Madhubani Paintings : Origin and History

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Madhubani paintings also called as Mithila Paintings, is a traditional and famous folk art which was practiced by the women of Northern India. This art was passed on to multiple generations by the women and their daughters who learned this art. These paintings generally contains the images of nature( sun, moon, flowers, animals,etc) and mythology(god and goddess).

Given below are few glimpses of Madhubani Paintings.

1) Origin Of Madhubani Paintings

· Madhubani Paintings are nearly 2500 years ago.

· It is originated from the Madhubani District of Mithila Region (area of Nepal and Northern part of Bihar, India).

· In the past, these paintings were done on the mud walls or floors of huts coated with cow dung or earth, but today they are also done on canvas or piece of cloth.

· “Madhubani” word has been derived from two words meaning- ‘Madhu as honey’ and ‘ban as forest or woods’, which literally means “Forest Of Honey”.

· Thus, the original inspiration for this art emerges from the women of the Mithila region.

2) History Of Mithila Art

· This art was discovered in 1934 when a gigantic earthquake hit Bihar. When William G Archer, the British colonial officer of Madhubani district was examining the outcomes caused by the earthquake, he noticed these paintings in the interior walls of the people.

· There is also a religious belief that takes the history of Madhubani Paintings back to the time of Ramayana, as this region is the birth place of Hindu Goddess Sita.

· It is said that the king Janaka, father of Sita asked the people of the region to capture the moment of his daughter’s wedding with lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. And this was captured in the form of Madhubani Paintings.

· In this way the knowledge was passed down generation to generation and women started decorating their interior walls of houses with these paintings.

· As time extended Madhubani paintings started becoming part of festivities and special events like weddings, Durga Pooja, Holi, Upanayana, and many more.

3) Why Madhubani Paintings are considered so special?

· They are considered special because these paintings were done with multiple natural tools, such as fingers, twigs, matchsticks, brushes, and nibs.

· The natural dyes used to color the paintings were usually made of turmeric, pollen, pigments, various flowers, powdered rice, sandalwood, indigo, and leaves of different plants and trees.

· They are characterized by symbols and figures. They symbolize the tradition, fertility, prosperity, devotion, peace, thoughts, and emotions.

· There are no empty spaces within the paintings. After completing the painting, the empty spaces were usually filled with the depiction of flowers, animals, birds, and geometrical shapes. A double line drawn was considered as a border.

· There are five distinct styles of Madhubani Paintings:

1. Bharni

2. Kachni

3. Tantrik

4. Godha

5. Kohbar

Out of these Bharni, Kachni and Tantrik were done by Brahmin and Kayashth women as they were of ‘upper’ caste.

4) Recognition And Awards

· This art was unknown to the world until, the British colonizer, William G Archer found them.

· Sita Devi was the first to transfer the traditional art form from the walls of houses to cloth and canvas. She was honored with the State Award by the government of Bihar in 1969. This helped the Madhubani art and the artists to receive the National recognition. She was again honored with the National Award by the President Of India in 1975. Later, she was awarded more two awards, first with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India in 1981, and with the prestigious Bihar Ratna award in 1984. In 2006, she was conferred with the title “Shilp Guru” by the government of India.

· Later, there were many artists who brought this art form under public attention.

· Yamuna Devi, Shanti Devi, Chano Devi, Baua Devi, Shashikala Devi, Leela Devi, Godavari Datta, and Bharti Dayal were the artists who were also awarded a National Award.

· Ganga Devi and Mahasundari Devi received Padma Shri in 1984 and 2011 respectively.

· In 2019, Godavari Dutta also received Padma Shri for this ancient folk art.

In modern times, the Madhubani Paintings in India crossed the traditional boundaries and reached a National and International level. These paintings are now available on the e-commerce website as well. Mithila art is also displayed in a museum in Japan. There are several institutions near the Mithila region to teach Madhubani Paintings to the young upcoming artists.

Madhubani Paintings had also got GI (Geographical Indication). This tag is given to goods of the region that boosts something unique and the products are their claim to fame.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, beautiful hand-painted Madhubani face masks were sold at various e-commerce websites by the Madhubani artists.

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