It is said that colour and creativity runs in the veins of the women in Mithila, a place better known as the land of Sita. And why not, when these very women are the ones who have given a reason for the huge acclamation which the place and its art forms enjoy. Mithila, a region in the northern part of Bihar is famous for its fertile land, poor economic condition and of course ‘Madhubani Paintings’ which is known as one of the traditional art forms of ancient India.

Sadly, this traditional art form is on the decline owing to the lack of government policies for its development. Though, the Nitish Kumar-led government is trying its best to improve the economic condition of the region, Madhubani paintings continue to get ignored by the lot.

‘Madhubani Paintings’, also known as 'Mithila Paintings' named after the village Madhubani, find their origin in Indian epic Ramayana. ‘Madhubani Painting’ was first adopted by the court artists of King Janak of Videha, for the matrimonial ceremony of Sita, Janak's daughter, to Lord Ram. Since then, Madhubani has been a domestic art form of rural India, created by the women in the Mithila area.

Mithila or Madhubani district is the actual hub of Madhubani paintings. Eventually this art form spread to the adjacent districts of Madhubani like Rasidpur, Bacchi, Jetwarpur, Ranti, Rajangarh as well.

The art was originally practiced by women only covering a wide variety of subjects, from the mundane to the mythical. Following the belief that Gods visit each house in the morning, the art primarily donned the walls and doors, intending to please the Gods.

Theme and symbolism

The themes of this painting are mainly categorized into religious, natural scenes of the village, flora and fauna. Madhubani paintings mainly focus on the stories of Raja Salesh, who is the chief God of Madhubani people. Apart from him, gods like Moti Ram, Buddheshwar and goddess like Reshma, Kusma, Downa Malini, Jutki Malini often take shape on the traditional paintings. The central theme of the Madhubani paintings is the Hindu gods and goddesses. Stories of Radha-Krishna, Mahadeva-Parvati, Durga, Kali, Ganesha are also drawn by Madhubani painters. The main theme is supported by the traditional geometric patterns. Some of the main attributes of all the Madhubani paintings are double line border, ornate floral patterns, abstract-like figures of deities, bold use of colors and bulging eyes and a jolting nose of the faces of the figures.

Most of the figures depicted in Madhubani paintings carry a symbolic meaning to them which makes these paintings all the more interesting. Fishes in a Madhubani painting depict good luck, fertility and reproduction; peacocks symbolize romantic love while serpents in these paintings are identified as divine protectors.

Myriad colours

Pictures are drawn with rice paste and vegetable colors. Traditionally, Madhubani was painted over freshly coated mud walls. For an authentic look many of the painters still apply a thin layer of cow dung and mud paste on their canvases.

However, in present times, it has migrated to plastered walls, clothes, paper, and canvas, where men have also started contributing.

Colours used in Madhubani paintings are made of organic and other naturally existing minerals for example, black is made by mixing soot with cow dung, yellow from turmeric, blue from indigo, red from red sandalwood, green from leaves and white from rice paste.

Declining art

Despite being the creators of such a famous art form, women in Mithila are losing their enthusiasm to make these paintings resulting in a sharp decline in this art form. Many of the female artists prefer to remain anonymous. Most of them are illiterate, shy and have not come outside the boundaries of their mud-thatched villages.

Even now, ,some  of the  artists feel reluctant to consider themselves as ‘artists’ and only few of them mark their own paintings with their original name. Artists lament that though everyone knows about the exploitation, nothing is being done by authorities to help them. Many of the artists do not want to see their children as the carriers of the art form.
This folk art form of eastern India has not been getting much encouragement and attention from the government. Many of the old Madhubani styles of paintings have become extinct. This lack of encouragement has forced many artists to leave their profession and go back to their old livelihoods.

It is time the government wakes up to the gravity of the situation and makes a comprehensive policy to develop various art forms of the state. It is the duty of the state government that boasts on the dramatic turnaround of Bihar’s fortunes during its regime.

Otherwise, the days are not far away when the art that saved Mithila during the 1966-68 famine, emerging as the new source of non-agricultural income, will succumb to the market pressure.

It is time we save the tradition from the land of Sita!