From Nepal to the World: Ajit Sah’s Elevation of Mithila Art to Global Prominence

Ajit Sah is a famous name in Mithila art from Nepal. He has made significant contributions to popularizing Mithila art not only within Nepal but also worldwide. He serves as a dynamic example that art can be promoted not only as a hobby but also as a business. Ajit’s artwork has been purchased by the US President’s office and various well-known museums around the world.

An Interest Since Childhood

Sah, who has been living in New York for 6 years, has been active in Mithila art for 38 years. Since the age of 18, Sah has been making significant contributions to the Mithila art world. Born in Janakpurdham of Dhanusha, Nepal, as the third son of Ram Sundar Prasad Sah and Phulkumari Devi, the 56-year-old Sah was once involved in designing handicrafts as well.

“I used to participate in school painting competitions with great enthusiasm. My love for creating pictures began during my childhood days. Whenever there were religious occasions, and my mother made pictures on the ground with rice flour, I aspired to replicate those images on paper,” Sah fondly reminisced about his early years.

During his school days, he would skillfully draw Mithila art using pen and pencil, often depicting elephants, fishes, and various Gods and Goddesses. The captivating story of the Ramayana, which he had read in his childhood, remained vivid in his mind, inspiring him to bring it to life on paper. “As a child, we would read the Ramayana at home. My mother would reward me with 2 rupees for reciting ‘Ram Charitra Manash’ in Sanskrit. Whenever we played, the proximity of Ram Mandir and Janaki Mandir, just 5 minutes away from our house, served as a constant source of inspiration for my artwork,” he recalled with a smile.

Ajit Sah says that his family was his first school of painting. He helped in household chores and the family business, which helped him understand society better. He struggled to capture the social environment through his art.

Using Mithila Art to Raise Educational Expenses

After completing his School Leaving Certificate in 2039 BS, in 2042 BS, Ajit Sah was forced to become independent when his father divided the property among all the brothers. At that time, he was not even married and faced challenges in continuing his studies. However, he used his skills to become independent, making and selling paintings, teaching painting to others, and offering painting classes on various surfaces like Bedsheets, pillows, Nepali paper, etc., to manage his expenses.

He also worked in a jewelry shop by adding butta (designs) for silver rent. Although he earned fifteen thousand rupees a month, his studies were interrupted due to his involvement in art for a long time. He continued his studies by staying at his sister’s house near Muzaffarpur, Sahebganj, Bihar, and graduated from Madhwapur, Bihar, India.

In around 2048 BS, a significant turning point occurred when a man invited Ajit Sah to the Christmas market at Solti Hotel in Kathmandu. His painting was sold for an impressive NRS 60,000, serving as a powerful motivator for him to venture into the international market and share Mithila art with the world.

Business Journey Started After Marriage

Even in his youth, Ajit Sah had a deep fascination with nature and religion. After completing SLC (School Leaving Certificate), he would often visit Badrinath and Kedarnath, and his love for the mountains remained strong despite being born in the Terai region. Interacting with spiritual personalities, sadhus, and sages was a source of great fascination for him. However, due to family pressure, he got married in Kalaiya, Bara, in 2052 BS.

In 2054 BS, two years after his marriage, Ajit Sah moved to a house he built himself and embarked on his Mithila art business. He formally registered his venture as “Janakpur Art and Craft” and extended opportunities to socially disadvantaged women. Approximately 34 women actively participated in creating Mithila art and handicrafts under his guidance. Ajit Sah would supply them with designs and concepts, and these talented women would work on the projects from the comfort of their homes during their free time, empowering them to generate additional income.

Introducing Mithila Art in Different Countries

From the year 2058 BS, Sah found more ways to take his business internationally. He participated in an art exhibition in Japan, which helped in popularizing Mithila art in Tokyo. After that, he participated in art exhibitions in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Singapore, as well as exhibitions in Kathmandu and Janakpur within Nepal.

He took part in six art exhibitions, not only in Iowa but also in six locations in Boston, USA. Additionally, he participated in two exhibitions held in Mexico. Furthermore, his artwork was displayed in the Mithila Art Exhibition organized under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in New York, where a total of 22 of his paintings were showcased.

He participated in more than 15 exhibitions in the US alone, and Ajit Sah’s art is also displayed on the walls of the Nepali Embassy in Washington, DC. There are nine Mithila works of Ajit Sah at Professor Diana Fox’s house in Rhode Island, USA. Ajit Sah’s art was also displayed in the Kyoto Museum of Japan.

From Nepal to the Office of the US President

He has gifted his art to the then President of Nepal Bidya Bhandari, the then Prime Minister KP Oli, the current Mayor of New York Eric Adams, and others. The then US President Bill Clinton’s office also purchased three of his works. His art is also displayed in various hotels in Kathmandu.

Sah helped in making Mithila art known internationally by reaching Italy, Belgium, Vienna, Germany, and other countries. He also worked from Nepal for a company called CTM in Italy, ensuring environmentally friendly art production without using harmful colors and labor.

A Solo Painting Fetched NRS 400,000 in the Sale

In 2018, during an exhibition in Iowa, USA, one of his paintings fetched USD 2300. This artwork depicted Vishnu’s incarnation and measured 20 inches wide and 32 inches long. However, he has also crafted larger paintings, including a 24-inch high and 40-inch long masterpiece illustrating the life cycle of a person and encompassing all rituals from birth to death. Remarkably, this particular painting was sold in Japan for NRS 400,000.

Ajit Sah has been honored with multiple awards for his outstanding contribution to Mithila art, including the prestigious Prabal Janasewa Shree from the President of Nepal, the Best Entrepreneur Award on two occasions in Nepal, and the Folk Art National Talent Award bestowed by the esteemed culture expert Satya Mohan Joshi. Moreover, he has garnered recognition beyond borders, being featured on prominent platforms such as India’s GTV, Japan’s NHK Television, and many others.

Making Other Artists Independent

Ajit Sah’s journey with Mithila art goes beyond personal success; he has also been instrumental in uplifting others economically. Through over 30 training sessions, he has imparted the skills of Mithila art to many, empowering more than 110 individuals, particularly women, to achieve self-employment. He expanded the horizons of Mithila art by introducing it in various forms, from clothing, furniture, and walls to dresses and jewelry. His artistic prowess extended to having his paintings featured in the calendar of Global IME Bank of Nepal, and Upendra Mahato’s industries printed his art on various product shells, including those of flour and rice.

Ajit Sah’s artistic journey is a harmonious blend of creativity and business acumen. Recognizing the struggles faced by fellow artists, he ventured into the business of Mithila art, aiming to promote it on the global stage. He takes immense pride in representing Nepali art and the nation’s flag worldwide.

However, despite his successes, Ajit Sah holds some grievances with the government of Nepal. He feels that Mithila art hasn’t received the level of importance it deserves from the authorities. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that over time, alongside thangka (a traditional Buddhist painting), Mithila art is gradually gaining recognition both in Nepal and abroad. Satisfied with his efforts to popularize this unique art form, Ajit Sah feels a sense of accomplishment, knowing that he has contributed to his country’s artistic legacy while achieving financial prosperity and earning self-respect through his unwavering passion for Mithila art.

A Touching Moment with His Father

Every parent nurtures the dream of witnessing their children flourish in the profession they choose. Ajit Shah’s father also aspired for him to pursue a career in Chartered Accountancy (CA). However, he disapproved of Ajit’s inclination towards Mithila art. In that era, achieving financial success through Mithila art seemed exceptionally challenging, causing strain in the relationship between father and son as Ajit followed a different path from his father’s expectations.

As time passed, Ajit warmly reminisced about the profound transformation in his father’s sentiments towards his success in Mithila art. His father expressed immense joy and emotions, conveying his overwhelming pride in Ajit’s accomplishments. Six months before his father’s passing, when verbal communication became impossible, he eloquently communicated his feelings through gestures, symbolizing his heightened sense of pride and affection.

On the eve of Ajit’s departure for an exhibition in Delhi, India, his father lovingly held his hand, signifying his deep desire to cherish precious moments with his son during his final days. However, during the exhibition, the heart-wrenching news of his father’s demise reached Ajit, prompting him to promptly return home.

When Ajit checked under his father’s bed, he found a collection of news clippings showcasing his achievements, serving as a poignant reminder of his father’s unwavering support and love for his son’s artistic journey.

The Dream of Opening a Mithila Museum in Janakpur

Ajit Sah passionately encourages aspiring artists who wish to pursue Mithila art, emphasizing the significance of folk art as the backbone of modern artistic expression and stressing the importance of persistence as the key to success. Despite facing numerous challenges and pressures to abandon his artistic pursuits for other paths, Ajit remained steadfast in his dedication to his passion.

Among his dreams is the establishment of a Mithila art museum in Janakpur. He envisions this museum as a vibrant center for promoting Mithila art and culture. While other countries like Japan and the UK already boast museums dedicated to Mithila art, Ajit firmly believes that having one in Nepal is essential. He aims to inspire and educate the new generation about the rich heritage and legacy of Mithila art.

Ajit Sah’s artistic journey is a testament not only to his talent but also to his entrepreneurial spirit. Through unwavering dedication and hard work, he has not only achieved personal success but also uplifted the lives of others by creating opportunities for self-employment and economic empowerment.

His relentless efforts to promote Mithila art on the global stage have earned him widespread recognition and accolades, both at home and internationally. Looking ahead, Ajit remains committed to realizing his dream of establishing a Mithila art museum in Janakpur, continuing to raise awareness about this exceptional art form, and inspiring future generations to carry forward its rich legacy. His remarkable story stands as an enduring inspiration to all artists and entrepreneurs, demonstrating that with passion, perseverance, and innovation, one can achieve greatness and make a profound impact on society.