Madhubani Art (or Mithila painting) is a style of Indian and Nepalese painting, practiced in the Mithila region of India and Nepal. It was named after Madhubani District of Bihar, India which is where it is originated. This painting is done with various tools, such as fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, and matchsticks and using natural dyes and pigments. It is characterised by its eye-catching geometrical patterns. There is ritual content for particular occasions, such as birth or marriage, and festivals, such as Holi, Surya Shasti, Kali Puja, Upanayana, and Durga Puja. Madhubani painting (Mithila painting) was traditionally created by the women of various communities in the Mithila region of the Indian subcontinent. It originated from Madhubani district of the Mithila region of Bihar. Madhubani is also a major export center of these paintings. This painting as a form of wall art was practiced widely throughout the region; the more recent development of painting on paper and canvas mainly originated among the villages around Madhubani, and it is these latter developments that led to the term “Madhubani art” being used alongside “Mithila Painting.”
The paintings were traditionally done on freshly plastered mud walls and floors of huts, but now they are also done on cloth, handmade paper and canvas. Madhubani paintings are made from the paste of powdered rice. Madhubani painting has remained confined to a compact geographical area and the skills have been passed on through centuries, the content and the style have largely remained the same. Thus, Madhubani painting has received GI (Geographical Indication) status. Madhubani paintings use two-dimensional imagery, and the colors used are derived from plants. Ochre, Lampblack and Red are used for reddish-brown and black, respectively.
While discussing about Madhubani painting how can we forget about the contribution of three women in Ranti village of Bihar. Ranti village is where the “barely literate” Mahasundari Devi shed her purdah (veil) and picked up the brush to make a name for herself as one of the foremost practitioners of a fine art that typically draws its inspiration from Hindu mythology or scenes from everyday rural life. Today, the great artist may be no more but her sister, Karpuri Devi, lives and paints there along with several other women who are keen to take the legacy forward. Meet Karpuri, 86, Dulari, 49, and Mahalaxmi, 26, three generations of women artists from Ranti in Bihar’s Madhubani district, who are generously using the characteristic colours of the Madhubani to give this ancient art form their own new twists.
Karpuri Devi, 86, younger sister-in-law of the renowned Madhubani artist, Mahasundari Devi, whose name is synonymous with this folk style. Sitting in the veranda of her single storey home, which she has painted with ornate patterns and figures in Madhubani, Karpuri reminisces about the days when she had first picked up the brush, “Decades ago, women in the village were not allowed to step outside the confines of the home. We had to be very discreet about our work. Typically, we used twigs, brushes, matchsticks or nib-pens to make paintings with themes from the Ramayana or what we saw of daily life around us. For years, the wall was our canvas. Paper came much later.” Says Karpoori Devi
Dulari Devi, 49, one of the duo’s most celebrated students. Belonging to the poor mallah (fisher folk) community, she had first stepped inside their home as a domestic help. She shares, “While doing my routine cleaning chores I used to observe them painting these beautiful, intricate works of art and many a time used to wonder whether they would teach me as well. So one day I asked Karpuri Devi outright. To my great surprise, she readily agreed! In an instant, I was transformed from a daily wager to an artist.”
Educated, artistic and confident young women from Ranti and its neighbouring villages are infusing new life and ideas into Madhubani. There are numerous artists in their early twenties nowadays who are eager to project the concerns and challenges of the woman of today. One such artist, who is focused on highlighting modern issues even as she maintains the characteristic geometric patterns of the Madhubani style, is Mahalaxmi, 26, a recipient of a scholarship by the Ministry of Culture. Proud of her work, she maintains that she would like to continue painting even after marriage even though she admits that “our society is still not ready to accept the idea of a married woman pursuing a fulfilling career”.
These three women are taking the Madhubani painting to a totally different level and thus representing Bihar.