Say Madhubani and several folklores, dances, costumes,
festivals which express the legacy of traditional India come into one’s mind.
It literally means ‘Forest of Honey’. As the name suggests, Madhubani art form
showcases basic elements of nature of rural India, people and local events and
Hindu deities. The art work is mainly divided into forms- Bharani and Kanchi
style. It mainly consists of geometrical patterns coloured in contrasting
shades or fine lines.

Peek in the
past

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Madhubani paintings have their origins in Mithila,
Bihar. The paintings were traditionally drawn using vibrant colours extracted
from crop products like indigo, rice, turmeric and sandalwood. The brushes were
also obtained from nature- matchsticks, bamboo sticks or cotton. The rustic
paintings were painted on mud walls door steps of the houses. This exotic art
was conveyed from generations to generations through the word of mouth. Essentially
a domestic piece of work, Madhubani art had no commercial affiliation till
1970s. Gradually, from walls, the art shifted onto canvas, paper and fabric.

Thematic
importance

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The Madhubani paintings generally depict the
intertwined human relation with nature and deities. Emotions like love,
courage, faith in the divine, fertility are the main theme of these paintings.
Perhaps, that is why they are presented on the occasions of birth, marriage and
festivals. Hindu deities also dominate the work. Many of them show the scenes
from Ramayana. All of them are breath taking and beautiful, however the rural
life depictions are equally praise worthy. Many of them would show people
dancing or playing an instrument, in perfect harmony with the surroundings
around them. It is almost as if a folk lore has reprised itself on the canvas.

Modern
revival

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The art might have seen a shift from domestic to commercial
world, but the motifs have remained more or less the same. Popular Madhubani painters
like Sita Devi, Bharti Dayal, Baua Bevi, Ganga Devi and Vidushini have given
Madhubani art a much needed cultural push. It is because of their and many
other artists’ efforts that Madhubani has emerged out in the whole country,
crossing the borders, garnering appreciation overseas. The main recognition was
received when national awards were given to the artists of Madhubani. The rural
cultural heritage now gets displayed in art galleries of Bangaluru and Japan.
If you have visited the Bihar pavilion in trade fair, then what greeted you on
entering was a beautiful Madhubani painting by Bharti Dayal.

Present reach

With Madhubani becoming more and more popular, the art
has found its place as home decorations and on fabrics. Madhubani work is now
commonly on household items such as bed sheets, covers, decorative lamp shades,
ceramic wear and wall hangings. Their eye catching contrast colours add charm
to the plain walls. Fashion industry has also given heed to the Madhubani art
by showcasing it on ramp. These prints carry essence of cultural richness of Bihar
in them. Some smaller elements such as fish and flower now decorate the
bangles.

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If observed properly, Madhubani art work
quintessentially describes rural India, despite of its limited regional roots.
The intricate work and patterns has kept the heritage alive. Colours, themes,
present approach has facilitated their promotion well. The art work has
travelled a long way, from the houses of rural Bihar to forgetfulness of the
world and finally to its rediscovery and promotion.

– Loveleen Singh

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