Q: Can you share with us something about the history and origin of Madhubani art?
Madhubani is a place in the north-eastern part of India, in Bihar, in the Mithilanchal area. It is the birthplace of Sita, the wife of Lord Ram. This form of painting was started by the country women of Madhubani, and the entire culture is called Mithila culture. They started using natural pigments, like pollen, turmeric, cow dung, or indigo to make patterns on the walls of their homes, which were around the celebration of life and marriage.
Since Mithilanchal is considered to be the birthplace or mother’s home of Sita, they celebrate it in that way. And also the fact that Sita is a woman. In Madhubani, a lot many forms are related to the Tantric form of painting depicting the goddess Durga, Kali, or Ardhanarishwar [half man-half woman], reflecting the locals’ joy and pride that these female deities have taken birth in their place.
Madhubani is also about the celebration of marriage. There is something called kohbar, which is a small room that is painted and decorated – the entire walls are decorated at the time of a wedding – and this room is given to the newly-wedded couple for consummating their marriage. So, all the elements that are used in these paintings are about nature, fertility, the celebration of love, the navagrahas [the nine planets] out there – everything auspicious. The fish, the turtle, the peacock, the parrot, everything that is auspicious is celebrated.
So it’s is about fertility, and the celebration of life and marriage. That’s how it started.
Q: What are the media used in Madhubani art?
Traditionally, the colors used in Madhubani paintings were all-natural pigments. For example, natural indigo for blue; turmeric for yellow; natural flowers for red; leaves for green; and a mixture of soot and cow dung for black. They would paint with these colors on the walls.
Nowadays we usually paint on fabric or paper. On paper we mostly use acrylic colors. On cotton cloth, we use fabric color. And those who feel they can afford to give proper time to their art usually use bamboo sticks in place of brushes.
Bamboo sticks are used because they are thin and lightweight, and they give a lot of precision in the art. That’s how it’s done traditionally, but if we’re short on time we use whatever we want. There is no hard-and-fast rule. Whatever suits, you use.
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