Published on Tuesday, July 25 by Kalpana Jha

Mithila's Signature Art Form - The Madhubani Paintings

This post is about an art form that gives Mithila recognition on a world stage: मधुबनी (Madhubani) or Mithila Paintings.

Like every other girl in Mithila, I was given the brush and colors to play as a child.

I have enjoyed painting them for my friends and family at the time of marriage or a birth in the family. We also borrowed elements of Mithila paintings when designing the labels and packaging for the pickles you buy at JhaJi Store. I'll tell you about it at the end of the letter.

With this context, let me take you through this journey about Mithila paintings.

Starting with a painting that will take you to the time when the first known Mithila art was created.

HISTORICAL ROOTS OF MITHILA PAINTING

This painting shows a scene from the marriage of भगवान Ram and Sita.

Legend has it that people of Mithila painted their homes on the occasion of the marriage, some 2500 years ago. Raja Janak, who was the father of Sita, asked everyone in the kingdom to paint their house walls in a way that they introduce the wedding guests to the culture of Mithila.

That day started two long-standing traditions were born in Mithila.

One, Mithila Art became a celebrated gift on auspicious occasions in the region.

And two, women of all ages found a creative outlet in practicing the art form to the best of their abilities.

MODERN HISTORY

The world has the very first photographs of Mithila paintings from 1935. 

A British Civil Service Officer, William Archer, took these paintings when on a tour to inspect damages from an earthquake at that time.I found his words written in a 2014 article in the same magazine that Archer's original article appeared in 1949.

"I must confess that for at least an hour, I forgot the earthquake and its horrors. I was entranced by what I saw. They were a product of pre-industrial India. I was a product of sophisticated England. Yet in these murals we somehow electrically met. What they took for granted, I considered superb ... the art was there and made us one ...I saw the beauty on the mud."

In the paintings then, Archer saw lotus pond, flowers, fish, turtles, snakes, parrots, and peacocks.

Most Mithila paintings capture people and our relationship with nature. Others depict deities and scenes from epics like Ramayana.

The colors in the paintings have traditionally all been drawn from natural sources.

Turmeric for Yellow
Pepper Bark for Red
Banana Leaves for Green.

Flowers for Indigo, Red, and Blue.

The paintings are drawn in various different styles. I'm most familiar with two of them - कचनी (Kachni) and भरनी (Bharni).

These two styles mainly differ in the use of colors.The भरनी style mostly depicts gods and goddesses and use vivid, solid colors.

The painting you see above is Bharni painting.कचनी paintings, on the other hand, mostly use one or two colors. The focus in Kacchni is on the intricate linework done by a Nib.

While a Nib is the most authentic instrument to create Mithila paintings, a paintbrush is a popular tool for people who want to get started.

MITHILA ART ON THE PICKLE JARS

We borrowed inspiration from Mithila paintings when we designed the label and packaging for the pickles sold on JhaJi Store.

The first thing you'll probably notice about the pickle jars is the Sun in red on the cloth cover.

Sun is the source of all life and is an auspicious symbol for all things good.

2% of the money you pay for the pickles, directly goes to the Girls who paint this motif on the cloth covers. The money they use to continue their education.

If you move to the label, you'll notice the motif of a woman, a मर्तबान (an earthen jar), pickle's ingredients, and natural elements like flowers.

The woman is an ode to the women who keep Mithila's culture alive.

The Martabaan humbly honors the elements of nature like many Mithila paintings.

The ingredients in our pickles all come from natural sources, like the colors in Mithila paintings.

Other natural elements like flowers and leaves add an abundance to the art, in this case, our label.

I'll conclude here.

Hope you found some education or inspiration in this letter.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment box below.

And you can subscribe to the newsletter where we send more stories like these, every week to your inbox.

Read more on Mithila's Paintings and their cultural relevance here:

1. Transformation of Mithila Painting, an Article by Birbal Jha Ji for Patna Beats
2. Madhubani Paintings: People’s Living Cultural Heritage, contribution of Chandra Shamsher Bahadur Singh in World Heritage Encyclopedia
3. The Walls Have Eyes: The discovery and evolution of Mithila art, an Article by Sridevi Nambiar for Sarmaya - a Museum without Boundaries
4. Mithila painting: 1949-2014, borrowed from PERSPECTIVES, a contribution by David Szanton in Marg, A Magazine of the Arts

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published