What is the history of Madhubani Paintings? What’s so special about Madhubani?

The idea that paintings and art is a reflection of one’s culture and tradition isn’t new at all. They also reflect the time and the context behind the art form. The Madhubani district or Ranti village in India has very less to offer save how Madhubani Art, a thriving Indian art form, became mainstream about 2500 years ago. Wait, there is more to come! Madhubani paintings offered solutions to some pressing gender-based issues, let alone save an entire forest. Let us see two things here: the history and evolution of Madhubani paintings and what is so unique about this ancient art form.

A short history of Madhubani paintings:

Many believe Madhubani paintings, a 2500-year-old folk art, to have existed around during the time of the legendary Hindu King of Ayodhya, Lord Rama, when Janaka, king of Mithila and father of Sita, summoned an artist to make a portrait of his daughter to be sent to his fiancé Rama. This also explains how this painting took form in the regions of Mithila of Bihar and its neighbour Nepal. In actuality, women used to create paintings on floors and walls of homes during special occasions, religious ceremonies and festivals.

Mithila painting or Bhitti Chitra was first unearthed in 1934 when a powerful earthquake hit several regions of Bihar. The British Colonial officer of Madhubani district, William G. Archer, stumbled on these paintings in the interiors of several houses that were devastated by the quake then.

What’s unique about Madhubani?

Next, how do they make these paintings? Mithila or Madhubani paintings, interestingly, are created using fingers with matchsticks as well as twigs and pen nibs (in modern times). An outline, considered to be its framework, is made from rice paste and generally vivid and vibrant colours are made use of. Very rarely will you be able to see any black spaces in these paintings. Also, natural dyes are made use of in Madhubani paintings. For example, extract of turmeric for yellow, sandalwood for red, charcoal and soot for black and indigo for blue, etc.

Typically, figures in Madhubani paintings have pointed noses and bulging fish-like eyes. General themes, usually natural elements, such as parrot, fish, turtle, elephant, bamboo tree, sun, moon and lotus find importance. Geometric patterns that generally represent love, devotion, valour, fertility, devotion and prosperity are prominently used. This age-old art form is known to capture scenes of religious rituals, wedding ceremonies, cultural events and festivals from Hindu mythology such as Ramayana.