Arts of India – Madhubani

Continuing on with the effort of introducing art lovers to the “Arts of India” August’s article, in Valley India Times, talks about Madhubani paintings.


Arts of India – Madhubani/ Mithila Paintings – Part 1

Picture a scene from the Ramayana, or Mahabharata, with beautiful royal princes and princesses adored from head to toe in the finest of jewelry. Picture them living in dazzling palaces having walls embellished with exquisite paintings capturing scenes of their bravery. To get an idea of what those paintings would look like, we can look at some of the Mithila paintings of today. Very intricately painted with natural colors, telling a story in each depiction, Mithila’s art form has much to convey.

Mithila once was a far reaching north eastern kingdom in India, but in today’s terms it refers to a small region within the state of Bihar. For centuries, the people of Mithila have been followers of Hinduism. Their art form originated as a representation of their devotion to the Hindu Gods. They sanctified their homes for spiritual rituals and decorated them with beautiful patterns called “Aripans.” It was the mothers and daughters of these Mithila families who transformed their homes into auspicious venues with images of Lord Krishna and Hanuman, Goddess Lakshmi and Durga. They would paint elaborate designs on the entrance floors to welcome the Gods in. Ceremonies like weddings were the ones that called for the most intricate of paintings. The “Khobar-ghar” or the wedding chamber was decorated with symbols of fertility and prosperity, the flower lotus being one of them.

Sadly, fables of Mithila paintings and their beauty were hidden for many years. The Mithila region was severely afflicted with draught, in the mid-sixties, leaving the people with no form of income. Government of India’s aid program recognized the women’s talent and built an art platform in a small village called Madhuban (which literally means forest of honey). The women were encouraged to translate their Aripans from walls and floors to hand-made paper and fabric. The paintings became widely popular, the village survived and the art form got a new name “Madhubani.” It went from being the literal forest of honey to an efficacious art district.

Madhubani paintings are almost always done with natural colors. The Mithila people believe that nature provides them with tools so that they can tell stories of the divine through their paintings. In their art work, yellow usually comes from turmeric or from pollen, blue from indigo, red and orange from various flowers and green from leaves. While rice flour gives the paintings their pristine white, cow dung and ash provide the necessary black. Along with messages of bravery and love, family unions and fertility, Madhubani paintings also convey the significance of nature and our dependence on it. These paintings are a method of communication for the Mithila people, through which they express their ideas and perceptions of the world they live in.

Madhubani paintings have been a part of most Mithila families’ heritage and this tradition continues to be taught by one generation to another. That is why an artist’s family and background usually define his/ her painting style. Following the Hindu caste system, there are distinct styles of Madhubani in the Brahmin, Kayastha and Harijan communities. In next month’s issue, we will dig deeper into these styles and how they characterize each artist’s identity.