Saturday, 5 November 2011

5 Facts About Madhubani Painting

Fact One
Madhubani art is practised around Mithila and Madhubani areas of Bihar, India (close to the Nepal-India border). Madhubani literally means "forests of honey" !

Fact Two
Traditionally this art was practised by women only to decorate their huts during religious and important occasions. Nowadays men have also taken up this artform and paintings are done on paper, cloth, canvas etc. But even though women in the villages around Madhubani have been practicing their folk art for centuries, the world at large has come to know about these women and to consider them to be "artists" only in the last thirty years. Even now, most of their work remains anonymous. T
he women, some of them illiterate, are in any case reluctant to consider themselves individual producers of "works of art" and only a few of them mark the paintings with their own name.Kohabar", mariage ritual wall painting, in "L'art du Mithila" by Yves Véquaud, photo Edouard Boubat, Les Presses de la Connaissance 1976

Fact Three 
Among the first modern outsiders to document the tradition of Madhubani painting were William and Mildred Archer. He was a British civil servant assigned to the district during the colonial era. The Archers obtained some drawings on paper that the women painters were using as aids to memory. Works that the Archers collected went to the India Records Office in London (now part of the British Library) where a small number of specialists could study them as creative instances of India's folk art.
What led the women painters to share their work with the larger world was a major ecological and economic crisis that resulted from a prolonged drought in 1966-68 that struck Madhubani and the surrounding region of Mithila. In order to create a new source of non-agricultural income, the All-India Handicrafts Board encouraged the women artists to produce their traditional paintings on handmade paper for commercial sale.
Few women artists who made this artform famous are Ganga Devi, Sita Devi, Shanti Devi, Baua Devi.
Ganga Devi
Sita Devi, photo Hervé Perdriolle, Jitwapur 1997

Fact Four
The colors used were traditionally derived from natural sources like plants, charcoal soot, ochre etc. Black color is obtained by mixing soot with cow dung.Yellow color is obtained from turmeric or pollen or lime and the milk of banyan leaves. Blue from Indigo. Red from Kusum flower juice, red sandalwood or rose. Green from the leaves of apple trees, White from rice powder, Orange from palasha flowers.

Wall painting made by Yashoda Devi, Madhubani, Bihar

Draft sketch made by Ganga Devi in her Notebook

Anonymous wall painting, Madhubani, Bihar

Painting by Ganga Devi

Fact Five 
Madhubani paintings mostly depict nature and Hindu religious motifs, and the themes generally revolve around Hindu deities like Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati. Natural objects like the sun, the moon and religious plants like Tulsi are also widely painted, along with scenes from the royal court and social events like weddings. Generally no space is left empty ; the gaps are filled by paintings of flowers, animals, birds and even geometric designs. Objects depicted in the walls of kohabar ghar (where newly wed couple see each other in the first night) are symbols of sexual pleasure and procreation.Legend says that this artform originated during the time of Ramayana when King Janak commissioned artists to paint pictures of his daughter Sita getting married to Rama

Painting of Krishna by Ganga Devi


Centuries old, this art is done mainly by the females of the family, and is a part of the daily ritual. 
It is believed that every morning the gods come invisibly to the household to bless the members of the family and to bring more prosperity. So this art started as a daily welcome painting for the Gods by decorating the outside of the house, the walls or the floor.
The walls and floors of the house were coated with cow dung and mud paste. When it dried it gave a perfect dark background to the bright paintings done with white rice paste. The diluted cow dung is also a natural antiseptic which is why it is valued as a floor and wall covering anyway - regardless of whether any one was going to paint on it!
During the Bihar famine of 1964-65 some of these women began to reproduce their pictures on handmade paper as their art work was being noticed by the urban people and the painted walls could not be moved to their living room. In this way, the Madhubani people with help from the All-India Handicrafts Board,  have managed to supplement their income by providing a desired product. It is a real life Technology and Enterprise project.
To give the same effect to the paper, the artists still coat the handmade paper with a thin layer of diluted cow dung. This helps in the absorption of colours as well as gives the desired shades of colours.
Even in the more recent work on paper, the themes are normally the Hindu Gods and Goddesses and stories from Hindu mythology.
Initially all vegetable dyes were used for the paintings but today with the changes over time and because of the easy availability many artists now use acrylic colours as well.
  • The figures are recognizable by a face in profile while the rest of the body faces the front.
  • The face has one very large eye and a bumpy sort of nose coming out of the forehead.
  • The figure outlines are drawn as a double line with diagonal hatching between them.
  • The borders are highly decorated - either geometrically or with ornate floral patterns.
  • Clothing also is highly decorated with geometrical, floral or even animal patterns.
  • The drawings of animals are easily recognised for what they are, but again tend to be very stylized.
When we did our own drawings in the Madhubani style, we all loved the fineline drawing so much that we didn't want to risk painting them with colours. Mrs Roy did tell us some of the natural materials that they would have initially used to make their dyes. All of these colours are mixed with goats milk or the milk of a bean plant. The brush is a sharpened or flattened  twig.
  • black - soot from the bottom of a cooking clay pot or the chimney of a lamp.
  • yellow -pollen / arsenic
  • red - local clay
  • Indian red (sindoor) - iron oxide
  • blue - indigo