Madhubani paintings originated in a small village, Maithili, in the Madhubani district of the Bihar state of India, hence this form of art is also known as Mithila Art. It is traditionally practiced by the women of the Mithila region communities of India and Nepal. The themes of Madhubani paintings cover a host of celebratory occasions such as festivals, births and marriages. The artwork is characterized by its eye-catching patterns created using natural dyes and pigments and usually painted with finger, twigs, brushes, matchsticks etc.
History and Origin:
Madhubani paintings originated as a folk art around 2500 years ago but are still very much in vogue owing to its highly relevant themes to the modern times. In addition to reflecting the era of origin as well as the years that followed, Madhubani paintings have also been part of forest saving crusades and current women’s issues.
It’s a form of wall and floor art created by women in their freshly plastered homes to mark special occasions. The paintings depict man’s relationship with nature, spiritual scenes from ancient mythology and holy plants like Tulsi. The painting skills are passed on from generation to generation mostly by women in the family. Institutions spread across Mithila region, Kalakriti in Darbhanga, Vaidehi in Madhubani, Benipatti in Madhubani district and Gram Vikas Parishad in Ranti are some of the major centers of Madhubani painting which have kept this ancient art form alive.
Madhubani paintings are made from a paste of powdered rice, which is used to create the outline and framework. Earlier there used to be have five distinct styles that were created by women from specific castes, i.e., Bharni, Katchni, Tantrik, Godna and Kohbar. Weddings and religious ceremonies and cultural festivals are popular scenes in these paintings.
The artwork uses two dimensional imagery and there is almost no empty space in the paintings as the gaps and borders are filled by depictions of flowers, birds, animals, the sun and moon. Even geometrical patterns are used to illustrate love, devotion and prosperity. The colors used are bright and are derived from ochre clay, lampblack, and plants such as turmeric extract for yellow, sandalwood for red and indigo for blue. The figures in the paintings are made distinctive by their prominent outlines, bulging eyes and pointed noses.
Then and Now:
Madhubani has become a global art form over the years and hence, there are no more limitations in the styles being practiced by specific castes. All five styles are created without the basis of caste system.
The painting surfaces have transitioned from walls and floors to cloth, handmade paper and canvas but the use of fingers, twigs, pen nibs and matchsticks to draw is still in continuation.
Though the skills have passed through the generations, the themes and styles have remained consistent through the ages. Nowadays artists are using this medium to empower and make women aware by portraying current issues such as education and eve-teasing. In 2012, over a 100 trees were saved from being cut down by covering them with Madhubani paintings and spreading awareness among the public about pollution and global warming.
Madhubani artwork has moved beyond canvases onto everyday items like bags, cushion covers, crockery etc. and has found a popular international market among art lovers.
In April 2018, the Madhubani railway station has been given a complete makeover using traditional Mithila artwork by the local artists. Over 225 artists, a majority of them women, completed the 14,000 s. ft. wall project free of cost over a span of two months.
This is a unique and highly creative initiative by the Indian Railways and should be adopted in the rest of the country. Public places such as zoos, bus/railway stations and roadway features such as flyovers and dividers should be decorated with the relevant local art. Through this practice, the local artwork and craftsmen get a boost along with keeping our beautiful culture alive and kicking!