This brilliant painting in characteristic Madhubani folk style, rendered on hand-made paper in 21inches by 29 inches size, duly strengthened and toughened, represents goddess Durga in her eight-armed manifestation. The goddess is carrying disc, khadga – sword, and noose, on the right side, and lotus, mace and trident, on the left, her normal right hand held in ‘abhay’, while the normal left, in ‘varad’, granting freedom from fear, and release from all worldly infatuations. The attribute the goddess is holding in the hand just above the normal on the right side has a mixed form looking like both, noose – a Shaivite attribute, and conch, Vaishnava. Goddess Durga is a deity in Shaivite line; besides, she is already carrying three Vaishnava attributes. It is hence more likely that it is noose that the artist has modeled to look like both, a noose and a conch. However, its grip around her fingers, with which the attribute is held in the hand, drags it closer to a noose. A conch is not known to have any such component.
Essentially a votive image, the goddess has been represented as seated on her mount lion and as enshrining a sanctum. The Devi’s lion-riding manifestation, popularly known as Durga, is widely her demon-slaying form, more often as slaying the demon Mahisha giving her Mahishasura-mardini epithet – now almost a synonym of her name. Despite that in her Mahishasura-mardini manifestation the nature of blood-shed was divinized by her objective which was essentially an expression of her divine concern for the world, it did not attract the folk mind. This folk mind seems to have perceived divinity solely in benignity and divine love, not in blood-shed or violence even for a divine cause. Such aesthetic aspects of this classical image as exceptional agility, brilliance, orientation, sublimity … that have always attracted artists, and despite that it is a more widely represented form of the goddess in visual arts and temple icons, this folk perception seems to have never conceded her violent image engaged in killing.
A masterpiece by Alka Devi, one of the known artists in Madhubani art style, is a brilliant example of this folk perception. For grace and majesty lion is alright as the Devi’s seat alternating a formal ‘simhasana’ – the seat composed of lion-figures upholding it on them; however, in folk art – Madhubani or any, lion is not the part of the goddess’s crusade against Mahisha or any of the demons as it is in Mahishasura-mardini imagery or in classical art. The artist has adorned every bit of space of her canvas with one motif or other but she did not gesticulate the image of the goddess or her mount to reveal an act except such as granted ‘abhay’ – freedom from fear, or ‘varad’ – release from infatuations. A folk artist might paint a human being transporting an injured snake or sick dog for its safety and treatment, but not killing a snake even when it intrudes into his hut and could harm him. Market-compulsions apart, a scene of warfare or violence is rarely the theme of Madhubani, Warli or Bastar-like folk arts.
Accordingly, the well-composed figure of the lion in this Madhubani folk, affording the goddess a majestic seat, holds neither a furious look nor is charging at its prey as it does in Mahishasura-mardini imagery where it is essentially an instrument of blood-shed. That fire in eyes, blood-smeared tongue furiously lolling out and the force and violent mood with which it charges at its prey, such as define the Devi’s mount in Mahishasura-mardini imagery, are completely missing in this Madhubani painting. There the lion is the goddess’s partner in her exploits against a demon or a group of them, here it is a well-contented quiet animal with absolute quiescence on its face and duly saddled as a mount.
The goddess herself, represented seated on her mount as in ‘padmasana’, has no inclination to violence or blood-shed. She carries instruments of war but in its gestures her figure betrays no intention to use them. Interestingly, the most deadly of her weapons, the disc and the mace, have a flower-like look, and she has her forearms painted with flower motifs. Essentially a votive icon, the goddess’s image is meant to manifests a benign presence, not an aspect of her as manifests in an act. The painting contained within an elaborate border that a series of ritual pots with mango leaves laid over them defines represents the goddess as enshrining a sanctum consisting of a conical arch with a large bell and hanging lamps hung on it. Every bit of the arch as well as the space above and under it has been beautiful adorned using various motifs – decorative frills, flowers, leaves, pots, tray of ritual material, insects …, all line-drawn, though the lines are so fine that they often look like dots and miniaturized crosses and are so thickly rendered that impart the impression of brush-work.
Madhubani painting is also known as Mithila art as it is practiced
in the Mithila region of India and Nepal. It has specifically
originated from the Madhubani district of the state of Bihar.
Traditionally, the women of this region created these paintings
and in recent years, it has become a widely practiced art and has
now become renowned throughout the world. This art expresses the
creativity and culture of the people of Mithila and is passed from
one generation to another. In this way, the heritage of Madhubani
art has been preserved for many decades.
The subjects of these paintings are usually religion, love, and
fertility. Sometimes, social events like festivals, weddings, and
royal court are also depicted in the paintings. The most commonly
painted designs and themes are the forms of Hindu Gods and
Goddesses such as Ganesha, Shiva, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Krishna, and
Ram. The characteristic features of Madhubani paintings are their
vibrant colors and eye-catching geometrical patterns. The empty
spaces are filled with traditional motifs such as floral and
foliate patterns, animals, birds, geometrical structures, and
other designs. The local artists create these paintings using a
variety of items such as matchsticks, twigs, brushes, pens, or
even their own fingers. The paints are usually made with natural
dyes and pigments.
As simple as it may seem, the making process of the world-famous
Madhubani paintings is certainly not easy and requires lots of
Traditional Madhubani paintings are done either on cloth,
handmade paper, or canvas. Select the medium of painting as per
your choice. If you have chosen cloth, attach it to cardboard to
make a solid base.
The making of the painting begins with making a double-lined
border. This is a very important step because the border is
filled with various geographical shapes and patterns or other
motifs. The average width of the border is 1.5 - 2 cm.
Now that the border is created, you will be left with a blank
middle space. This is the main workspace. Start drawing your
choice of figure, designs, and shapes. These must be relevant to
the Madhubani painting themes.
When the key design has been made, the empty spaces in between
are filled with some designs.
Now is the time to color the painting using vivid shades and
hues. Colors in Madhubani are sourced from nature; Indigo is
used to produce blue, flower juice produces red, turmeric gives
yellow, leaves produce green, cow dung mixed soot gives black,
and rice powder gives white.
To paint these colors, the artist uses a bamboo stick and wraps
cotton around it. This acts as a traditional brush.
The entire painting is now painted using this special brush with
natural vibrant colors. · However, in modern times, the common
brush is used and instead of natural colors, artists prefer to use
Since the entire painting is made with natural materials and
colors, it appears simple yet enriching. Originally, this art was
created on mud walls or soil grounds but when it evolved over many
years, the people of Madhubani started to make it on fabric and
paper. Today, this art has become globalized and is receiving
worldwide attention and appreciation.
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