Being one of their most sacred, and perhaps the most mystic motifs, the Madhubani painters, more especially the Godana artists of Mithila, have used a tree-form most ingeniously revealing, besides a queer formation, many underlying aspects, such as a trunk composed with a deity-face, representing sacredness, one with a lamp or lotus atop, auspice, one with forward-inclining branches, growth and progress, a gun-like modeled trunk, man’s revengeful nature and passion to destroy and so on. A tiny tree form with a large size parrot perching on it, in complete disregard of what a normal mind respects as the ‘sense of proportion’, or a fish climbing it, something quite unrealistic, are the most usual Godana motifs. Other forms are alike ingenious and strange. Broadly, the forms of tree the Madhubani artists have experimented with are more numerous than those of any of the motifs the contemporary artists have experimented with. Contrarily, many contemporary artists, such as Arpana Caur, have made wide use of these folk artists’ tree-motifs in their painting for endowing them with ethnic flavour.
Not merely symbolic created like a motif but quite elaborate in its details, this tree-form is by and large the visible vehicle of an abstract theme : life and love, the life as represented by three classes of beings – the birds of the sky, the elephants of the earth, and the fish of water, representing all three cosmic zones, all being examples of inter-dependent life and all being mutually fed : tree fed by water, elephant, by tree, and water having its source in the sky which channels itself through the tree, and the love as reveals in their gestures, all drawn to each other by the love’s ties, birds to birds, elephants to elephants and fish to fish. The birds and the fish, one turned away from the other, and the elephants, one indifferent to other, reveal annoyance of one towards the other – another phase of love.
About one-fifth of the canvas space on the bottom has been devoted for representing the reservoir. Multiple thickly laid horizontal lines, rendered waving, and numerous fish, a few floating on the surface while others partially submerged into water, some with their heads up, and some, tails, define the zone of water – the reservoir. Along its paved bank there walk four elephants, two on the tree’s right, and other two, on its left. As in all folk art traditions, the forms of elephants are highly simplified. In the centre over a cluster of elegantly moulded mounds there stands the tree with a low-height narrow trunk completely disproportionate to the tree’s huge bulk. Composed of plain and checked squares and a checked rim the trunk looks like a masonry column. This very pattern is repeated in conceiving all major and minor branches of the tree. Its foliage consists of ferns’ like leaves and here and there are scattered red flowers in round shape. A number of pairs of parrots with red beaks and balloon-type wings perch on it.
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.