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The Art of Madhubani painting

Updated on February 1, 2011
Lord Krishna playing celestial tunes on his flute
Lord Krishna playing celestial tunes on his flute
Lord Krishna and Rukmini his consort
Lord Krishna and Rukmini his consort

Madhubani literally means forests of honey. Madhubani is a hilly forest terrain in the State of Bihar, the Eartern region of India. Traditionally, artists from this area were trained in folk art. The the region of Mithila as also the villages around Madhubani are situated near the northern edge of the state of Bihar very close to the Indo- Nepal border. The denizens of Mithila village  have their own language and a separate regional identity that dates as far back as 2500 years. Some of the most celebrated persona believed to be born in this region are Mahavir – the spiritual hero of the Jain religion, Siddhartha Gautama better known to the world as the Gautam Buddha, and Sita - the wife of Prince Rama and the pivotal character around whom the most popular epic, the Ramayana revolves. Madhubani painting hails from this Mithila region of Bihar. The historic origin of Madhubani painting or Mithila Painting is not traceable but according to tradition, this style of painting originated at the time of the Ramayana, when King Janak, Sita’s father contracted artists to do paintings and beautify the town during the time of his daughter’s marriage to Lord Rama. The art of Madhubani paintings was a past time pursued by women who decorated the walls of huts as well as cloth with natural dyes and colors. Madhubani paintings evoke spirituality and lessen the intensity of negative energies in the environment. Hence, traditionally, Madhubani paintings depict nature, mythological  events, and themes that include Hindu Gods deities like Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Shiva Goddess Durga, Goddess Laxmi and the Goddess of knowledge Saraswati are painted.  Similarly, planets like the sun, the moon, and the religious plants like the holy tulsi are also widely painted, along side scenes from the royal courts and social events like weddings. Gaps in the paintings are filled by paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and even geometric designs.

Women passed the tradition of   painting Madhubani art from generation to generation as a family legacy. Women adorned walls with Madhubani Paintings during festivals, religious events, and other important events such as birthdays, thread ceremonies and weddings.

Madhubani Paintings has two varieties: Bhittichitra and Aripana. Generally Bhittichitra is done on the mud-walls of houses particularly at three places: room of the family god/goddess, room of the newly wedded couple and the living room of the house. Paintings are made on the outer and inner walls of these rooms for auspicious occasions like marriage, upnayanam and festivals like Dussehra and Deepawali. Figures of various gods and goddesses Durga, Kali, Ram and Sita, Radha and Krishna, Shiva and Parvati, Gauri and Ganesha, the ten incarnations of Vishnu are depicted. Besides these, pictures of the Sun and the Moon are also painted as it is believed that they bring prosperity to the family. Other figures used are those of animals, birds, leaves, flowers, plants along with symbols of swastika and the conch(shankha). Use of deep and vibrant colors such as red, green, blue and black along with yellow, pink, and lemon are also used. All these colours are prepared by indigenous methods from household products like banana leaves, milk and vermilion.
Madhubani can be described as a spiritual style of painting, rather than a set of pictures. It employs natural colors, with the most popular being deep red - derived from Kusuma flower. The other colors include green - from Bel trees, black - from burnt jowar, light yellow - from turmeric mixed with banyan leaf milk and orange - from Palasa flower. The colors, which are mostly bright, are used to impart two-dimensional imagery to the paintings. Madhubani painters use a very unusual form of brush for the art. Handmade, the brush is created out of a bamboo stick, with its end being slightly frayed. Other motifs included in the art are scenes from the royal court and social events, like weddings, apart from activities from the daily life. In most of the cases, you will never find empty spaces in Madhubani paintings. More often than not, the gaps are filled with paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and even geometric designs. One of the basic characteristics of Madhubani paintings comprises of traditional geometric patterns. The art has a distinctive styles, like double line border, elaborate floral patterns, abstract-like figures of deities and bulging eyes and a jolting nose. In fact, all these aspects are what make this art form different from the others and impress both novices and virtuosos alike. 



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      Jerry 3 years ago

      Thanks for innrudocitg a little rationality into this debate.

    • Mayaanjali profile image

      Mayaanjali 5 years ago

      I would love to write about aripana or rangoli. I do the rangoli/aripana almost everyday, but due to paucity of time I have been unable to take pics of my rangolis -writing does not take long

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, for those of us in the US, who see some of these paintings in restaurants, they are very mysterious. I'm glad to know of their origins. Voted up and interesting. Can you tell us more about the Aripana paintings?

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      malav 6 years ago

      u have done my HW11111111