historical and socio-cultural centre has not yet been attempted. However, studies have been conducted in a few domains to uncover the marvels of Mithila. Yet, such studies also require comprehensive exploration. Madhubani Literature Festival (MLF) takes strong cognisance of the various customs, social settings, livelihoods, small-scale industries, cuisines, and handicrafts, which are especially embedded within rural communities, and subjects on the fringes, hoping to draw global attention to the phenomenon called Mithila. MLF is a fest for and by the villages; a carnival, to celebrate human expression in its myriad forms. The common idea associated with a literature festival is that it is a congregation of writers and readers. MLF, on the other hand, is a space to witness an integrated cultural sensitivity, a platform to express the differences, with the goal of finding and enriching common values. It has been held in different parts of India since 2018, providing an iconic space to relish the cultural flavour of Mithila as well as to understand the dynamics of cultural expression, especially with the onset of cultural discourse, which focuses on the experience, consciousness, and meaning that is derived from mutual interaction between people and technology. The idea is to explore everyday life that contains a story within itself. The connotations and symbols, attached to each aspect of society, are documented and presented through the many events of the fest. The previous editions of MLF took place in historical villages like Saurath and Rajnagar. Rajnagar, a major heritage tourist attraction of Mithila, hosted MLF, which is not just a fest but a movement to highlight the plight of this heritage, along with other cultural facets of the region such as Maithili literature, Mithila art, folk traditions, cuisine, culture, lifestyle, and philosophy (the region is home to four out of the six major Astika (theistic) traditions of philosophy, namely, Nyaya, Mimamsa, Vaisheshika, and Samkhya). The basic idea was to bring together the literary traditions and cultural practices, to ‘celebrate the local’, to integrate the communities of India and Nepal, and to let the world acknowledge and imbibe the rich and brimming culture of this region. Saurath, the historic seat of Mithila, was chosen to refresh the memory and the relevance of prolific institutions such as Saurath Sabha and the Panji system. The fourth edition, to be held in Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University, Darbhanga, from December 12 to 15, is an attempt to explore the “rurban” (rural and urban) set-up while bringing attention to the historical Sanskrit University, and fostering an academic milieu. In Mithila, dalaan is a verandah or open space for reception of visitors, found in almost every house. Apart from its literal meaning, there is an obvious connotation attached to dalaan—a space exclusive to men. MLF came up with the idea of Stree Dalaan. The goal was to reform the traditional set-up while being inclusive with the regional language to indicate the social behaviour that attaches connotations to almost every aspect of living, e.g., a verandah. Stree Dalaan is a space bringing together women from all walks of life: rural to urban, employed, and unpaid, it promotes a women-centric and women-inclusive discourse. It is a metaphor that talks about providing women space where they feel a sense of belonging. The question that is addressed here is, when men have uninhibited access to the aangan (the inner courtyard), women must and should be integrated into the usually male-centric dalaan and no space should be static or exclusive. Aripan is yet another event from MLF that displays the rich art, symbol, nature, and spirituality of the region. The festival is a one point display of the rich handicraft, stone pottery, white metal statuettes, bamboo artifacts, sikki work, Sujani craft, and much more. The emphasis is on the assimilation of the rural population. Literature, at its core, is the expression of a society; MLF is a platform that records the expression of the villages, and facilitates a dialogue between the rural traditional cultural expression and urban contemporary cultural impression. The idea is to document literature, and create a development-oriented discourse, assimilating and engaging the rural population. The Mithila body politic has a deep cultural segment that has been the epicentre of societal ethos. As a development-centric fest, it focuses not just on the celebration of culture but also includes and aims at bringing the societal concerns into the mainstream of discussion and consequent action at the grassroots level. It engages and encapsulates all the components that function as a building block of the cultural congregation. Among the many objectives, the focus always remains upon making a social, economic, and cultural impact on the very basic but vital unit of the festival—the small-scale industries. The local people involved in bookselling, handicraft, home decor, weaving, painting, printing, and so on, have high potential, which is often neglected in the technological race that has captured attention. While these people do labour-intensive work, their efforts are neglected due to a lack of platform and a reasonable market. The festival is dedicated to enabling these groups with a space where they can showcase their products to the mass consumer from different regions of the country. A confluence of multicultural discourse, it promotes local artists’ engagement with contemporary means of marketing. The organising committee lays emphasis on involving local groups in the making of traditional cuisine, site decoration, and pamphlet printing. Thus, every effort is to ensure income generation for the small-scale industries. An international exhibition, Vaidehi, will contain bamboo frames to adopt the idea of ‘Go Green’, and at the same time, promote the bamboo handicraft workers. The Bagghi Heritage Ride, in the fourth edition of the festival, will offer a spectacular view of the historic town for the riders, and income for the hard-hit carriage-owners.