Anything from myths of Divinities : Vishnu’s acts in different incarnations, or those related to other gods, to social rituals, such as a maiden, before entering into marriage-ties, worshipping the earth seeking from the Mother Earth blessings of fertility or the protective Pipal tree, for giving her a roof, folk miracles such as a deadly cobra represented dancing to the notes of a snake-charmer’s pipe or an aspect of low-lived life, may comprise a theme of Madhubani painting. In the same spirit of the Madhubani art, this painting represents two primitive occupations in a fisherman’s life, one, fishing, and other, ferrying passengers across a river.
Though the costumes of the fishermen are similar to what have rigidified as the costume-styles of down-trodden in the tradition of Madhubani art, the forms of their boats are the same as in the real life. While the one, used for ferrying passengers, is a proper boat with provisions for passengers’ seating, safe with good height over water-level, and elegantly adorned with medallions and check-designs, the fishing man’s is a mere plank-like flattened pile of the sheaves of light-weight grass growing in water itself. A temporary thing, usable for fishing for a day or two, especially in rivers where fish-stock is often meagre, and hence fishing a casual occupation not demanding regular boats and other means, this grass-boat is still in use in many rural parts of India.
The lower half of the canvas portrays a river teeming with numerous fish moving to and fro covering its entire length and breadth. Towards the left there is a fisherman clad colourfully in yellow, red, green and black, holding in his hands a fishing net collected like a large bag with three fish caught in it. Flanking him on either side there rise above the water-level two large size lotuses. A flat plank consisting of white and green strips defines his boat. In the upper register, towards the right, there is the other fisherman, clad alike colourfully, red being more dominant, with his professional boat carrying a young damsel holding in her right hand a lotus, a technique which the folk artists sometimes used for symbolising the holder’s beauty. On two ends of the river’s represented length there rise two trees the branches of which cover the entire background. Two peacocks are occupying the centre of the background space, one, perching the branch of one tree, while the other, that of the other tree.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.