Of no signatures: Mithila Paintings

Today art is found in art exhibitions in the cities. If we look beyond the contemporary art and rewind a little we will find a plethora of indigenous arts and crafts culture in India. These are the works that began with no signatures. They belonged to no one and therefore to everyone.

We are acquainted with the Mithila paintings also popularly known as the Madhubani paintings from Bihar. These paintings are painted with intricate lines, intriguing patterns, beautiful pictures and colours. The paintings originally adorned the walls of the local households of the Madhubani district in Bihar. Traditionally they have been made by women on all important rituals and ceremonies like weddings. They used natural colours to draw them. The Mithila art is thousands of years old and still survives, mostly because it got a new life in terms of its reproduction on paper and clothes from the walls and the floors. The art form, thus, reached other parts of India and the world. It has brought empowerment in terms of income and recognition.

Mithila Paintings are essentially rooted in their geographical and cultural set up. This art form goes back many years before it got fame in 1934. It carried on from generation to generation without any expectation of fame or money. For this reason, they are good cases to study folk culture. Following are some Mithila Paintings.

1. In the beginning Mithila paintings portrayed the local gods.

2.One notable point is that before Mithila paintings came out before the world, Mithila was predominantly known for its great men. However, this art brought recognition and empowerment to its women folk. Therefore these paintings bring out the story of women’s empowerment and art.

3.  Folk art forms may reflect some simplicity, however they cannot be reduced and deduced to simplistic meanings. An important point is that these were made by women. These women might be illiterate, but beyond our education they had an education of their own that empowered them to express their deep thoughts through this medium.

4. If a community/social group begins engaging with other social issues it means there has been some empowerment for themselves.

These paintings exhibit an intimate relationship of people who make them with nature. La paintings have a wider reach today. You don’t have to visit the Madhubani district to have a look at the art. You may buy a painting in your city. But do realise while buying them that these people put their sweat and blood in producing these beautiful arts. One may always visit the rural parts to see the art up close and feel it.

Deepika Mehra

Looking for the meaning of my life, I have reached writing.

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