Madhubani: A tradition that binds history, art and culture



Born in Mithila in Bihar, in the ‘forests of honey’ (Madhuban) known for the leelas of Radha and Krishna, Madhubani painting is a traditional form of art that exquisitely meshes together the young and new in bright, vibrant colours. The paintings often depict representations of the Mithilanchal culture, which often include myths of Radha and Krishna. The region where it is practised is rich with mythological history and is believed to be where Rama and Sita first saw each other, and this adds to the charm of the art form. Locals say that it was during Rama and Sita’s marriage when King Janaka ordered all the subjects to paint their walls and courtyards. That is how the tradition evolved.

The treasure that is Madhubani

Madhubani is widely practised in the districts of Mithilanchal, Darbhanga, Madhuban and Sitamarhi, Janakpur, Siroha and Dhanusha. Initially made on courtyards and wall of houses like rangoli, it is now painted on clothes and paper as well. Interestingly, SBI’s debit card also features a Madhubani miniature!

The paintings made on the courtyards are called Arifan. They are made with matchsticks using a pinnacle and bamboo pen. Deep hues are utilised like dark red, green, blue and black. Bright colours are created using flowers, which are mixed with acacia tree glue and milk. paintings also employ light colours like yellow, pink and lemon, all of which are naturally produced at home from turmeric, banana leaves, cow dung, etc. Peepal tree bark is used for red colour. Generally, these paintings are made in the house of worship, Koh-e-Ghar (after marriage).

Bharni, Kachani, Tantrik, Godna, and Kohbar, make up the five styles ofMadhubani art. Started by the Brahmin and Kayastha women, it was taken up by the Dalit community post-1960, who started incorporating the motif of their deity, King Sahlesh. Gradually, the Madhubani earned a lot of fame and could transcend the clutches of religion and caste. Artists are now experimenting with new trends to generate demand in international markets.

The long-due recognition

Before 1934, Madhubani was nothing more than a closed folk art. In 1934, after a huge earthquake, a Britisher officer, William Archer, discovered these paintings, and compared them to paintings of Miro and Picasso. He wrote about his discovery in 1949, in an article titled ‘Marg’, bringing the art form to public attention. In 1977, the ‘Master Craftsman Association of Mithila’ was established in Jitwarpur of Madhubani with the financial support of Moser and Raymond Lee Owens (Fulbright Scholars of that time). After this, Jitwarpur became the hub of Madhubani painting. Now, there are several international organisations that are dabbling in this art form.

Awards and artists

Madhubani paintings got an official recognition in 1969, when the Bihar government honoured Sita Devi for her Madhubani painting.  Sita Devi was also honoured with Padma Shri in 1984. Later, she was honoured with ‘Bihar Ratna’ and ‘Crafts Guru’ award. Jagadamba Devi was honoured with Padma Shri for Madhubani painting in 1975. In 2011, Mahasundari Devi was also awarded the Padma Shri for Madhubani painting. Last year, on the occasion of Republic Day, Baua Devi was awarded the Padma Shri.  In 2016 when PM Modi was on a tour of Germany, he gifted a Madhubani painting by Baua Devi to the mayor Steven Shostock.

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About Shabila Azmi 26 Articles
A very voracious reader, adaptive to any kind of situation, a happy go lucky girl, industrious, by nature an introvert so mostly tries to express through her writings.