Madhubani Paintings

Madhubani Paintings

Madhubani Painting, also known as the Mithila Painting, is an ancient form of painting which has its genesis in the Mithila district of Bihar. The name of this folk art has come from Madhubani, the village which it hails from, which literally mean ‘forest of honey’. It is one of the most popular representations of the indigenous and traditional art forms of India, making its mark in the national as well as international art fairs and markets.

In 1965, during the draught of the region in Bihar, A government employee called Bhaskar Kulkarni brought this art form to the eyes of the modern society and encouraged these paintings to be done on paper, which was earlier a form of painting only to be practiced on the walls.


Who Practiced Madhubani Paintings?

These paintings were practiced primarily by the womenfolk of the common households of the Mithila in Bihar. For a number of centuries, the women draw these paintings primarily to sanctify the space around them and the household, especially during their rituals. In Indian culture, it is a custom and a belief that the actions of women can bring peace, harmony and success to the whole family. This practice of drawing and painting Madhubani by women are significant as these women were not considered as artists, and these art forms are considered to be a part of life, rather than mere productions of artistic images.


What are the Subjects of Madhubani Paintings?

India has been a land of oral epics (the early unwritten epics which were orated in the community and passed through generations only through recitation) and tales of myths. Following this tradition, Madhubani paintings follow the subjects of the Hindu myths, gods and deities. The popular texts finding their place in this art form are:

  • The popular myth of Krishna and his exploits with Radha, his Gopinis and usurping the corrupt king called Kangsa.

  • The popular tale of Ramayana and the popular deity of Rama and his odyssey to the land called Lanka to defeat the Asura kings Ravana and free his wife and queen Sita.

  • The popular images of creation and destruction by the Hindu god Shiva.

  • The images of victory of good over evil through the tales of Durga.

  • The popular images of Saraswati, the goddess off knowledge and Laxmi, the goddess of wealth.

  • Celestial objects like the Sun and the moon are recurrent themes of this art form.

  • Religious plants like the tulsi find an important part in the paintings.

  • Social events and people’s participation in gatherings like a wedding often become a prominent part of this.

Formally in the design part, no vacant or negative space is left in the paintings. The empty spaces are filled with floral designs, beautiful and accurate geometric shapes, images of animals and birds.

The popular themes and subjects of the Madhubani Painting which are easily available in the market are:

Male Divine Beings & Human Male Ideals

  1. Rama Hunts the Golden Deer

  2. Krishna Subdues Kaliya

  3. Krishna the Cowherd

  4. Krishna Resting in a Tree

  5. Krishna and Milkmaids

  6. Worship of Shiva as Maha-Yogi

  7. Purna-Dasa: The Reformed Son

Animals: Birds, Fish, Lions, and Snakes

  1. Peacocks and Fishes

  2. Lioness with Cub

  3. A Meeting of Snakes

  4. Festival in Honor of Snakes

Female Divine Beings or Goddesses

  1. The Snake Goddess or Manasa

  2. Goddess Saraswati

  3. Goddess Lakshmi with Goddess Saraswati

  4. Goddess Durga

  5. Goddess Kali

Rites of the Human Life-Cycle

  1. Bride Transported by Palanquin

  2. Approaching the Honeymoon Chamber

  3. Within the Honeymoon Chamber

  4. The Married Couple as One


Styles of Madhubani Paintings

Broadly there are three styles of Madhubani paintings seen widely. They are:

  • The Brahmin Style: The Brahmin style of Madhubani painting reverts to the ancient Hindu texts of Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas and other Sanskrit literature highlighting the celebrated mythological and iconographic images. This style delves in the elite way of representation and portrays a social culture of rich cultural heritage. The colour theme is usually lavish and rich

  • Tattoo Style or the Goidana Style: (the local name for this style): This is an important style, especially for those who are enthusiastic in the sociological and anthropological studies of Indian culture. This is a primitive art and the impact is created through representation of the same image as a leitmotif by replicating the same image in a sequential order. In sharp contrast to the Brahmin style of Madhubani painting, this style was practiced by the lower and the common strata of the society of Maithili. The paintings are in the form of a line drawing and are dissected into several horizontal margins. On the basis of the colour scheme, the colours used have close proximity to the Brahmin tradition.

  • Kshatriya Style / Kayastha Style: The best feature of this style is that these paintings are based on the use of monochrome colours – it can be maroon, black, red or green. It was a regular practice on the walls of the nuptial chamber in Kohbar Ghar. The images found here are those of the nature: the lotus, bamboo grooves, birds snakes in union – which connotes the vital elements of life, i.e. fertility and happiness in union.

It is interesting to note that the styles of Madhubani painting are divided in the exact way the Hindu ancient society was categorized. Each and every style of painting is named after the four classes of the society (the Tattoo style representing the lowest strata of the social hierarchy).


How is the Madhubani Painting done?

Folk art forms are always self dependent. Unlike the modern art form, whose production and creation depends heavily on the market products, this art form and its artists made their own instruments and brushes in the most indigenous form possible.

  • Brushes were made wrapping cotton around a bamboo stick

  • Colours applied are all prepared by the artist him/herself

  • A mixture of scoot and cow-dung gives the colour black

  • Yellow is obtained from turmeric, pollen, lime, or milk extracted from banyan trees

  • Blue from indigo

  • Red extracted from red sandalwood

  • Green from the leaves of the apple wood

  • Orange from the flower called Palash

  • White obtained from rice powder

Madhubani designs and the Madhubani images have transcended the original medium and finds great application in designer sarees and clothes, paintings, wall hangings and such artifacts. A separate genre of sarees called the Madhubani sarees has come into existence.

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