Madhubani Art: An Ancient Folk Art of India

Madhubani Painting of Ganesha
Madhubani Painting of Ganesha

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About Madhubani Art

Madhubani art or Mithila painting is a folk art of the Mithila region. The Mithila region includes the north of Bihar and the eastern Terai of Nepal.

Madhubani paintings are traditionally done by women painters from the Mithila region. They live in a small society, and every mother teaches her daughter the art of making Madhubani paintings.

Since ancient times, women of the Mithila region have painted the walls and floors of their homes with Madhubani paintings to celebrate occasions such as religious festivals, births, and marriages.

Traditional Madhubani Painting on the Wall
Traditional Madhubani Painting on the Wall

The paintings on the walls are known as Bhitti Chitra and the paintings on the floor are known as Aripana. The colors used in Madhubani art are made from tree bark, flowers, leaves, and other natural sources.

Now for commercial purposes, Madhubani paintings are also done by women on handmade paper, cloth, and canvas, and men are also involved to meet the growing demand.

Madhubani Painting: Famous Folk Painting of Bihar

Madhubani painting is a famous folk painting of the Bihar state of India. It is mainly done in Madhubani town, Jitwarpur village and Ranti village in Madhubani district of Bihar. It is also done in the Darbhanga district of Bihar.

Over 5000 registered Madhubani painting artists make various products for livelihood. Some of the products are:-

Madhubani Hand Painted Saree
Madhubani Hand Painted Saree

History and Origin

In the Treta Yuga, King Janaka was the ruler of Mithila. It is believed that on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter Sita to Lord Rama, he ordered to paint the walls of the kingdom through paintings. These paintings were later known as Mithila paintings.

Discovery

After widespread destruction due to the earthquake in the Mithila region in 1934, a British officer, William G. Archer visited Madhubani district and inspected the damage caused by it.

While inspecting, he discovered paintings on the interior walls of the houses similar to the work of Western artists such as Miro and Picasso. He took some pictures of these paintings and wrote about the paintings in an art magazine, thus Madhubani painting also became known in the outside world.

Madhubani Painting: From Wall to Paper

Mithila region has an agricultural economy but was crippled by the drought of 1966 to 1968. The All India Handicrafts Board encouraged the women of Mithila to make paintings on paper for commercial sale. Since then the women of the region have started making paintings on handmade paper and created a new source of income.

Madhubani Painting of Peacocks
Madhubani Painting of Peacocks on Paper

Raw Materials

Paper

In the past, Mithila paintings were done on walls prepared by applying mud and cow dung, but after 1966-68 these paintings are also made on handmade paper.

Handmade paper is prepared by mixing cow dung, neem juice, and multani mitti. This gives the paper a light yellowish appearance that resembles a mud wall. It also enhances the durability of paintings by protecting them from termites and insects.

But currently handmade paper of light yellow color is easily available in the market and it is directly used for making Madhubani paintings.

Colors

Natural and bold colors like red, yellow, blue, black, etc. are used in Madhubani paintings. Some colors and their natural sources are mentioned below.

  • Black: The black color is made by mixing soot with cow dung. Black is used to make borders and outlines.
  • Yellow: The yellow color is made from turmeric.
  • White: White color is made from rice powder.
  • Green: The green color is made from the leaves of a wood apple tree.
  • Blue: Blue color is obtained from indigo.
  • Red: The red color is obtained from Kusum flowers or red sandalwood.
  • Orange: The orange color is made from the Tesu flowers of the Palash tree.
Colourful Madhubani Painting of Krishna
Colourful Madhubani Painting of Krishna

Natural colors are being replaced by fabric colors because fabric colors are long-lasting. However, there are still many artists who are making Madhubani paintings in traditional ways.

Tools

Nib Pens and brushes of various sizes are used to draw the outlines of the images. Drawings are filled with natural colors or fabric colors using brushes, twigs, matchsticks, and fingers.

Themes

The themes and motifs of Madhubani art are drawn from mythology, rituals and local flora and fauna. Madhubani paintings mainly depict the following subjects: –

  1. Scenes and stories from Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Vedic literature.
  2. Images of Hindu deities like Shiva-Parvati, Rama-Sita, Radha-Krishna, Lord Ganesha, Vishnu-Lakshmi, Lord Hanuman, Maa Saraswati, Maa Kali, Maa Durga, etc.
  3. Human figures with large bulging eyes and pointed noses.
  4. Heavenly bodies like the sun and moon.
  5. Pictures of elephants, fish, turtles, snakes, peacocks, parrots, trees, leaves, flowers, etc.
  6. Social events such as weddings and festivals. Auspicious marriage painting like Kohbar is related to wedding rituals. The central theme of Kohbar painting is love and fertility.
  7. Aspects of the daily life of women of the Mithila region.
  8. Folklore of King Shailesh of ancient Mithila.
  9. Rahu Puja.
  10. Tantric style Hindu deities and auspicious yantras.
Radha Krishna Madhubani Painting
Radha Krishna Madhubani Painting

Usually, no space is left blank after drawing the main subject. The spaces are filled with paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and even geometrical patterns.

Madhubani Painting Styles & Designs

Madhubani paintings are classified into four different styles like Bharni, Kachni, Godhana, and Tantric.

Bharni Style

Bharni means filling. In the Bharni style, the outlines of the images are drawn in bold and dark black and the images are filled with bright colors like red, yellow, orange, etc.

Bharni Style Madhubani Painting of Fish
Bharni Style Madhubani Painting of Fish

Kachni Style

Kachni means line art. In the Kachni style, elaborate line paintings are made. The images are filled with closely drawn parallel lines or small dots. The thickness of the lines depends on the design.

Mainly black and vermilion (brilliant red) colors are used to make the Kachni style paintings.

Kachni Style Madhubani Painting of Elephant
Kachni Style Madhubani Painting of Elephant

Godhana Style

Godhana means tattoo. In the Godhana style, repeated images are arranged in parallel lines, concentric circles or rectangles to form various patterns. The images are drawn in black, but some are also filled with colors.

Some Godhana style artists use cow dung washed handmade paper to make paintings.

Godhana Style Madhubani Painting of OM
Godhana Style Madhubani Painting of OM

Tantric Style

Tantric is related to tantra. In the Tantric style, the colors and descriptions given in the Tantric texts are followed.

The pictures of Hindu deities and yantras such as Shree Yantra, Shri Bhairav Yantra, etc. are depicted.

Madhubani Painting of Lakshmi and Ganesha Done in Tantric Style
Madhubani Painting of Lakshmi and Ganesha Done in Tantric Style

Learn How to Make Simple and Easy Madhubani Painting of Peacock – Video Tutorial

Famous Madhubani Painting Artists

Some famous Madhubani painting artists are:

Jagdamba Devi

Jagdamba Devi was an internationally recognized artist of Madhubani painting. She was awarded the National Award in the year 1970. She was the first artist to receive the Padma Shri in 1975 for her outstanding work in the field of Madhubani art.

Sita Devi

Sita Devi was born in Jitwarpur village in Bihar. She was one of the earliest artists who started making beautiful Madhubani paintings on paper. She specialized in the Bharni style of Madhubani art. She was awarded the National Award in the year 1975 and the Padma Shri Award in the year 1981.

Ganga Devi

Ganga Devi was born in 1928 in the Mithila region of Bihar. She was an expert in the Kachni style of Madhubani art. She was awarded the National Award in the year 1976 and the Padma Shri Award in the year 1984.

Godawari Dutta

Godawari Dutta is a well-known name in the field of Madhubani painting. She was awarded the National Award in the year 1980 and the Shilp Guru Award in the year 2006. She was also awarded the Padma Shri Award in the year 2019.

Mahasundari Devi

Mahasundari Devi was born on 15 April 1922 in Madhubani district of Bihar. She was an expert in Madhubani art. She was awarded the National Award in the year 1982 and the Padma Shri Award in the year 2011.

Baua Devi

Baua Devi was born in Jitwarpur village in Bihar. She is an expert in Madhubani art. She uses natural colors on handmade paper to make her paintings. She was awarded the National Award in the year 1984 and the Padma Shri Award in the year 2017.

Madhubani Painting by Baua Devi
Madhubani Painting by Baua Devi

Bharti Dayal

Bharti Dayal of Darbhanga district, Bihar is a well-known name in the field of Madhubani art. She uses acrylic colors on canvas to make her paintings. She was awarded the National Merit Award in the year 2005 and the National Award in the year 2006.

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