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Mithila (Land of Sita)

Madhubani Paintings – A Tradition of Folk Paintings by Women


Mithila was a large and powerful kingdom in what are now northeastern India and southern Nepal. Today, Mithila refers to the area and the people who live there. Madhubani, which in literal translation means Forest of Honey, has been the cultural center of Mithila region and today is an important district in the northern part of Bihar, India.

The women folk of this region have been practicing their folk art for centuries
primarily to consecrate space around theirhabitation, during rituals (of family life, of the goddesses). They used to compose

elaborate wall paintings or Bhitti-Chitra, and floor paintings or Aripan on their mud homes. Mothers in this region have been teaching their daughters patterns and dyes sometimes unknown to the men, for a long time little known to the outside world.

Recognition as an art form…

In the mid-sixties, this region underwent a blistering drought and its inhabitants faced widespread starvation. In 1965, an aid worker for the Indian government, Bhaskar Kulkarni, arrived from Delhi and encouraged the idea of translating these traditional wall paintings onto paper. Materials like Paper and colours were supplied to these artists free and the resulting work was sold through government handicraft shops all over the country. As a result these works became famous as “Madhubani Paintings”. Women of the region still paint on the walls and floors of their houses, but many of them (and now a days, sometimes men too!) paint on paper, enabling their art to be sold around the world.


It is because of their desire to please their gods and to develop their spirituality that brought in Madhubani Painting. Like almost all other folklore around the world, these paintings too have elements of myth and have tales revolving around the origin of the earth, life, existence of gods and supernatural beings like gandharvas, apsaras, and stories based morals. Additionally they have assimilated the themes from Hinduism, Buddhism on a common tantrik foundation.
For weddings and festivals, they embellish the outer walls of their homes with elaborate drawings based on familiar mythological stories. The walls of the wedding chamber (Kohbar Ghar) were adorned with symbolic paintings symbolizing fertility and life.

Categories of Madhubani Paintings:

Though there were no class artists and most of the subjects were common, still based on the preference of people from a particular caste, the different schools of Madhubani paintings have been classified into three types:

Kayastha Tradition
  The unique feature of the Kayastha tradition is the use of monochrome color, combination, like black, red, green, maroon etc. It was basically a practice of elaborate wall paintings of the nuptial chamber, Kohbar Ghar with representations of the lotus, bamboo grove, fish, birds and snakes in union, which largely symbolizes fertility and life. Even when this style is conceived in paper, single color line work defines the Kayastha style of painting even today.

By Bandana Jha

The Brahmin Tradition

Unlike the Kayastha, the Brahmin style of painting lavishly deals with rich variety of colors.

Their easy access to Hindu sacred literature has helped them immensely in portraying the rich Hindu iconography and mythology.



By Manisha Jha

The Tattoo Tradition/ Goidana (locally called)

The Tattoo – based paintings reflect the primitive art and creates its impact by a serial replication of the same image.

The lower section of the society, existing in maithil society at that particular time, practiced this style of madhubani paintings. The painting is originally in the form of a line – drawings and is divided into several horizontal margins. Considering its rich use of color it is closer to the Brahmin school of painting.


By Manisha Jha

All these styles were traditionally done on the mud walls of Kohbar Ghar, Gosain Ghar and the mud floors (Aripan). It used to be drawn on walls washed with clay or often coated with a layer of cow-dung. Vegetable dyes, black soots, carnation pollen, red clay were used as colors using homemade brush of twigs wrapped with some strips of cloth.

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