7 Things You Didn't Know About Madhubani Paintings

Bright colours, auspicious motifs, slender characters with exaggerated features—Madhubani paintings are in great demand worldwide. Also known as Mithila painting, these artworks are characterized by their vivacious hues and lack of empty spaces. Whether you want to decorate your office space, living room or even your bedroom, this art form has fast emerged as the most popular way of sprucing up bland walls.


Here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about Madhubani paintings:


  1. Madhubani painting has been around since Rama and Sita’s wedding!


Historical texts indicate that traditional Madhubani painting originated in Mithila, which was ruled by Raja Janak. At that time, it included Bihar, Jharkhand, and certain parts of southern Nepal, including Janakpur, named after it’s ruler, i.e., Sita’s father. To commemorate his daughter’s nuptials to Lord Rama, Raja Janak instructed the townsfolk to deck up the city of Mithila like a bride. Artists took to the streets, painting walls with bright, organic colours drawing scenes of the holy union and this birthed the iconic Mithila painting.


  1. It’s one of the earliest forms of graffiti


Traditional Madhubani painting originated as Bhitti Chitra, i.e., wall art. As mentioned above, residents of Mithila painted the walls to mark the union of Rama and Sita. Even today, if you visit the Madhubani district, you’ll be astounded by intricately painted walls narrating stories of yore or highlighting social issues, as has become the norm with modern Madhubani art. Contrary to popular belief, Mithila art is not completely religious in nature. Radha Krishna Madhubani painting may be one of the most sought after categories, but the themes range from folktales to social issues. It is this diversity of themes that has kept the art form alive and relevant even after 2500 years.


  1. Beautiful Madhubani paintings have prevented deforestation


The next time someone questions the utility of art, tell them how Madhubani paintings were single-handedly responsible for bringing down pollution levels in Bihar! Artists drew images of deities and religious symbols on trees to prevent them from being cut down.


For this, tree trunks are first painted with lime to safeguard the tree from insects. This creates a white background on which women paint gods and goddesses to dissuade people from axing down trees. This resulted in almost five kilometres of green patch flourishing with painted trees, keeping Bihar’s air relatively clean.


  1. Traditional Madhubani painting has five distinct styles


Bharni refers to the process of shading and filling colours. This style uses black colour for outlines, which are filled with bright colours like red, yellow and orange. In Kachni, fine lines are used to fill the painting instead of using solid colours. The colour palette is restricted to black and vermillion used for outlines and filling colours, respectively. The Tantric style follows colours, characters and descriptions given in tantric texts. Repetition of geometric shapes, concentric circles and parallel lines form the basis of the Godhana style. Kohbar paintings are usually made in honour of a newlywed couple and thus, include symbols of love, prosperity and fertility.


  1. It’s made with organic ingredients


Though Madhubani art paintings originated as Bhitti Chitra, they gradually moved to handmade paper made with multani mitti, neem juice and cow dung. This resulted in a paper that had a light yellow hue that mirrored its origin—the humble mud wall. All colours are also obtained from natural ingredients.


Blue colour was obtained from Indigo and green colour from spinach leaves. Charcoal soot mixed with cow dung created black colour, often used to make the outlines in beautiful Madhubani paintings. Adding turmeric to the milk of Banyan leaves begets yellow colour, while orange is obtained from the Palash flower. Red colour was extracted either from the Kusham flower or red sandalwood.


  1. The Feng Shui connection


If you look closely, be it a modern madhubani painting or a traditional madhubani painting, there are barely any empty spaces. This is a unique feature of Madhubani paintings as every inch of the canvas is filled with beautiful geometric patterns and motifs. Several of these motifs have a strong Feng Shui connection as they bring home good luck and prosperity.


The tree of life is a common symbol symbolizing wisdom and growth. Beautiful Madhubani paintings are inundated with fishes which is also an important symbol in Feng shui as it stands for wealth and prosperity. Peacocks are also a popular Madhubani motif, known as the harbingers of fame and beauty in Feng Shui. These and many other symbols make Madhubani paintings a popular choice amongst people for decorating their homes.


  1. William G. Archer is credited with bringing Mithila art into limelight


When Bihar was struck by an earthquake in 1934, a british officer named William G. Archer visited the town to assess the damage. During this trip, he stumbled across beautiful and colourful symbols painted on the walls of mud huts amidst the rubble. He was so impressed by the art form that he instantly spread news of its existence amongst his British peers, making Madhubani art paintings very popular across India and the world.


Born to decorate the walls of homes, Madhubani paintings have now become a popular art form. From a Krishna Madhubani painting to a canvas depicting social issues, it covers a plethora of themes which make it very relevant to the changing times. Such is its popularity that Japan has a huge Madhubani museum celebrating the art form.


Want to buy a statement piece for your home? Explore our Madhubani art paintings here.

February 11, 2021 — Team Bimba