Very recently, the Madhubani Railway station has registered its global presence in terms of its beauty, thanks to the Mithila Paintings all around in the vicinity of station. The Bihar-bound trains like Rajdhani are well decorated with such arts and crafts. Moreover, even the capital city of Bihar, Patna now is well wreathed in such paintings more or less everywhere, inviting public view.

Last year when PM Modi was on an overseas tour, during a meeting with the mayor Stefan Shostok of Hannover in Germany, he gifted the mayor the Madhubani painting made by Boua Devi. The art was doing rounds in the social media. The rise of Mithila Paintings from regional to global has an interesting story.

So, what is this art?

Madhubani painting is a folk art of Mithila. In this, the cultural traits of Mithilanchal are brought to the canvas. It is said that Madhubani was very much in existence since the vantage Ramayana. Legend has it that Ram and Sita saw each other for the first time in the forest of Madhubani itself. The word Madhubani is a derivative of Madhu Van.

How did the Madhubani Painting begin?

As said earlier, Madhubani painting has its roots in the Ramayana period. At that time Janak was the king of Mithila. After breaking the bow of Shiva, which was a condition for wedding, Janaka's daughter Sita was married to Ram.

On the other side, Ram's father was the king of Ayodhya. There came the Barats, the people from Ayodhya to witness the marriage in Mithila. The king of Mithila wanted to use this auspicious opportunity to create an indelible impression on the minds of the guests. He, therefore, ordered that all his general public draw paintings on the walls of their houses and courtyard. The art must have the explicit glimpse of Mithila culture so that the people of Ayodhya can get the first-hand experience of the rich culture of the estate.

Time-bound Transformation in Mithila Painting

Madhubani painting is a main folk painting of Mithilanchal. Initially, these paintings were made on the courtyard and the walls like Rangoli. Then gradually it came down to the clothes, walls and paper. Men also adopted these folk paintings introduced by the women of Mithila.

Initially, these paintings were made from clay in huts. But now they are made on fabric or paper canvas. These paintings contain the images of deities, nature as well as something important associated with the day-to-day life of the people. Sun, moon, waterfall, wedding, god/goddess are some of the common images that you will see in these paintings.

Kinds of Paintings

There are mainly two types of Madhubani painting—one is the "Bheet Painting" which is created on the walls of the house. Bheet is colloquial word meaning wall. The second is Aripan also called Alpana which is made in the courtyard.

There are plenty of bright colours used —such as deep red, green, blue and black. Different flowers and leaves for different colours are broken and then grounded and after that, they are mixed with acacia glue and milk.

Paintings also use some mild colours, such as yellow, pink and lemon. The special thing is that even these colours are made from turmeric banana leaves and cow dung in the house itself. Pepper bark is used for red colour. Generally, these paintings are made at ‘kohbar’, a room for a room for a newly married couple. On auspicious occasions, walls of the house inside as well as outside depict such paintings. The artists of the day have now begun to experiment with artificial paints.

Styles of Madhubani Paintings

Bharni, Kachani, Tantric, Godna and Kohbar are the five styles of Madhubani paintings. Bharni, Kachani and Tantric paintings are the religious types of the style of Madhubani Paintings. It was started by women of Brahmin and Kayastha society of Madhubani. In the 1960s, Dalit women of the Dusadh community started making these paintings in new quarters. Their paintings show a glimpse of King Salhes.

The people of the Dusadh society consider King Salhes as their god. However today Madhubani paintings are roaming around the world and have transcended beyond the boundary of caste. Artists are now doing diverse experiments considering their robust demand in the international market. Its positive results have started coming out. This author has quietly observed all these sorts of paintings well displayed in his village- Sijoul, staying for sixteen years of his formative life.

Thousands of Years of Tradition

Madhubani Paintings are integral to the tradition of Mithila for thousand years as it began in treta epoch. However, it was just a folk art of the villages till 1934. In that year, there was a major earthquake in Mithilanchal, which caused heavy destruction and damage. When William Archer, then British officer went to take stock of situation, he was highly impressed to see these paintings lying in the debris.

William Archer said that the paintings on the broken walls of the houses that had fallen from the earthquake were like the paintings of modern artists like Mira and Picasso. He took the black and white photographs of these paintings which are considered to be the oldest photographs of Madhubani paintings so far.

In 1949 he wrote an article in the name of Marg, in which he mentioned some of the uniqueness, brilliance and characteristic features of the Madhubani paintings. Thus, the whole world came to know about the wondrous beauty of the Madhubani paintings.

In 1977, Moser and Raymond Lee Owens founded the Master Craftsman Association of Mithila at Jitbarpur of Madhubani with the financial support of a Fulbright Scholar at that time. After this, Jitbarpur became the hub of Madhubani painting. This helped the artists of Madhubani painting earn handsomely. The Ford Foundation has a long association with Madhubani Paintings.

Sita Devi—The Brain Behind Official Recognition

Madhubani paintings got official recognition when in 1969, Bihar government honoured Sita Devi for Madhubani painting. Jagadamba Devi was awarded Padmashree for Madhubani painting in 1975. Sita Devi was also awarded Padma Shri in 1984. Later, Sita was also honoured with the Bihar-Ratna and Shilpaguru honours for Madhubani painting.

In the year 2011, Mahasundari Devi also got Padma Shree for Madhubani painting followed by Boua Devi who got this honour in the year 2017. Apart from these, many women have been honoured for Madhubani paintings.

Dr. Birbal JhaDr Birbal Jha is a noted author and Managing Director of Lingua Multiservices Pvt Ltd. having a popular trademark brand ‘British Lingua’. He is credited as having created a revolution in English training with the slogan ‘English for all’ in India. He has also been accorded the status of the ‘Youngest Living legend of Mithila’.