One of the current favourites and making hot waves in fashion circles are the soft and silky Madhubani Prints sarees. There is no better canvas than the traditional saree to display thematic brilliance through the sharp, detailed and finely depicted scenes from the Ramayana, a favourite subject with the women painters of Madhubani. Prints that showcase the artistic flair of the original Madhubani Paintings, the Madhubani Prints Sarees spell out the brilliance and imaginative minds of their creators.
What is this Madhubani art about?
Madhubani art or Madhubani paintings, also known as Mithila paintings are a special form of painting done with fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens, matchsticks being used as tools for painting while the paints used are natural dyes and pigments. The attraction of these paintings lies in the eye-catching geometrical patterns. Traditionally these paintings have their roots in Mithila, Nepal and close to Bihar on the Indian side. Madhubani paintings then took a more complex form in the paintings by moving on to occasion painting. Festivals, marriages, small ceremonies, Poojas etc. all found their way into these paintings, in detailed depictions and fine colors. Practised mainly by the women folk of that region, slowly Madhubani paintings joined the ranks of an art to be treasured, a national heritage.
The Indian saree, the moving frame to display fine themes
The Madhubani Prints saree, traditional by weave, exceptional in count, makes for a fine smooth fabric as silk, the ideal canvas for display of the artistic talents and remarkable craftsmanship of the Madhubani painters. Transferring the paintings onto different hand held wooden blocks, what is of import is the etched out detail in the wooden block, the miniature in the etchings, the sharpness of the finishes, the closeness to the actual. Sensationally described, the Prints re-create the magic of the colored paintings in a likeness that is mind-boggling.
A historical background, an ancient tradition
Historically it is in the times when Lord Janaka, father of Goddess Sita, ruled over Nepal (present day Janakpur) and he had ordered that the walls of the palace be decorated for the marriage of his daughter. The ancient traditional art Bhitti Chitra that was undertaken for decorating the walls is said to be inspirational for the Madhubani paintings to take root.
Women in that region, part of a close-knit society with strong beliefs and customs, were of the bent of mind that oneness with God and moving towards him would take root if divine subjects were given the form of paintings. So very taken to this belief were they that their paintings actually received the blessings of the Almighty in the way they turned out despite their humble attempts and limited resources.
Lord Janaka, Goddess Sita’s father had got the murals painted by the women of the house, of a certain village and certain caste. This tradition is more or less followed till this day with slight changes according to the age and the art is especially practiced during marriages.
Till about 1930, this remained restricted to being a household practice, rather than an art form. Later when a British colonial officer William.G.Archer astounded by what he saw, spoke and also wrote about it subsequently. In the 70s Pupul Jayakar and others encouraged the women of Mithila to put this art that was practised only on mud walls within a hut, in front of a wider audience and gain from it to sustain themselves with it as a livelihood.
Modern Day fashion designers and connoisseurs of this art saw fit to put it on other canvas as well besides paper. Thus fabrics also got the benefit from an art that almost never saw the light of day.
Madhubani Art Today
Madhubani painting remained confined to a compact geographical area and though the skills have been passed on through centuries, the content and the style have largely remained the same. That is largely the reason why Madhubani art received the GI label or status. The paintings mostly depict man, his association with nature, objects all around in Nature, flora, fauna, and then themes like court scenes, social events like weddings, interspersed with nature objects in the free spaces. It is said to have five distinctive styles – Bharni, Katchni, Tantrik, Nepali and Gobar. The upper castes chose religious themes and depicted Gods and Goddesses in their paintings – Bharni, Katchni, Tantrik. The lower castes still carry on with Godna and Gobar styles.
Madhubani became known internationally when the President awarded Padma Shri to Jagdamba Devi in 1975. Others also received National awards subsequently then on.
Madhubani Prints sarees at Unnati silks
Inspirational silk sarees with prints from the occasion paintings practiced by women, where the royal court scenes, weddings, festivals and other social events of the time of Mithila, especially events connected to Goddess Sita, her father Janak’s court, the wedding ceremony of Lord Rama and her, become the themes in fine prints on the Pallus or End pieces of the rich and lush silks of Bengal silks and pure mulberry silks.