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Did you know that according to the 2500-year-old folklores, India’s famous Madhubani paintings is said to have dated back to the time of Ramayana when King Janaka asked his court artist to capture his daughter Sita’s wedding with Lord Rama?

In the modern age, Madhubani or Bhitti Chitra was discovered by a strange incident. In the year 1934, there was a massive earthquake that hit the state of Bihar. House walls had tumbled down, and the British colonial officer in Madhubani District, William G. Archer, inspecting the damage "discovered" the paintings on the newly exposed interior walls of homes.

Archer ,who later to become the South Asia Curator at London's Victoria and Albert Museum , was stunned by the beauty of the paintings and similarities to the work of modern Western artists like Klee, Miro, and Picasso. During the 1930s he took black and white photos of some of these paintings, the earliest images we have of them. Then in a 1949 article in the Indian art journal, Marg, he brought the wall paintings to public attention.

So how are these paintings made? Interestingly, Mithila or Madhubani paintings are done using fingers and twigs as well as matchsticks and pen nibs in the modern day. Usually, bright colours are used in these paintings with an outline made from rice paste as its framework. There are rarely any blank spaces in these paintings. If there’s a border, it is embellished with geometric and floral patterns. Natural dyes are used for the paintings. For example, charcoal and soot for black, turmeric extract for yellow, red from sandalwood, blue from indigo and so on.

Till 1959 ,the Madhubani art form was painted in India by a few selected upper caste women in villages around Madhubani town. Then in 1960 ,another disaster struck Bihar in form of a severe drought in the late 1960s. It prompted the All India Handicrafts Board to encourage these upper caste Madhubani women artists around Madhubani town to transfer their ritual wall paintings to paper as an income generating project.

Drawing on the region's rich visual culture, contrasting "line painting" and "colour painting" traditions, and their individual talents, several of these women turned out to be superb artists. Four of them were soon representing India in cultural fairs in Europe, Russia, and the USA. Their national and international recognition prompted many other women from many other castes - including harijans or dalits, the ex-"untouchables" - to begin painting on paper as well. Ganga Devi is the most famous Madhubani artist and one of her wall paintings is still there in the Crafts Museum, Delhi.

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