Quick Guide to Madhubani Paintings

Madhubani painting is an art form practiced in Madhubani district in the state of Bihar in India. Madhubani, means Forest of Honey, (‘Madhu’-honey, ‘Ban’- forest) and the region has had a distinct identity and language spanning for 2500 years.



The original inspiration for Madhubani art emerged from womens’ desire to be one with God. With the belief that painting something divine would achieve that desire, women began to paint pictures of gods and goddesses.  These painting, as a domestic ritual activity, were unknown to the outside world until the massive India-Nepal  earthquake of 1934 when the houses and walls tumbled down. Then British colonial officer in Madhubani District, William G. Archer, while inspecting the damage “discovered” the paintings on the newly exposed interior walls of local homes.

The painting was traditionally done on freshly plastered hut walls coated with mud and cow dung, but now they are also done on cloth, handmade paper and canvas. The art form has remained confined to a compact geographical area and the skills have been passed on through centuries with the content and the style largely remaining the same. Madhubani painting have been accorded the coveted GI (Geographical Indication) status. Even now during birth and marriage ceremonies paintings are made on walls with different symbols that announce the occasion of the celebration and solicit good fortune and divine blessings.


Painting is done with fingers, twigs or brushes, using natural dyes and pigments.  The central themes of the paintings are love, devotion and fertility, though the approach may vary. So it is common to find scenes of courtship and marriages and symbols of fertility and prosperity like fish, parrot, elephant, turtle, sun, moon, lotus, etc. in prominence. The divine beings are positioned centrally in the frame while their consorts and floral motifs form the background. The human figures are mostly abstract and linear in form. Generally no space is left empty; the gaps are filled by paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and even geometric designs.


Madhubani paintings uses colours that are derived from plants. The brush used for Madhubani paintings is made of cotton, wrapped around a bamboo stick. The artists use organic material to prepare the colors used for the paintings. Black color is made by adding soot to cow dung; yellow from combining turmeric (or pollen or lime) with the milk of banyan leaves; blue from indigo; red from flower juice or red sandalwood; green from the leaves of the tree; white from rice powder and orange from flowers. There is no shading in the application of colors. A double line is drawn for outlines and the gap is filled with either cross or straight tiny lines.  The coloring is of two styles – Kachni (hatching) and Bharni (shading.) Kachni uses delicate fine lines to fill the painting and not much color is used. Bharni (shading) uses solid colors to shade and fill the pictures. It uses black outlines filled with vibrant colors. A variety of inventive patterns are made with hatching and stippling.


In Madhubani, until painting on paper began 40+ years ago, women’s activities were limited to household chores, child rearing, managing family, and ritual wall painting.

Painting on paper for sale has changed this dramatically. Aside from generating important new family income, women have gained local, national, and even international recognition. Artists get being invited to exhibitions across the globe – not just as “folk artists,” but as “contemporary artists.” Where once their paintings were anonymous, now they are proudly signed. Along with economic success, opportunities for travel and education are expanding women’s consciousness and engagement with the world around them. Today, Madhubani painting is regarded as a contemporary art form rooted in the expanding experiences, concerns, and freedom of women.



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