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Traditionally rice ground into paste was used to create these works of art. These paintings were usually made on the eve of important dates, to mark the ceremonies to be performed, like a wedding, or a puja (prayer ceremony). Today Madhubani art is practiced on paper, cloth and other medium as well. Traditionally the domain of women, male artists are now beginning to learn and practice this art form.
These detailed paintings are made with fingers, twigs, nib pens, twigs, etc. Almost anything can be used as brushes. The strokes are precise and bold at the same time. The colors for the paintings are natural dyes derived from the vegetation found in the forest and other natural substances. Charcoal and soot is used for black and rice powder for white. Yellow color is extracted from turmeric, red from sandalwood, blue from indigo and so on. This painting style and the natural colors used give Madhubhani paintings a raw rural charm and makes this style so popular
Since Madhubani art developed primarily as decorations for social and religious ceremonies, the themes tend to be religious in nature. Hindu gods and goddesses are a common theme in Madhubani paintings. In addition other popular motifs that represent nature- like the sun, moon, flowers, fish, and trees are also used. Some Madhubani themes also reflect local life. There is a theory that the different styles in Madhubani paintings can be traced back to different castes. Upper caste of higher class women's styles reflected themes restricted to religious symbols and gods, while the paintings themselves displayed greater sophistry and intricacy in patterns. These are referred to as the Kanchi and the Bharini style of Madhubani paintings. While the upper castes restricted themselves to religious or mythological themes, the lower castes or classes, expanded on various themes, portraying day to day life. These paintings seem less intricately patterned but display greater emphasis on volume and depth.
Madhubani artists are practically unknown. A traditional art form passed down from one generation of women to another; very few of the painters consider themselves as artists. Madhubani paintings generally carry no mark of the creator. Sadly, several styles and schools of Madhubani painting have become extinct, as there are no practitioners of those styles anymore. Madhubani paintings began to receive national as well as international attention around the 1970s, with many Madhubani artists’ receiving national awards. National and international art markets began to recognize and create a demand for these vibrant and intricate paintings. Art Houses have developed in the state of Bihar, which mass produce Madhubani paintings to meet the demand for them. However, this business model does not recognize the individual artist and the focus is on the art house.
However, the art houses are also able to mobilize and maintain interest in Madhubani paintings, thus keeping alive a centuries old art form.