Madhubani, or ‘forest of honey’ is an art form that dates back 2500 years! The craft has been practiced in, and around, Madhubani, leading it to receive the Geographical Indication status from the Government of India. It is one of the most popular, and prolific, forms of traditional art in India - in fact, there is a Mithila Museum in Japan which houses over 15,000 paintings, where artists go even today! Several Madhubani artists have also received National Awards, perhaps more than any other traditional art practitioner in India.
In its earliest avatar, the women in the community around the area of Mithila in Bihar painted the walls and floors of homes, especially in the rooms prepared for newly wedded couples.
The skills were passed down from generation to generation, usually only amongst the women of the community. However, they are now made on hand-made paper and sometimes even on cloth or canvas.
The style of painting and the themes that the artists portray remain largely true to the tradition. The images have deep-rooted symbolism, and show people and their association with nature, or scenes to mark special occasions like weddings and festivals. They also often depict religious icons. The pigments, as with many other forms of tribal and folk art, are derived from natural materials but are bound together with a paste made from powdered rice. Typically no space is left empty, with each gap filled with a profusion of flowers, animals, birds and geometric patterns. They are usually small, but one could spend rather a lot of time looking at all the myriad details of the scene, getting drawn into the scene with each detail observed.