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MADHUBANI ART: CAPTURING MYTHOLOGICAL TALES & SOCIO-CULTURAL REALITIES
MALLIKA CHAKRAWARTI

Several generations have kept Madhubani art alive. In their spare time, women of the household would immerse themselves in this art, as it provided an opportunity to break the monotony and create something beautiful. These women would often work collectively and share their joys and sorrows with each other. In the olden days, Madhubani paintings were traditionally intended to record mythological narratives and folklore.

Last year in March, Delhi hosted the Bihar Utsav—an event that sadly went unnoticed by the media and art aficionados. The festival celebrated Bihar’s indigenous handicrafts and handlooms— among the offerings, the attractive colors of Madhubani paintings glimmered in the sun and caught my eye.

At the festival, painter Renu Jha, was managing a stall of Madhubani paintings on behalf of her husband, who is a renowned Madhubani artist in India. In fact, Renu is an artist in her own right. She is her husband’s right-hand woman, having shouldered the responsibility of showcasing their artistic talent in various cities across the country and on occasion, even abroad.

Renu shared that her husband was felicitated by the Indian Government for his contribution in preserving the artistic tradition of Madhubani. Her eyes shone with pride as she pointed towards a certificate which was framed and fixed right above her paintings. A thought crossed my mind and I asked out of sheer curiosity: “Why can’t I see your name on the certificate?” After all, she worked just as hard as her husband. My question didn’t seem to bother her; Renu struck me as an artist who was unconcerned about the limelight, and probably blissfully unaware of it. She merely shrugged her shoulders and went on to fill a half-done Madhubani painting with rich colors. Her fingers were marked with ink, and they worked unceasingly on a new artistic endeavor whilst in conversation with me. Madhubani paintings require artists to be alert, precise and confident with strokes. Renu used a curious bespoke pen to ink the outlines of forms on paper. An ordinary pen’s tip had been replaced with the pointy nib of a fountain pen, and this was Renu’s magic wand. This pen would later decorate bookmarks, wall hangings, cards and paintings.


Madhubani art is sacred for artists who hail from the state of Bihar— their livelihood is dependent on this wonderful artistic tradition. Renu Jha, is among thousands of women, who’ve continued to bless Madhubani art with thier grace, sensitivity and tireless devotion.

Several generations have kept Madhubani art alive. In their spare time, women of the household would immerse themselves in this art, as it provided an opportunity to break the monotony and create something beautiful. These women would often work collectively and share their joys and sorrows with each other. In the olden days, Madhubani paintings were traditionally intended to record mythological narratives and folklore. As the name suggests, Madhubani art is as sweet as the honey (Madhu) procured from the forest (ban). This art belongs to the Mithila region of Bihar and parts of Nepal, and is widely practiced in other parts of the state. Madhubani art derives its sweetness from its association with women and their emotional cognizance. Its origins can be traced to the ancient era of the Ramayana, where the inhabitants decorated the town with ornamental wall paintings (Bhitti-Chitra) and murals to mark the auspicious wedding of Lord Rama and Sita.

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