Madhubani literally means “forest of honey” and these paintings are indeed a sweet delicacy to savour for most viewers. Sometimes these are also called Mithila paintings with reference to the Mithila region in the North Indian State of Bihar where they originate.
Traditionally, the women would paint these on the walls of their homes especially in the prayer room. Hence, Gods and Goddesses form an important and recurring theme in Madhubani art. They also depict flora and fauna and important festivals, weddings and village scenes. Since the 1960’s the government of India has been promoting this art as an alternative income for these economically backward people whose main occupation is agriculture (an unstable source of income in rain dependent rural India).
Due to commercial demands the women have taken to creating their works of art on paper and cloth. They continue to use the traditional materials for painting; the brush is a cloth wrapped around a stick, the colours are natural derivatives - black colour is obtained by mixing soot with cow dung; yellow from turmeric or pollen or lime and the milk of banyan leaves; blue from indigo; red from the kusam flower juice or red sandalwood; green from the leaves of the wood apple tree; white from rice powder; orange from palasha flowers. One unusual feature about this art form is that no part of the painting is left blank, even the background will be covered with animal, plant motifs, geometrical shapes or tattoo like markings. They highlight certain features by drawing a double line which is also filled in by a small trellis of lines.
Madhubani has become so popular that these paintings are being incorporated by weavers and textile designers to create the traditional Indian sari and even scarves. From the home of a humble villager to gracing the walls of the rich and famous, Madhubani has sure come a long way.
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