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Home >> Indian Painting Styles >> Madhubani Paintings

Madhubani Paintings



Madhubani, a village nestled in the State of Bihar, literally translated means the forest of honey. According to legends, d honey from the beehives lent the name to the village.the presence of a forest in the vicinity of this rural hamlet from where the villagers gathere The village is acclaimed worldwide for its folk paintings called Madhubani paintings or Maithil Paintings.Madhubani paintings were done by the womenfolk on the walls of the houses at the auspicious occasions. Women from the castes of Maithil Brahmins and Maithil Kayasths were the primary practitioners of this folk painting.

The special occasions were the januar', a sacred thread ceremony when a boy became an adult member, the gosain ghar i.e. the dedication or renovation of the family shrine, festivals such as Chhath, Chauth Chand, and the Devathan Ekadasi, the first marriage when the bride and the groom were formally linked and the second marriage when they entered the actual married state.

For the first three occasions the corridors and the goasin ghar were embellished with paintings of gods and goddesses. And for the latter two occasions mural paintings were done in the kohbar or the marriage chamber at the bride's house. The married couple stayed in the kohbar for a week and an oil lamp was placed that burned day and night.



There was predominant use of gods and goddesses and auspicious symbols in the bridal chamber. It was considered necessary to include all the main gods and goddesses in the paintings so that they can shower their blessings on the newly weds. Divine couples like Shiva and Parvati, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Ram and Sita, Radha and Krishna along with Jagannatha trio, Ganesha, Durga and Kali were illustrated on the walls. Often, the bride and groom were also depicted whereby they could also become a part of the auspicious scene.

The symbols like ring of lotuses ( kamalban or purain) and bamboo (bans) tree were commonly used to decorate the walls. It is interesting to note that both the symbols are associated with the fertility and progeny. The other symbols included, moon, a source of heavenly nectar, to ensue a long life, sun to fertilize and impregnate, turtles to bring beneficent powers to the matrimonial alliance, parrots to symbolize bride and bridegroom and fishes to help in fertility.

Besides these, four joganis or servants of Durga are also illustrated in each corner of the room to prevent anyone from casting negative spell on the bride and bridegroom.

The painting was executed on smooth mud walls plastered with cow dung. Often, a coat of whitewash was also applied before actually starting the process of the painting. Traditionally, vegetable colors mixed with oil and milk or gum were employed. The primary colors in the madubani paintings were pink, yellow, blue, red, green, black and white. A piece of rag tied to a twig or a sliver of bamboo frayed at the end was used as a brush.

At the time of decorating the wall, women of the household and even from the neighborhood used to come together, the most experienced woman used to take the charge and drew outlines of the figures. Once, the outlines were sketched the other women used to fill in the colors in the shapes. Young girls were usually assigned the task of holding the pots of paint and preparation of paintbrushes. The idea was that they should get well acquainted with the ritual and technique of painting by the time they leave for their husband’s house.

It is worth mentioning that some households maintained memoirs in which the designs were recorded for the posterity. The designs for the God Brahma, lotus ring, Krishna, and the panel of gods were contained in the memoirs. The daughter when left for her husband’s home usually carried these prized possessions and also adopted the idioms from her mother-in law’s home.

As mentioned earlier that the chief exponents of the Madhubani Paintings were the women from the Maithil Brahmin and Maithil Kayasth hence an individual style of both is easily identifiable.

Maithil Brahmins paintings can best be described as casual collection of figures, which seem to float like aimless creatures in a single flat plane yet gracefully harmonize with each other in the picture space. There is ample use of the blues, yellows, pinks, and reds in these fantasy paintings where the figure seems to have a waiving vitality.

While, Maithil Kayasth paintings appear to be tightly bound into panels with patterned frames or ranged in long processions round the walls. The chief colors, which were used, were bluish gray, ochre, madder and black in the paintings, which were executed in complicated patterns. The figures were fleshy and rotund in nature.

It was a creative media to reach the divinity and bow’s one head in deep reverence for his blessings and goodness. Madhubani Paintings continue to fascinate all an one for their lively yet innocence depiction of themes which are humane on one hand and divine on the other hand.

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