Beginning in the 1960s a style of painting that had been used to decorate the walls of houses was transferred to paper or canvas in the Madhubani district of the state of Bihar, in north-east India. That is called Madhubani painting.

It has been an age old tradition in Madhubani and its nearby villages to paint certain signs or pictures on the walls of the houses. It is believed that King Janak’s demand of this painting during his daughter Sita’s marriage gave it a recognisition in society.

The method of this painting has been simple yet unique and attractive. Several images are formed where straight and curved colourful lines join to complete a picture. Earlier home made colours were used for the purpose. Those colours were made from the leaves and flowers of plants and trees. It was convenient for the poor artisans to go on with such materials of painting as that was highly economical. Most of the houses used to have the pictures of the Gods, marriage ceremonies, daily life activities etc. on the walls. The paintings involved the family values, traditions and cultures of the local people. The early paintings were done only on the walls but gradually they got transferred to the paper, canvas and even cloths.

The artisans usually were the local women who used to sit for the painting after completing the house hold works and made several things out of their painting skills. Mostly they used to work in groups and make several attractive designs on cards, bed-sheets, wall hangings, sarees, posters etc. Their children used to sit with them to start learning it from a small age. But still the purpose was simply to carry on the family tradition of painting. However in 1966, things took a different form.

During 1966 to 1968, the state suffered from an ecological and economic crisis resulted from a prolonged drought. It made people search for some new sources of income. It was then that the All India Handicraft Board planned to give a business platform to the Madhubani paintings. Thus, several families got involved in it and made it the source of their income. Several great artists came out with the best of their works and brought a good name not only to Madhubani but to the whole country. Ms. Sita Devi, Ganga Devi, Mahasundari Devi etc. are some of the unforgettable names in this field.

Once the paintings got the platform of moving out, it reached out to several places and the demands grew. It was not only in the metropolitan cities of India but also in the foreign countries like China and Japan that people appreciated the Madhubani painting art. The uniqueness of this art made it secure a good place in the business world. However the artisans who worked hard on the paintings always remained deprived of the deserved profit.

The artisans mainly being women and mostly being illiterate always became the captive of the middle men. Middle men were the men who worked as an interface between the artisans and the real customers or buyers of the paintings. As the artisans found it difficult to take their paintings to the cities or towns, they depended a lot on these middle men for such kind of transactions. The middle men took advantage out of such situations. They used to buy the paintings from the artisans at a low cost and then sell it to the real customers with a large profit scale. This made the standard of living of the middle men high but the artisans still remained in more or less the same economical condition.

However, today we have a slightly different scenario. The ways of paintings haven’t changed as still the women are the main artisans and still the pictures of Gods, marriages, family traditions etc. are made. Fabric paintings have come in use because of their easy availability but the traditional home made colours are still being used for certain purposes. The pictures are made with the same style where a double outlining is given to a figure and the inside fillings are done with the horizontal and the vertical lines. But the change has come in the awareness level of the artisans. Today they are able to understand the business world. Several programmes and services have also been launched to make these artisans conscious. The role of ICT has also been significant in promoting the Madhubani paintings. Though, a lot more needs to be done.

The general problems faced by every town and village of Bihar are faced by Madhubani also. The roads are in a critical condition all through out the year. During the floods all the transport services stop working. The electricity remains for 5-6 hours by maximum in a day. The educational facilities aren’t satisfying because of which the younger generation prefer to move to some other cities for their studies. All this certainly hampers the economy of the town and also affects the businesses going there.

Today several people visit the villages of Madhubani to learn the painting art from the local people. Even the foreigners come to live with those artisans to gain some knowledge on the paintings. All this brings a proud to our nation but in order to take the best out of this area, it is really important to help the artisans overcome whatever problems they face in their work. Government must look towards the better circulation of this art in order to make it more popular and productive. The people involved in this art must be encouraged to bring out their best and a good market must be provided to the business of their work.

With these and several other efforts the tradition of the Madhubani paintings can be taken to a much clearer horizon where both the art and the artisans get an optimistic view of their futures.


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