FROM MUD HUTS TO PAPER: THE STORY OF MADHUBANI PAINTING
Art can provide an important connection to our cultural heritage, and Indian art is simply rich in traditions that date back hundreds and thousands of years. One of the most popular traditional art forms is Madhubani painting, which claims roots in Indian mythology and takes its name from its geographic origin in northern Bihar.
Madhubani art — also known as Mithila art — is particularly special, with its unique use of local plants for colors, cow dung to treat the paper and bamboo sticks that serve as brushes, not to mention the beauty and simplicity of the paintings themselves. Here are more insights into the extraordinary history of traditional Madhubani painting and its fascinating process.
Origin Of Traditional Madhubani (Mithila) Art
Centuries ago, women first made Madhubani paintings on the freshly plastered walls and floors of mud huts. While its exact origin is unknown, legend holds that King Janak, the ruler of the Mithila region in the 8th or 7th century BCE, requested this new form of painting to capture his daughter Sita’s wedding to Prince Rama, the central figure of the epic Ramayana.
This technique was then passed down for generations, and now Madhubani paintings are also made onto cloth, handmade paper and canvas. Although both men and women paint in this style today, Madhubani stands out as an art form historically developed and dominated by women.
Main Themes in Madhubani (Mithila) Art
There are three main themes in Madhubani art: religion, social scenes and elements of nature.
Religion: Hindu mythological figures and scenes from sacred texts are very common subjects, featuring popular deities like Radha and Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha, Saraswati and Laxmi.
Social: From harvests and markets to the royal court and children playing, Madhubani painting beautifully renders scenes from daily rural Indian life. Wedding ceremonies are especially sought-after, with messages of love and fertility.
Nature: The beauty and abundance of nature is an essential value of Madhubani paintings. Some of the most beloved images are the sun, the moon, birds and animals, the sacred Tulsi plant and Banyan trees.
How are the natural colors made?
Madhubani artists prepare their own paints and tools from natural, locally available materials. From extracting juice from flowers to fashioning brushes out of bamboo sticks, here are the basic steps of creating a Madhubani painting:
Before applying any paints, the paper is treated with cow dung to preserve the strong color of the natural pigments. Cow dung is also mixed with charcoal and water for drawing the black outline.
Then, the artist uses a bamboo stick for the intricate black outline, which cannot be erased or changed once it is begun. This black outline covers the entire paper, leaving hardly any blank space.
Finally, the artist manually prepares each color. Some common ingredients include the aparajita flower for blue, bougainvillea for pink, flat bean leaves for green, turmeric for yellow and rice powder for white.
The Uncertain Future of Madhubani (Mithila) Art
As the world modernizes and it becomes increasingly difficult for traditional artisans to make a living from their craft alone, many ancient forms of Indian art are at risk of disappearing altogether. Unfortunately, Madhubani painting is no exception. Indian folk artists need support from collectors around the world in order to continue their customs, and that’s exactly why traditional Indian art is an important aspect of Laasya Art’s collection. We hope to encourage a new generation of appreciation for Madhubani paintings.
To browse our curated collection of Madhubani (Mithila) paintings online, visit https://laasyaart.com/mithila-art. Please reach out to us at email@example.com or 650-770-9088 to view these traditional artworks in person at our gallery in Palo Alto (San Francisco Bay Area).
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan