Growing up, I used to see these paintings of songs and dance being displayed in markets of Patna. Back then I didn’t know about the various schools of paintings that exist in India. After I moved to Delhi, I started seeing these paintings everytime I used to visit Dilli Haat for momos. A small conversation about the artist made me realize that they were from Madhubani and these are the famed Madhubani paintings of Bihar.
Madhubani painting is known for describing happy and auspicious moments in art form.
Meeting Pamashree Awardee Smt. Mahasundari Das
Padmashree Awardee Smt. Mahasundari Das is known for giving Madhubani painting of Bihar the international status that it is known for today. Her home in Ranti Village of Madhubani is decorated with awards and accolades. Mrs. Mahasundari Das received 42 awards in her lifetime, out of which 4 of them were presidential.
After her death, the tradition has been carried on by her daughter-in-law Bibha Das. She has received national awards for her work.
Mrs. Mahasundari Das may have been the flag bearer of the art but it was Bhaskar Kulkarni who gave Madhbani painting a national status. Bhaskar Kulkarni saw her making the art and he wrote about it. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay read about it and she sent her designers at Mahasundari Das’ home. This is how she sold her first painting and slowly the entire village stated learning this art.
But it is not only Ranti Village that is known for Madhubani art. Jitwarpur village is just in the neighbourhood and has its own school of Madhubani art.
Baua Devi has been painting since the age of 13 and has been listed for Padmashree. When Mr. Bhaskar Kulkarni was researching on Madhubani painting, he came to this village along with Ranti. He went to multiple homes to click photos of Kohbar and Mandap. Then he asked the ladies to draw something on the paper. This happened in 1962 when the women of Bihar didn’t interact with stranger men much.
Bhaskar’s went to Delhi after collecting a number of paintings. He showed these artworks in his head office. 5 women from Jitwarpur Village went to Delhi to make paintings. They were paid 20 rs per day for their work. This brought fame to the village and they also got a road soon.
Baua Devi was only 13 so she didn’t get a chance to visit Delhi but she started painting by herself. She developed her own style that was different than the traditional artform. Her art is more imaginative and unique. One can say that she is more inclined towards psychedelic art. Her art tell stories like the ones in comic books but without dialogues and speech bubbles. One of her artworks is also present in British Library.
Madhubani Painting has received such a huge name and fame that it has a museum in Japan dedicated to the art and the artists. In 1982 a tourist from Japan came to Madhubani and purchased some artworks. He made a huge profit by selling them in his country. He decided to capture the life of these artists and took the photos back to Japan to open a museum. It was inaugurated by Pupul Jaykar and Sita Devi from Madhubani. The museum is called Mithila Museum in Tokyo.
Madhubani Painting of Ranti Village and Jitwarpur Village are very different. Art artists in Ranti focus a lot on line work while Jitwarpur Village is famous for filling work.
Distinct styles of Madhubani painting
In different parts of Madhubani, there are 5 different types of paintings and artforms. Each of these styles hold a different value and significance.
Bharni means filling and is one of the most famous styles of Madhubani painting. The style usese more vibrant colors. It was practiced mainly by upper caste people from Madhubani region. The artworks describe stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. The most notable feature of Bharni style is that subject is outlined in black.
Tantrik painting depicts religious texts and characters. There are many tantric symbols but the most notable ones are Maha Kali, Maha Durga, Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi, and Maha Ganesh.
Katchni Style only uses one or two colours. The details are very intricate. Patterns are made with hatching and stippling. This painting is still practiced by Kayasthas who live in Madhubani.
Godna is the simplest style of Madhubani art. Godna is commonly known as tattoo. In Madhubani, it was first done by Chano Devi. Godna is done on arms and legs. The artists use, pointed bamboo pen with lampblack ink. This style has concentric circles of flowers, field, animals, figures and spirit.
The Kohbar painting is filled with rich details. In the days when untouchability was common, it was practiced by the lower class of the society. The paper is washed with cow dung and paintings are done using earth colours.