By Manish Jha
Innovation is not limited to the niche but it is the innovation that makes something niche. Mithila Painting or Madhubani Paintings is one such form of art which has developed a niche market for itself and has crossed national boundaries. This simple looking folk painting is drawn through natural utensils and natural paints. Innovation has kept this form of art revitalized which has moved towards contemporary themes while keeping the traditional art intact.
Madhubani Paintings is a traditional folk art of the Mithila region in Bihar and Terai region of Nepal. The paintings are drawn from fingers, twigs, brushes, nib pins, and matchsticks using natural dyes and pigments, to the extent possible. The theme of the traditional paintings is based on various mythological tales propagated through local folklores etc involving social rituals of various Hindu deities as well as local deities. Details about its origins can be further be explored at mithilapaintings-eaf.org (Brief History of Mithila Painting).After remaining in obscurity for a long period, this art form attracted international attention from the art lovers of the world from late nineteen sixties. Several artists have been acclaimed nationally as well as internationally and Padma awards have been conferred on them. This art form is a household name now.
The exact origin of Mithila art is not known. According to local mythology, the origin can be traced back to Treta Yuga which was the time of the Ramayana, when King Janaka of Nepal ordered his kingdom to decorate the town for the wedding of his daughter, Sita, to Lord Rama. The ancient tradition of elaborate wall paintings or Bhitti-Chitra in Nepal and Bihar also played a major role in the emergence of this art form in the current form. The paintings are simplistic manifestation of the philosophical heights achieved by India in yesteryear.
Madhubani Paintings or Mithila Painting has now become extremely popular across the globe which used to be a unique art form in a very limited geographical zone. It was an art which required experience and was passed on to generations to retain its uniqueness. The commercialization of art form began in the 20th century with an intention to support the art workers who had no access to wider consumers and even earning a decent living was difficult for those who pursued it a full time profession. This commercialization however has passed on the truncheon to promote the art to business men and entrepreneurs who benefit more than the traditional painters.
Mithila painting, as a domestic ritual activity, was unknown to the outside world until the massive India-Nepal border earthquake of 1934 when the houses and walls tumbled down. According to details in Wikipedia (Madhubani Art), a British colonial officer in Madhubani District, William G. Archer, while inspecting the damage discovered the paintings on the newly exposed interior walls of Mithila homes. He was astonished by the similarities these work had to the work of modern Western artists like Miro and Picasso. During the 1930s he took black and white photos of some of these paintings, which today are the earliest images of the art. He also wrote about the painting in a 1949 article in ‘Marg’ an Indo-Nepal Art Journal.
Although Mithila painting is drawn throughout the Mithila region in Bihar and Nepal terai, its main centre is the Madhubani district of Bihar. Hence, this art is popularly known as Madhubani paintings. The traditional paintings were only colour paintings. However, these were diversified further to Line painting, Mural painting, wall painting, fabric painting etc. One of my other post discusses more about innovation and creativity in Mithila paintings Mithila Painting: Creativity reinvented.
A lot of artists have now gained recognition by mastering this folk Art. Few of them are Sita Devi, Mahasundari Devi, Bharti Dayal, Godavari Dutt etc. Innovation even in subtle form makes an impact and these artists have emerged from remote corners of what was then one of the most underdeveloped states of India at that point. A new generation of painters have now started to push this Folk art to new heights. Innovation takes its course and the new generation of painters with a willingness to innovate and diversify will only help make this art richer and brighter. I leave you with a short video on this traditional Folk art.
The video below is a tribute to this historic Folk art and artists of Madhubani Paintings