History and Folklore of Madhubani Painting

The state of Bihar consists of about seventy-two thousand villages and one of its unique
features is that it has a number of aboriginal tribes. In fact it has the third largest tribal
population in India, which belongs to two language groups: the Austric and the Dravidian.
Religion plays an important role in the lifestyle and tradition of the people of Bihar. It is
because of their desire to please their gods and to develop their spirituality that brought
in Madhubani Painting. It is the womenfolk who tried to keep alive the folk songs, folk
tales, folk arts and folk crafts. But for the womenfolk, folklore could not have been able
to withstand the changes in this fast moving world and adhere to its traditional form. It is
them who have kept alive the old traditions of the rural life and this enthusiasm is passed
down from mother to daughter from generations. In folk art, especially in painting, women
play a vital role. Women do most of the Madhubani Paintings and their creativity can be
interpreted and visualised from these paintings themselves. Like almost all other folklore
around the world, there is an element of myth in the folklore of Bihar too. It consists of the
tales of the origin of the earth, existence of supernatural beings like gandharvas, apsaras, morals, and
cumulative and pastoral songs. Coming to folk art, Bihar enjoys a prominent place. Mulk Raj Anand
says: The sources of folk art of Madhubani lie on the dim areas of silence, of the approximation to the
heightened moments of creation itself.

With an extraordinary history in its art, women in the villages around Madhubani have been practising
their folk art for centuries but it has been recognised as a form of art only in the recent years. The
women painters lived in a closed society and were unwilling to paint openly. Eventually due to a
drought (1966-68) in the surrounding areas of Mithila that resulted in severe economic crisis women
began to commercialise their art. The All India Handicrafts Board encouraged the women artists to
produce their paintings on handmade paper for commercial sale. The government of India, the state
government of Bihar and the regional craft guilds have all come in together to initiate the productions
and marketing for these women painters. This sudden change in the form of art and its presentation
has enabled the world to discover a new form of art with an enviable linkage to the lives of women.
The ancient tradition of elaborate wall paintings or Bhitti – Chitra in Bihar played a major role in the
emergence of this new art form. The original inspiration for Madhubani art emerged out of women’s
craving for religiousness and an intense desire to be one with God. With the belief that painting
something divine would achieve that desire, women began to paint pictures of gods and goddesses
with an interpretation so divine that captured the hearts of many. Women of upper castes mainly did
the wall paintings of the Kohbar Ghar, Gosain Ghar and the AripanFloor paintings. The use of colours
would differentiate each from their work. Colours like pink, green, Brahmins use yellow, lemon, blue
and black. Kayastha painting consist of just black or deep red. These paintings have representations
of lotus flower, palki, horse, elephant, goose, peacock, bans, pan, sun, moon, birds, fish, and Bidh-bidhata (a male and a female bird facing each other), Patia (mat woven from mothi), Nagnagin (entwined male and female cobras), Pan ke ghar (leaf house) and Naina jogin (Goddess with magical powers). Women paint Aripan floor paintings on a sacred day of every lunar month. Rice paste is used as pigment and a twig is used as a brush. Gosain Ghar paintings (room for kuladevata or the deity of the family) are also prevalent.

—  Doc Source




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