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History of Madhubani Painting
Madhubani painting or Mithila painting is a kind of Indian painting, practiced within the Mithila region of Bihar state, India, and the adjoining parts of Terai in Nepal. Painting is done with fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, and matchsticks, using natural dyes and pigments, and is characterized by eye-catching geometrical patterns. There are paintings for each occasion and festival such as birth, marriage, Holi, Surya Shasti, kali puja, Upanayanam, Durga Puja etc.
As expected of any ancient civilization, Bihar has a very rich tradition of folk art and craft which feature as an extremely rich tradition of artistry and innovation. The handicrafts of Bihar are appreciated all over the world because of their great aesthetic value and their adherence to tradition.
The exact time once Mithila art originated isn’t known. It is believed that during the time of the Ramayana, when King Janak ordered his kingdom to decorate the town for the wedding of his daughter, Sita, to Lord Rama. 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 idea that painting one thing divine would achieve that desire, ladies began to paint photos of gods and goddesses with an interpretation thus divine that captured the hearts of many.
Madhubani, which by one account means Forest of Honey, (‘Madhu’-honey, ‘Ban’-forest or woods) is a region in the northern part of Bihar. A region that has a distinct regional identity and language that reportedly spans 2500 years. The women painters of Mithila lived in a closed society. It is domestically believed that Madhubani painting tradition started when Raja Janak commissioned native artists to color murals in his palace in preparations for the wedding of his daughter Sita to Lord Ram. The paintings were originally done on walls coated with mud and cow dung. The kohbar ghar or the nuptial chamber was the room in which the paintings were traditionally done. Originally the paintings depicted an assembly of symbolic images of the lotus plant, the bamboo grove, fishes, birds and snakes in union. These images represented fertility and proliferation of life. There wont to be a tradition that the freshly married bride and groom would pay 3 nights within the kohbar ghar without cohabiting. On the fourth night they would on summate the marriage surrounded with the colourful painting. The Mithila paintings were done only by women of the house, the village and the caste and only on occasion of marriages.
Mithila painting, as a domestic ritual activity, was unknown to the outside world until the massive Bihar earthquake of 1934 when the houses and walls tumbled down. Then British colonial officer in Madhubani District, William G. Archer, while inspecting the damage “discovered” the paintings on the newly exposed interior walls of Mithila homes. He was struck by reported similarities to the work of modern Western artists like Miro and Picasso. During the 1930s he took black and white photos of some of these paintings, which today are the earliest images of the art. He also wrote about the painting in a 1949 article in ‘Marg’ an Indian Art Journal.