Nestled on the India-Nepal border is the small region of Mithila with a rich and vibrant folk history. The women sit with papers stretched out and their paint bottles opened- filled with natural colours made from flowers, fruits and roots, a handmade paintbrush just about to put the first brushstroke on the surface. Mithila paintings are an expression of a woman’s joys, sorrows, her stories, beliefs, songs and routine, all encompassed in a canvas with splendid colors, motifs and symbolisms. Also known as Madhubani paintings, the art form gets its name from the village of Madhubani (‘the forest of honey’ Madhu meaning Honey and Bani as the forest) in Bihar where the tradition of decorating walls and floors of homes and important locations in the village were a norm since ancient times.
Said to be the capital city of the Kingdom of Janakpur in the epic Ramayana, King Janaka ordered his kingdom to decorate the town of Mithila for the wedding of his daughter, Sita, to Lord Rama. Resplendent with rich imagery of wedding scenes, nature inspired motifs like fish, peacocks, and the tree of life as symbols of prosperity, fertility, and good luck for the couple, the art form depicts the cultural mosaic of India and the intimate relationship between humans and nature.
Madhubani paintings are also a significant symbol of women’s empowerment and societal equality in modern India!
Mithila painting, as a domestic ritual activity, was unknown to the outside world until the massive earthquake on India-Nepal border in 1934 when the houses and walls tumbled down and the paintings were discovered and published to the world. The global appreciation of the art form prepared the stage for its rise to the popularity it enjoys today. In the 1960s the region saw a dreadful drought when women of the village from across castes were encouraged to transfer their paintings onto paper and sell them to earn additional income.
Mithila Paintings are symbolic of India’s ancient mythology, rich culture and the spirit of life itself, which brings new hopes in even the most torrid times. With vibrant colors, and abstract, symbolic figures, Madhubani today is celebrated world over as one of the revolutionary art forms from India.