When they say that India is a land of art and culture, they are not incorrect, because if you were to visit any tiny corner of the country, chances are that you will find some art form that is typical to that region. So, if there are silk weavers in every corner of the country, there are also painters, who brings colours to life on canvas, beautiful wall paintings, fabric, and even pots. In our upcoming blog series, we will be attempting to help you understand and rediscover some of the most ancient art forms.
We start our series with an art form that has been around for centuries and continues to aspire artists globally - Madhubani art.

Madhubani – An Art That Goes Beyond Colours!
What is Madhubani painting?

As the name suggests, Madhubani paintings come from the district of Madhubani in Bihar – given that this is the region which was considered to be the kingdom of King Janak and that is one of the reasons why, this style of painting is also known as Mithila painting. What started off as a form of ‘bhitti chitra’ or wall painting, eventually found its way to cloth, canvas, wood, paper, and more. Today, you will be able to see beautiful Madhubani paintings on a variety of mediums, including crockery and décor pieces.

What is the history behind Madhubani paintings?
It is said that a British officer named Willain Archer was the one who stumbled upon the art that was Madhubani and brought it back to the real world. During inspection duty in the year 1934, Archer was examining the damages that had been caused to the houses in Madhubani due to an earthquake. It was during that time that he saw the traditional Madhubani painting done on the walls and began photographing them. Over time, the artists started using cloth and paper to paint, because the walls were no longer a stable canvas.

What is special about Madhubani painting and how is it done?
It is said that the roots of this art form go all the way to the times of King Janak, when he ordered the entire city of Mithila be decorated for his daughter, Sita’s wedding. Considered a feminine art form, this type of painting was initially done only by women, and even today, the arena is dominated mostly by women painters. It is said that the paintings would emote their hopes, dreams, and aspirations and their joy would spill out when they decorated homes for weddings.
Traditional Madhubani art often had complex geometrical patterns as the building blocks, but inspirations came from everything that surrounded the artists. There is a spiritual element to the paintings because the origin is associated with Goddess Sita and her wedding to Lord Rama. Eventually, the paintings started to represent content that was associated with certain occasions, like festivals, religious celebrations and so on.
The paintings would be made and still mainly made using colours that are derived from natural sources such as plants, fruits, and vegetables. The colours would generally be on the brighter side and naturally occurring pigments such as ochre and the remnants of lighted wicks would be used to create browns and blacks. And rather than using brushes, objects that could be found with ease would be used – these would include twigs, leaves, and even fingers. Today, of course, artists are using regular brushes to create modern Madhubani art.

What are the major aspects of Madhubani paintings?
Madhubani paintings are known to be meticulously planned before being transferred onto paper or canvas – the motifs and symbole are chosen with care and there are messages in each painting. Canvases are generally full of vibrant colours and there will be very little blank space, because those too will be filled with flowers, leaves, and twines. Everything sits very neatly within geometrical borders – the motifs are generally related to flora, fauna, and Hindu mythology. This is why, you will find several variations of peacock Madhubani painting and Radha Krishna Madhubani painting because these are extremely popular motifs. You will also be able to find other animals like deer, elephants and several types of birds – each of these animals and birds is meant to signify something, ranging from power to fertility to wisdom to loyalty and so on. Apart from Radha Krishna, these paintings would also portray Ram and Sita, Shiva and Parvati and Ganesha.

What are the types of Madhubani paintings?
If you were to look at the Madhubani art form, there are actually multiple forms that exist underneath the same umbrella and the types of Madhubani paintings include:

  1. Bharni – In this form, the main subject is highlighted in black and the rest of the motifs are bright in colour. This form concentrates on religious and mythological motifs.
  2. Kachni – This monochromatic form has only two colours being used and there are intricate lines.
  3. Godhana – This is one of the simplest forms of the art and is reminiscent of tattoos that are made with bamboo pens and naturally sourced inks.
  4. Tantric – This form too, focused mainly on religious themes and depicted gods and goddesses.
  5. Kohbar – The kohbar painting was done usually for marriages and mainly in the homes of the brides and grooms to be.

FAQs about Madhubani paintings:

  1. By what other name is Madhubani painting known?
    Because the art form was born in the erstwhile Mithila, it is also known as mithila painting.
  2. Which state is famous for Madhubani paintings?
    Madhubani folk art originated in the kingdom of Mithila, which is why it is also known as Mithila paintings. Today, the art is practised most commonly in the state of Bihar and some parts of Jharkhand. The most famous districts where you can find artists include Rajangarh, Jitwarpur, Rasidpur, and Ranti.
  3. What type of pen is used to create these paintings?
    In the initial days, no proper brushes were used – brushes made using twigs, bamboo pens and even fingers would be used to create these paintings.
  4. What are the main themes of Madhubani paintings?
    The themes are normally based on nature, flora and fauna or religious and spiritual themes, depicting gods and goddesses.
  5. What are the kind of colours that are used for these paintings?
    The paintings are made with natural colours, extracted from flowers, leaves, soot, turmeric, ochre, rice powder and other naturally occurring ingredients.
  6. Are Madhubani paintings GI tagged? When did this happen?
    In the year 2007, Madhubani Paintings were designated as a Geographical Indicator and hence earned the GI tag.
  7. Who are the most popular artists associated with this art form?
    There are several renowned Madhubani artists - Sita Devi, Ganga Devi, Baua Devi, Dulari Devi all make Madhubani painting and their work has been recognised globally.
  8. Where can one buy genuine Madhubani paintings?
    If you are looking to buy original Madhubani paintings, then the best place would be eCraftIndia, where you can find a huge selection of Madhubani paintings online.

eCraftIndia is home to not just some incredible wall decor items, but also numerous Radha Krishna paintings and Ganesha paintings, as well as innumerable gift items and home décor options. In order to provide artists and craftspeople a space to showcase their talents, eCraftIndia has reached out to talents all over the country and provided them with an online platform to sell their wares and keep their arts alive.