How To Identify a Madhubani Painting?

The Madhubani style of painting is thought to have emerged in Mithila, the birthplace of the venerated Hindu Goddess Sita. According to the legend, King Janak, the proud father of Sita commissioned Mithila paintings sometime in the 7th-8th century BCE to honour his daughter's marriage to Lord Rama of Ayodhya.(1) 

 

Madhubani paintings (also known as Mithila paintings) have been practised by the women of the region for generations and are now regarded as a living Mithila tradition. With portrayals of religion, love, and fertility, the art not only represents social nuances but also the cultural refinements of the area. (2)


In this article, we will explore what sets a Madhubani painting apart. There are many ways to identify an authentic Mithila painting. One way to identify these paintings is to look closely during the production process. Here’s how Madhubani Paintings come to life:


Preparation of Madhubani Paintings 

An important first step, the walls are prepared before-hand with mud and cow dung. This plaster not only acts as a preservative and a strengthening agent but is also considered a harbinger of prosperity. (3) 


The next step involved the preparation of the colours which was done by the artists themselves. The colours were originally produced using natural elements such as (4) -  


  1. Black was made from burnt barley seeds or soot, 
  2. Yellow was made from from turmeric or “chuna” (lime) mixed with milk from banyan leaf or pollen, 
  3. Orange was made from palash flower,
  4. Red was made form the juice of the kusum flower or clay, 
  5. Green was made from the bel leaves, 
  6. White was made from mixing rice powder with water,
  7. Light brown was made from mixing cow dung & gum in fresh water,
  8. Pink was made from peepal bark being boiled in water, 
  9. Blue was made from the berries of a herb called sikkar, 
  10. Dark green was made from the Siam creeper,
  11. Light green was made from the sepals of gulmohar 

Today, organic and mineral colours are easily available in markets. The imagery was made using these colours and tools used to paint were bamboo twigs, cotton rags. Bamboo twigs are used from drawing outlines. Nowadays, pens are also used as Madhubani paintings have also transferred onto canvas, cloth and paper.(5)


While the production process of Madhubani paintings may be unique, it is still hard to identify the materials and process used when you see the final painting. Unless you are a pro, you may not be able to tell the difference between natural and synthetic paints. Moreover, with globalisation, artists are beginning to use more modern materials while painting. And so, the traditional production process might not be the best way to correctly and quickly identify a Madhubani painting.


So then, how can we identify an authentic Madhubani painting? 


One way is by learning about its unique styles! 

There are different types of Madhubani paintings. Mainly four– Bharni, Kachni, Tantrik and Godna. However, with evolution of the art form, the complex and beautiful painting of ‘Kohbar’ has taken its own place as a fifth style of Madhubani painting. Here’s what each style represents:


Types of Madhubani Paintings

Thematically, Madhubani paintings are mainly based on religion, mythology and everyday life. Initially, in the 1960s,  Madhubani paintings were made by different castes because of which the themes changed. Upper caste women were known to paint stories surrounding religion and mythology where lower caste women depicted stories based on their everyday life.(6) Because of this, Madhubani paintings were categorised into five types of styles namely Tantrik, Kohbar, Bharni, Godna and Katchni.  They are made in particular places in the house, such as the prayer room, the ceremonial area, the bridal room, or the village's major walls to greet visitors, and so on. These five styles of Madhubani paintings showcase in great detail the various themes adopted by this painting styles (7)

  1. Bharni- Bharni is a hindi word meaning, “filling”. The painting is ‘filled in’ with profound use of bright and vibrant colours.  
  2. Kachni- The style comes from the Kayastha community. It is a very unique style as it uses only a monochrome scheme. The style depicts mainly animals, flora and fauna.(8) 
  3. Tantrik- The style is known to depict religious and traditional texts of Hinduism. The paintings also have the influence of tantra in its painting patterns. These paintings are generally made in people’s homes during special occasions.(9) 
  4. Godna- The style is considered to be the most straightforward method of Madhubani paintings and was discovered by Chanu Devi. The style depicts flora and fauna, the tree of life etc. The style is done majorly on canvas. (10) 
  5. Kohbar- Considered to be one of the most popular forms of Madhubani paintings, the style has linkages to depict hindu wedding ceremonies. It also goes by the name of Tantra Raj, Yog Yogini and Shiv Shakti. The paintings are mainly made on the walls of the bride and groom’s home. (11) 

But ever since Madhubani art has become a global phenomenon, these barriers have reduced drastically giving artisans the opportunity to merge themes and create beautiful artworks. When in doubt, use your knowledge of these different styles and variants of Madhubani paintings to identify the handiwork of Mithila painting artists. 


Another way to also spot these paintings is to be intimately familiar with the common set of motifs that appear frequently in them. Here’s a list of symbols that will help guide the way:


Central Themes & Symbolism

Madhubani paintings are often a representation of everyday events and beliefs. As a result, symbolism, simplicity, and beauty unite them into a single school of traditional art. 

 These paintings mostly represent people and their interactions with nature, as well as scenes and deities from ancient epics. Natural items like the sun and moon, as well as sacred plants such as tulsi, are frequently shown in paintings, as are images from the royal court and social occasions such as weddings. In general, no place is left empty in these paintings; the gaps are filled with paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and even geometric designs.(12)  Here are some popular motifs that appear in most paintings:


  • Fish representing fertility, procreation, and good luck; 
  • Turtles representing water and union of lovers, 
  • Parrots  representing romantic love and religion; and 
  • Serpents representing divine protectors,
  • Elephants, palanquins representing royalty,
  • Sun and moon representing longevity, 
  • Goose and peacocks representing welfare and calmness, 
  • Lotus representing good luck and feminine,
  • Bamboo representing future progeny and the male gender.  

The appearance of these symbols in a symphony would be a characteristic of Madhubani painting.

Madhubani paintings are often characterised by complex geometrical patterns and vividly bright colours formulating a distinct and distinguishable identity. These characteristics are the most accurate way of identifying these paintings:


Typical Characteristics

  1. The human figures in Madhubani paintings are usually linear, two dimensional and abstract. 
  2. They contain complex geometrical patterns depicting various occasions such as festivals, weddings, rituals, mythology etc.
  3. They are known for the use of vibrant, bold colours that create striking contrasts. The unrestrained use of colours creates eye-catching patterns for the viewer.
  4. Madhubani paintings have scenes overflowing with diverse elements that fill all blank space. The central idea is to fill up the entire white space within the painting with various motifs. 
  5. The most important aspect of identifying a Madhubani would be through its steady use of double lines. It is a common belief within the community that everything on Earth comes in pairs, and so sketches are double-lined reflecting this philosophy.




References 

  1. Bahadur Singh, C., 2020. Madhubani Paintings: People’s Living Cultural Heritage. [online] World History Encyclopedia. Available at: <https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1527/madhubani-paintings-peoples-living-cultural-herita/>. 

Gupta, Y., 2021. Madhubani Art: History, Themes and Characteristics. [online] MeMeraki.com. Available at: <https://www.memeraki.com/blogs/news/madhubani-history-themes-and-characteristics>. 

  1. Bahadur Singh, C., 2020. Madhubani Paintings: People’s Living Cultural Heritage. [online] World History Encyclopedia. Available at: <https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1527/madhubani-paintings-peoples-living-cultural-herita/>. 
  2. Gupta, Y., 2021. Madhubani Art: History, Themes and Characteristics. [online] MeMeraki.com. Available at: <https://www.memeraki.com/blogs/news/madhubani-history-themes-and-characteristics>. 
  3. Ghosh, S., 2020. Madhubani Painting—Vibrant Folk Art of Mithila. [ebook] Hyderabad, India: Scientific Research, p.69. Available at: <https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=99588>
  4. Ghosh, S., 2020. Madhubani Painting—Vibrant Folk Art of Mithila. [ebook] Hyderabad, India: Scientific Research, p.69. Available at: <https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=99588>
  5. En.wikipedia.org. n.d. Madhubani art - Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhubani_art>.
  6. Authindia. 2009. Types of Madhubani Painting - Authindia. [online] Available at: <https://authindia.com/types-of-madhubani-painting/>.
  7. Authindia. 2009. Types of Madhubani Painting - Authindia. [online] Available at: <https://authindia.com/types-of-madhubani-painting/>.
  8. Authindia. 2009. Types of Madhubani Painting - Authindia. [online] Available at: <https://authindia.com/types-of-madhubani-painting/>.
  9. Authindia. 2009. Types of Madhubani Painting - Authindia. [online] Available at: <https://authindia.com/types-of-madhubani-painting/>.
  10. Authindia. 2009. Types of Madhubani Painting - Authindia. [online] Available at: <https://authindia.com/types-of-madhubani-painting/>.
  11. Ghosh, S., 2020. Madhubani Painting—Vibrant Folk Art of Mithila. [ebook] Hyderabad, India: Scientific Research, p.69. Available at: <https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=99588>

References

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