Arts of India – Madhubani contd.

After last month‘s introductory article on Madhubani paintings, Valley India Times’ September article continues to tell the story.

Arts of India – Madhubani/ Mithila Paintings – Part 2

In last month’s article we introduced you to the tradition of Madhubani paintings, created by the Mithila people out of devotion to the Hindu Gods. Artistic know-how is an inheritance the Mithilis receive from their older generations. The act of creating and the saga of this art form have been kept alive for ages, thanks to the women. Grandmothers and mothers continue to tell their kids mythological stories associated with these paintings, while teaching them how to paint, so that they can maintain their beliefs and practices. 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. The women of Mithila usually adhere to themes from their own genre, maintaining their identity.

The “Brahmins” and the “Kayasthas” (priests and scribes) focus on capturing religious and mythological stories in their paintings. Their styles differ in color and detail. The Brahmins depict holy deities in bright colors and fine details, whereas the Kayasthas choose a more discreet palette. The two styles are very similar and very different at the same time. The Brahmins’ paintings belong to the “Bharni” style which fills all blank spaces with brightly colored flowers, trees and birds surrounding their main sacred figures. The Kayasthas paintings belong to the “Kachni” style and have a very similar composition, but they are done only in black and red inks with their characteristic lines and dots.

Another style within Madhubani paintings is called “Godhana” which is practiced by the “Harijan” community. Their paintings are not limited to sacred figures, instead are inspired by their body tattoos, which have been a family custom for centuries. They choose to cross strict aesthetic definitions and indulge in illustrations with animals, scenes from daily life and their cultural adventures. While they use brilliant colors, they choose a more geometric style of painting with lines, circles and rectangles. They, sometimes, keep their paintings simple with just a dark brown background done with cow dung and fill in the details in just one or two colors.

With growing demand from the modern world, the demarcations in Mithila paintings have blurred. Women from one caste have started painting in styles of another caste, while also mixing styles and themes. The credit for this goes to the Mithila people who have kept this tradition alive for ages, while embracing rapidly changing times around them. Madhubani paintings have evolved over time, but they are still vying for attention from the contemporary art lover.

Madhubani paintings, today, are a characteristic of North India, as their vibrant colors and sophisticated details tell the stories of the region’s rich culture and heritage. In keeping with this theme, next month we will travel down South to the classical Tanjore paintings.