Madhubani Paintings: A Journey from Village walls to Canvas

Madhubani Paintings: A Journey from Village walls to Canvas
Madhubani, which means Forest of Honey, (Madhu-honey, Bans-forest or woods) is a small village in the northern part of Bihar. A region that has its own language and a sense of regional identity that goes back more than 2500 years.  The land which is a birthplace of Mahavira (a
deity of the Jain religion), Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), and Sita (the wife of  Lord Rama in the Ramayana). The exact time of the origination of Madhubani or Mithila art is not known. It is believed that during the time of the Ramayana, when King Janak ordered his kingdom to decorate the town for the wedding of his daughter, Sita, to Lord Rama. It is said that the women in Madhubani and Mithila started making the
paintings on the walls of their huts and this art form. Traditionally these paintings were passed down over generations from mother to daughter.
Madhubani Painted Canister
The women painters of Mithila lived in a closed society. What led the women painters to share their work with the larger world was a major ecological and economic crisis due a prolonged drought in 1966-68 that struck Madhubani and the surrounding region of Mithila and women began to commercialize their art. The ancient tradition of elaborate wall paintings or Bhitti – Chitra in Bihar played a major role in the emergence of this new art form. The original inspiration for Madhubani art emerged out of women’s craving for religiousness and an intense desire to be one with God.  With the belief that painting something divine would achieve that desire, women began to paint pictures of gods and goddesses with an interpretation so divine that captured the hearts of many.
Madhubani paintings have three distinguished styles which correspond to
three castes of the Region:
1 . The Brahmins were the highest among these three castes. The Brahmin
style of painting lavishly deals use of vibrant colors and their paintings were
inspired by the sacred texts with stories of various Gods ; Ram, Krishna, Durga
and Shiva. Their easy access to Hindu sacred literature has helped them
immensely in portraying the rich Hindu iconography and mythology. The Brahmin
tradition mainly deals with themes of gods and goddesses and magical symbols
connected with deities.
Madhubani Painting on Wood
2 . The Kayasthas were a little below the Brahmins in the caste
hierarchy. The Kayastha style of painting basically was a practice of elaborate
wall paintings of the nuptial chamber or the “kohbar ghar”. And these are symbolic of sexual pleasure and procreation. The wrappers for the vermilion powder were painted by the bridegrooms family and sent to the bride before the wedding. And they were allowed only black and red colors. The subjects of these paintings were similar as the Brahmins. This style goes back to the period of the Aryan invaders. These paintings were line- drawings of sacred symbols. They represented the lotus plant, bamboo grove, fish, tortoises, parrots, birds and all that symbolized fertility.
3 . The Dusadhs were a low caste group and they were not allowed to represent divinities. This style is known as Tattoo or Godhana painting. Their paintings themes included the flora and fauna, and based on the legend of Raja Salhesh  – a Dusadh cultural hero. The painting is originally in the form of a line – drawing and is divided into several horizontal margins. Eventually artists have begun to do illustrations on Hindu epics and mythology. Considering its rich use of color it is closer to the Brahmin school of painting.



Madhubani  Painted Canister
Materials Used:
The traditional style of preparing the wall for painting is to coat it with a paste of cow dung and mud which were the primary village construction materials. These also enabled proper absorption of color. The same technique is still followed by few artists on mediums such as cloth, handmade paper and canvas to give an authentic look. The painting techniques are simple and the raw materials are taken directly from nature .Outlines are done with kalams and cotton wrapped on bamboo sticks or a bamboo stick, with its end being slightly frayed serve as brushes which are dipped in colors and applied to the medium. The colors are made using natural extract found locally like henna leaves, flowers, neem leaves, etc.
Color Sources:
  • Black – obtained from soot – a soft
    thick deposit of captured smoke from the village chulha.
  • Yellow – From turmeric, pollen, lime,
    milk of banyan leaves,
  • Blue -Indigo
  • Deep Red – Kusum flower juice or
    red sandalwood
  • Green – wood apple tree leaves or
    leaves of creepers
  • White – Rice powder
  • Orange – Palasha flowers.
The vibrant colors created with natural dyes are a source of positive energy. Colors give warmth and the paintings energize the atmosphere in the household. Flora and Fauna symbolizes symbolize fertility and life. Madhubani paintings showcase these beautifully
Madhubani Products such as Madhubani on Wood, Madhubani Painted Canister and wooden trays are available on on the below links:
A Video on Madhubani Paintings

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