Madhubani (ma-dhoo-ban-ee) is a folk art form, traditionally practised by women from the region in and around Madhubani in Bihar. It is also known as Mithila (Mi-thee-laa) paintings, after the region’s historical significance as the ancient kingdom of Sita from the Ramayana (one of her names is Maithili or ‘she who hails from Mithila’). As a result, the Ramayana is a popular theme and so are depictions, usually in profile, of scenes from nature, folk deities, mythological figures, and other Hindu deities like Shiva, Parvathi, Krishna, Ganesha etc. Madhubani has its origins in the ritual decoration of walls and floors of the ‘Kohbar’ or nuptial chamber. The dyes were traditionally derived from natural sources like flowers, rice, clay, bark etc. and the choice of colour depended on the community of the women painting the mural as well as whether the mural was drawn on the floor or the wall. Today, an array of themes are painted in many colours on paper or canvas and sometimes, even as decorative murals in offices and homes. Madhubani’s appeal can be seen as far as Japan, where over a thousand of these paintings are displayed at the Mithila Museum in Tokamachi.
An edited version of this article was published in the December 2012 issue of Culturama