How Madhubani evolved from murals to wearable art ?Urbanmedley
As a slow sustainable fashion brand we are delighted to showcase Madhubani handprinted scarves in our collection. In this article we share the story behind this once humble folk art.
Mahbubani paintings considered as one of the classics amongst art forms traces back 2500 years to the time of Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic. Madhubani art was practised by women in the Mithila region of Bihar, a state in Northern India.
Though the exact origin of Madhubani painting is unknown, it is believed that in 8th or 7th century B.C. King Janak, ruler of Mithila Kingdom had asked to develop these paintings in order to capture the moments of his daughter Sita’s wedding to Prince Rama (of the Hindu epic – Ramayana).
The main themes of the painting related to the socio-cultural fabric of the society. It depicted love, religion and fertility. The artists were predominantly women quite a contrasting feature for a male dominated society.
Before starting to paint, the women would undergo a ritual of praying, calling upon the heavenly powers to help achieve excellence. They drew on the mud walls or mud floors with fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, matchsticks, using natural dyes and pigments. They were made in special rooms of the house, the prayer room or the bedroom of the newly wed. It was also used to decorate village walls while welcoming special visitors. The drawings were the interpretation of nature and mythology by each individual artist and their specific style. It was done on auspicious occasions and would be washed away with time. It is for this reason the art was never formally preserved but passed on from one generation to next with each adding their creativity and experimentation enriching the form.
How Madhubani became a popular art form?
In 1962 a foreign artist was so impressed by Madhubani murals he persuaded the village women to paint on drawing paper so that he could take it back with him. It was a great success and Madhubani was introduced to the world and was no longer a mural on mud walls. The artists took to painting on paper though they rarely signed their names, each had their own distinct style. Mostly they paint without a sketch.
From paper it was transposed on fabric making this exclusive artform a wearable art. Hand painted Madhubani sarees, stoles and silk scarves was greatly appreciated by the concessioners of arts and looked upon as slow sustainable fashion items. This in turn helped in the economic development of the region. It was seen as wearable art.
How is Madhubani exclusive?
Exclusivity of Madhubani is that the entire painting is done by a single artist to maintain the uniformity of strokes. The paintings are characterized by bold colours and geometrical patterns, depicting valor, devotion, love, fertility, peace and prosperity. Symbolism plays a dominant role in the themes- fish symbolizes fertility, procreation and good luck, peacocks often represent religion and love and serpents the divine protectors. Only natural dyes are used for colouring.
The paintings are largely made using powdered rice, colors derived from turmeric, pollen, pigments, indigo, various flowers, sandalwood, and leaves of various plants and trees. The colors are often prepared by the artists themselves. If the artists come across empty spaces after completing the painting, they fill up the empty spaces with the motifs of flowers, animals, birds and geometrical patterns. A double line is usually drawn as the border.
How Madhubani helped the rural communities?
Once Madhubani art gained recognition nationally and even globally it was slowly commercialized. This helped generate income for the artists and their families. The artists were being invited to exhibitions across India, Europe, United States and Japan – it was no longer a folk art restricted within the mud walls of the village huts. It was considered contemporary art. Paintings which were once “anonymous,” were now being proudly signed. The globalization of Madhubani gave artists the opportunity to travel promote and talk about their art and tradition. Gender relations are shifting. A few men also took up the art which was once only the prerogative of the women. However, its observed the paintings by men tends to be personal and anodyne. In contrast, the women’s paintings are increasingly socially charged and critical of the many prejudice the society inflicts on them.
This evolution of a folk art, beyond the confines of its regional boundary angered conservatives. They felt commercialization and the loss of its ritualistic discipline had debased Mahbubani. Additionally there are those who recognize this contemporary art form as a brilliant platform to express concerns, and freedoms of Mithila’s women. The advocates of commercialization also realize it definitely is a great example of slow sustainable fashion.
Urban Medley is working with Madhubani artists from Bihar directly to promote the art through eri silk scarves. These scarves are versatile and can complement any outfit. Each silk scarf qualifies as an item of slow sustainable fashion. It is the work of an artist, a tool towards empowering her and allowing her to stand up independently.
Author : Shayonti Chatterji