About Madhubani/Mithila Paintings

Madhubani (Also referred to as Mithila after the region Mithilanchal) Painting folk art form originated in Madhubani (Forest of Honey) and its adjoining areas, is a region in the northern part of Bihar, mostly practiced by woman artists, where the trend is passed down for generations from mother to daughter. Madhubani Art does not belong to any conventional school of art and due to its originality, stands out. Most Madhubani artists are self taught, mostly learning from their family members, handed down from generation to generation. Despite this, the basics style has remained the same, though there has been some change and embellishments.

Madhubani and its adjoining areas has a tradition of painting walls for the beautification of their dwellings . Typically women members of the family painted images on the interior walls (most the times it was deities of the Hindus with the local flora and fauna) of their homes on the occasion of some domestic rituals. This was done in a very exhaustive manner whenever someone ‘s wedding took place in the house. This is called Kohbar and it was done on the wall of the room where most of the rituals were to be performed. This tradition continues even today, not only in Madhubani but in other parts of India.

Origin of the Madhubani Painting: According to legend, Sita, a central character in Ramayana, was born in Madhubani. This is an important reason for the depiction of her life stories in many of Madhubani paintings that were done and it continues even today. According to legends, it was Janak, King of Mithila, who commissioned artists to create unique work as decorative pieces for use during the wedding of his daughter Sita. Mithila was the capital of Videha kingdom of ancient India and Nepal. Still today, Mithila artists are spread across Madhubani in India bordering areas between India and Nepal. Historians attribute the original inspiration for Madhubani to women’s craving for religiousness and an intense desire to be one with God. This was based on the belief that painting something divine would help them achieve that desire. This led to increasing number of women beginning to paint their work themed on gods and goddesses.

Several sources give W.G.Archer, a British official Madhubani the credit of bringing Madhubani on the global map. He was visiting Mithila in the aftermath of devastating earthquake of 1934 and during the survey, he stumbled upon several Mithila paintings which he along with his wife documented in some of his writings. Archer went on to become South Asia Curator at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. He likened many works to some of the artists like Klee, Miro, and Picasso. It has been reported that he took photos of some of the paintings and it was published in an article in Indian Art journal Marg, which drew general public attention to this art form.

Another important incident that resulted in Mithila painting getting mainstream was post 1968 which is well documented and suggests that drought during that year saw the involvement of India Handicraft Board getting the affected people to transfer their Mithila paintings from the walls to the paper. All India Handicrafts Board is also credited to have encouraged a few upper caste women in villages in Madhubani to replicate their wall painting to paper so that it can be sold and could become a source of income for women which provided some form of empowerment. This prompted several women to take this up and many of them turned out to artist of repute. Lalit Narayan Mishra, Pupul Jayakar, Bhaskar Kulkarni, Upendra Marathi have also been credited of popularizing the Madhubani art in India and abroad.


The themes of these paintings are usually folk or mythological. The paintings of Kobhar (done in nuptial room on the walls) are designed to bless the newly wed couple. The central theme of most of the above paintings is love and fertility. Symbols of fertility and prosperity, fish, parrot, elephant, turtle sun, moon, lotus, bamboos are prominent.

Apart from that the story of Rama-Sita, Krishna–Radha, Tales from life of Krishna, Ramayana and Mahabharata is common. Shiva- Shakti, Kali, Durga, Saraswati, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Ravana. Hanuman and scenes of social events appears on the walls. The floral, animal and bird motifs form the backgrounds. There is hardly any empty space left. The human figures are abstract and linear in form. There is no shading technique used. The outline is done with double lines; the gaps between the lines are sometimes filled with cross or straight lines.These wall paintings became a commercial activity and they were transferred to handmade paper, cloths, canvas, silk, greeting cards, dress materials etc.

In the beginning home made natural colors were used, but now mostly synthetic colors that are available in plenty are used. The colors are usually deep red, green, blue, black, brown, pink and yellow.

Various Styles

Madhubani paintings are done in different styles by different sections of the society.

Bharni style:The Brahmins of the society practice this. They fill the paintings with bright colors. (Example: Fish in Bharni Style by Vidushini)







Kachni Style: This was practised by the Kayasthas of the society. They opt for muted hues and mostly the figures and paintings are filled with fine lines. (Example: Two Fishes in Kachni Style by Vidushini)







Geru Style: This is practiced by the harizans (lower class) of the society. They wash the paper with cow dung andpaintings are done using earth colors. (Example: Painting below is titled Hurar, a local animal, by Bhagvati Devi).

Godhna Style: These are symbolic paintings that are done with black and the use of few Colors. Example: Godhna Style by Vidushini











Process of Making Madhubani

Step 1:

To start a Madhubani Painting, one requires handmade paper or canvas which is first treated with cow dung. . This treatment on paper mirrors the plastered mud walls on which Madhubani paintings are still done in the villages of Madhubani. This is the traditional technique, however,  you can try doing this without treating with cow dung.

Step 2:

Once the paper is treated, a border of ½ to 2 inches is made which is decorated with floral, geometrical designs with intricate lines. This is done with black ink with the help of a nib.

Step 3:

After drawing the border on all four sides, the main theme is drawn at the center. The themes vary from mythological to animal, birds contemporary to social issues. Once the sketch is completed, it should be kept in mind that no space left blank. It has to be filled with floral designs or other motifs.

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Step 4:

After completing the whole sketch with nib, it is time to fill the outlines drawn with color (as in Bharni style) or intricate lines and design with black and other muted colors (as in Kachni style).

Finally, the painting is ready which can be framed and ready to enhance the décor of the house, office or other places.

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