From 1933 to 1942 he advocated a literary-cultural revival as he worked in the publishing house, Pustak Bhandar, in Laharyasari, Darbhanga. In 1942, he was appointed a special Designer in the Department of Industry, Bihar. In 1954, he visited Japan to attend the UNESCO International conference as Indian representative. He became skilled in ceramics, lacquer and metal works. In 1955, he founded the Institute of Industrial Designs with the purpose of encouraging and developing folk art and craft of Bihar. After his death the Bihar Government named it as “Upendra Maharathi Reseach Institute”. In 1969, he was awarded Padamshree and in 1976 was nominated as a member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly. He died in February 1981.
Ancient Kalinga (Orissa) held a place of honour in the cultural map of India and was in intimate relationship with the surrounding countries, but she always held her own individuality. During the first century B.C. Emperor Kharvel of Chedi dynasty built the richly sculptured gumphas (Caves). We can still witness a series of sculptures depicting a story like Sakuntala’s near Bhubaneswar. The sculptures are so life-like and artistic that they attract us like the beauty of a lotus. They have all the beauty and originality of folk art. These sculptures in a sense may be described as the forerunners of the Ajanta creations. The unknown masters made the mouths of caves from uncut rocks look like tigers. These caves at different places are known as Byagragumpha (Tiger cave).
In the long and colourful artistic history of Orissa decorative art and its depiction of the forest civilization hold a special place. These ornamental decorations open a new vista before us and do not constrain our imagination.
To appreciate the art of Upendra Maharathi one has to remember this sense of freedom, for his art assimilates the culture and spiritual freedom expressed in the poem Geeta-govindam, Odisi dance or Chhau dance.
Bengal school of art was deeply influenced by the Frescoes of Ajanta and to a certain extent by the Gupta Vakataka art technique. The disciples of Abanindranath – especially Surendranath Kar, Mukul Dey, Manishi Dey, Sudhir Khastagir – attempted to give a broad based culture to this movement. Abanindranath invited traditional artists like Giridhari Mahapatra of Orissa, Iswariparasad Varma of Bihar and the wood craftsman, Dhanapati Acharya, from the south to join the Calcutta school of art. Abanindranath brought to his new art and painting the traditional wealth and vigour of Indian art. Upendra Maharathi carried on this great cultural heritage.
Since his childhood Upendra was deeply influenced by contemporary folk art and culture. His later artistic creations are like the undisturbed melody of a spiritual song.
He was inspired by the folk art of Orissa, its rhythm, freshness, continuity, richness and simple ornamental style and strength of assimilation. So when he joined the Calcutta School of Art in 1925 as a student, he had the capacity to digest the new aesthetics and art, the urban technique, sense of colour and form and the sophisticated art vocabulary. Maharathi digested different and even contradictory aspects of Indian art and evolved his own idiom of expression in the orchestra of indigenous art.
When Upendra Maharathi was establishing himself as an artist, the paintings of Nandalal Bose demonstrated the influence of the traditional art of South Asia and yet a vigourous authentic style of his own. This was revolutionary. One has to note that the stream of south Asia’s painting and culture was largely treceable in the ancient paintings of Orissa and Andhra. Did Upendra Maharathi ignore the message of this new art movement and cling to his hereditary views or was inspired to new ventures? It seems that more than paintings, Nandlal Bose’s creations in handicraft opened a new world of expression for him.
Those were glorious days of Bihar in the area of history and culture: Acharya Kashi Prasad Jaiswal and his close associate, Rahul Sankrityayana deserve special mention. Shri Upendra was then associated with the publishing house “Pustak Bhandar” of Lahariyasrai like the famous literateures of Bihar. Acharya Shivpujan Sahai, Dinkar. Benipur Prafullachandra Ojha “Mukt”, Janakiballabh Shastri, Nepali, R.C. Prasad Sinha, Monoranjan and others. The spirit of this wide literary culture must have left its imprint on the paintings of Shri Maharathi.
In the context of the session of Ramgarh Congress, Desharatna Rajendra Prasad inspired the publication of a pictorial book in which the ancient glory of Bihar was revealed in a very attractive manner. We believe that the paintings printed in that volume are all well preserved and possibly there were portrait paintings from Janakrishi to Babu Kanwar Singh. We have not seen such paintings anywhere that meaningfully capture the times, the culture and the spirit of the land and people in artistic expression.
Shri Upendra was entrusted with the construction and design of the main gate and pandal of the Ramgarh Congress session. The splendid and novel decoration of the gate and pandal asserted the vigour of folk art. In a sense, a new movement in folk art was initiated in this Congress session. In 1932 Shri Maharathi joined the famous publishing house, “Pustak Bhandar” and school books published by “Pustak Bhandar” contained the sketches and ornamental designs by Shri Maharathi and his name became familiar to thousands of school-going children in Bihar. It was a silent cultural revolution. He left “Pustak Bhandar” in 1942.