When you know that the Madhubani way of art is taught at the Rishi Valley
School near Madanapalli in the Chitoor district of Andhra Pradesh, you can imagine
how receptive and far reaching this traditional art of Mithila has gotten over
the years. Originating from the mud walls in the remote villages of Bihar, it
is in fact becoming a fashion statement, besides being treated as in league
with the contemporary arts - for example, the well-known painter Arpana Caur
has utilized the Madhubani form of art in her works to the optimum since over
the last three years.
Spreading it to our stretches is none other than master craftswoman Shakuntala
Devi. A septuagenarian, she has, like some others of her ilk such as Sita Devi,
Chandrika Devi and Chandrakala Devi, not just solicited praise for this exquisite
craft in the country but has impressed the world as such with her handwork.
Applying indigenous colors and limiting them to just black and red, Shakuntala
maintains the purity of the medium, which basically has a single color of black
applied on the mud walls as a votive form by the rural women. The limited number
of works on display, on paper and textile (tusser and cotton to be precise),
at the Minaz Art Gallery demonstrates not only the laboriousness of this medium
but also the fine detailing incorporated in the mythical and mundane themes
of village life. The Dasavatara to the Sita Swayamvaram, and the Geeta Upadesh
to the Khobar Ghar (the design of the nuptial chamber) and the Mithala motifs
on greeting cards is a fascinating range.
A brief lowdown on the craft itself: the craftspeople of Madhubani create their
own dyes from natural elements and use bamboo sticks wrapped in cotton for painting.
The act of painting itself is a communal practice where women of the family
get together to paint the walls, which the folk then turn to pray to as their
daily ritual. The patterns are usually preserved, and care is taken to see each
succeeding generation of girls continues with the art. This may be one reason
why each community still preserves its own distinctive style.
The paintings are very symbolic, illustrating the epics and common beliefs.
The art of Madhubani is basically mythology. It is interesting to note that
the votive form today finds place in the mercurial realms of design and fashion.
Obviously it is the highly intricate patterning of the drawing itself that compels
designers to offer significance to this art. And hence the renderers of this
form are able to explore more besides the limited canvas of the walls - the
scopes of paper, textiles and other mediums, too.
But while the craft and the craftspeople flourish, one also should keep in mind
that the essence of the votive form is gradually transgressed as it becomes
an applied art.