Practised for epochs, “Madhubani” an ancient art from the Mithila region in the state of Bihar, India and adjoining parts of Terai in Nepal is one of the popular Indian folk art. The name “Madhubani” translates to “forests of honey”. Madhubani paintings are also known as Mithila paintings as this art pattern has its roots in the Mithila region. This region carries a rich cultural bequest in art and literature. Traditionally the artists were women and even today this is one of the existing artistic activities of the women of this region.
When talked about Mithila paintings, one automatically relates to the connection between this style of painting and the famous Indian epic Ramayana. According to history, the origin of this style of painting dates back to the period of “Sita Kalyan” (Wedding of Sita) in Ramayana. It is said that King Janaka, father of Sita, commissioned a number of artists to create paintings of the marriage of Ram and Sita. Thus, Madhubani art was born.
Madhubani paintings are just not a pattern of bright colours and shapes, but a canvas of lively characters that narrate an intricate story that highlights cultural ethics of harmony, surprises, truth, love, and deep philosophical import. Most paintings are based on the stories from the 2 classic epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The images in the paintings denote the richness and proliferation of life. Madhubani paintings reveal the social structure as well as cultural identity of Bihar and the styles of painting have been changing from one generation to another. There used to be a tradition that the newly wed bride and groom would spend three nights in the “kohbar ghar” (Wedding chamber) without cohabiting. On the fourth night they would consummate the marriage surrounded with several colourful painting. During the traditional times, paintings used to be done on freshly plastered mud walls of houses. Nowadays one can find Madhubani paintings on canvas, cushions, hand-made paper, cloths, utensils, wall hangings and even bangles.
Traditionally women artists express their skill through powdered rice paste, organic colours and dyes obtained from trees, fruits, flowers and spices to add colours. These days, artists have started using acrylic or poster colours too. This folk painting is done by hands, twigs, brushes, pen nibs and matchsticks. There are two different kinds of brushes used - one for small details that is made out of bamboo twigs and the other for filling in the space that is made from a small piece of cloth attached to a twig. The designs and aesthetics of Madhubani paintings have long been an inspiration for many fabric designs. Madhubani paintings is generally done in three ways:
- Wall-painting (bhitti chitra)
- Canvas-painting (pata chitra)
- Floor-painting (aripana).
Among these the wall-painting and the floor-painting are very popular in Mithila region.
The attributes portraying almost all Madhubani paintings are:
- Use of bold natural and synthetic colours, a double line border which is not left empty but filled with simple geometric designs or with ornate floral patterns on it. No part of the painting is left open.
- Symbols, lines and traditional geometric patterns supporting the main theme. The symbols used in these paintings have specific meanings. For instance, a fish symbolize fertility, procreation and good luck, peacocks are associated with romantic love and religion, and serpents are the divine protectors.
- The paintings of deities or human are more abstract-like figures.
With mostly women involved in this folk art, today the creative world has witnessed a gender shift where men are seen adding their artistic touch to this traditional folk art form. This Indian folk art form of Madhubani has succeeded in creating a place for itself in the international house of fame.