Madhubani Paintings


I chose to research Indian art and discovered Madhubani, a prominent Indian art style that I found fascinating. The style originated in Bihar, India and is distinguishable by its intricate lines, patterns, and contrasts. Madhubani paintings are traditionally done by women on the walls of their homes. Traditional subjects of Madhubani paintings are Hindu gods and goddesses. Madhubani artists have been encouraged by the government and other institutions to create their art on paper instead so that the art can be sold. For some families the traditional paintings are now a source of income.


The first piece I chose to spotlight is by Pushpa Kumari. This small drawing, measuring at less than 9 x 12 inches, shows a woman’s leg kicking the stomach of another woman until the fetus falls out of the womb. Kumari’s Madhubani art is unique because she focuses on political and social issues while using the traditional style of Madhubani art.  India has one of the highest female infanticide rates in the world. One source I found clocked the daily average of sex-selective abortion at 2,332. The preference of male children contributes greatly to this statistic.

While the subject matter is not traditional, the technique is. The line work and contrasting patterns are characteristic of Madhubani art. There are a few pops of color to add intensity, but the line work is done in black against a pale piece of paper.  I was fascinated by how simple the drawing looks, but the closer you look at it, the clearer it is that the kind of details that make the figures are so meticulous.

untitled, Pushpa Kumari, date unknown, Madhubani, Bihar, India

The second Madhubani painting that stood out to me is Naina-jogin by Ganga Devi. Devi is considered a pioneer of Madhubani art because she was one of few artists who welcomed the change of painting on paper instead of interior home walls. Devi, unable to conceive a child, was left by her husband for another woman. She was struggling to create a life for herself after she lost everything when her husband left her. She caught a lucky break when an art collector asked her to create her art on paper. As a result, Devi was able to financially support herself by selling her art. Devi’s artistic endeavors helped create the demand and popularity of Madhubani paintings.

This painting is characterized by Devi’s use of lines, open space, and color. Her intricate line work creates patterns throughout the woman’s figure. Naina-jogin is unique because there is no background behind her, just open space. Traditional Madhubani art has backgrounds that are as intricate as the subject of the painting, but this woman stands alone. The intense reds create a pop of color that catches the eye as it stands out against the black and white line work. The red circles are my favorite part of this piece because they remind me of those little peppermint candy wheels that you could buy at the grocery store for a quarter.

Naina-jogin, Ganga Devi, 1988-89, Mithila, Bihar, India

The third piece I chose to spotlight is the Birth of Siddhartha by Malvika Raj. Raj has rejected some of the traditional subjects of Madhubani paintings and instead paints scenes from Buddha’s life. This is especially contentious because Raj is a Dalit, an “untouchable” in the traditional Hindu social structure. It is already controversial that she take part in Madhubani art despite her stylistic idiosyncrasies and subject matter changes.

The Birth of Siddhartha is a scene from the story of Queen Mayadevi and King Shuddhodana’s son being born and named “Siddhartha.” After the birth, a seer was invited to predict the future of the little prince. The Brahmin seer told King Shuddhodana that the boy would become a Buddha. As part of the Madhubani tradition, Raj’s art tells a story. However, Raj departs from tradition by using a solid black background, much more color, and less line work. Her paintings have been criticized for not adhering to the traditions of tonal uniformity and depictions of Hindu gods and folk tales.

Birth of S
Birth of Siddhartha, Malvika Raj, date unknown, Patna, Bihar, India


Alagarsamy, Hamsadhwani. “In Conversation With Malvika Raj: Dalit Madhubani Artist.” Feminism in India. January 22, 2019. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019.

DTE Staff. “India witnesses one of the highest female infanticide incidents in the world: study.” Down to Earth. September 19, 2018. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019.

“Madhubani Painting.” Know India. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019.

“Riding the Rollercoaster with Ganga Devi.” 50 Watts. February 2010. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019.

Rothstein, Scott. “Pushpa Kumari and the Tulsi Drawing.” Escape Into Life. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019.




5 thoughts on “Madhubani Paintings

  1. Wow, these are absolutely stunning! I have never heard of Madhubani paintings before. Thank you for sharing these with us. I love that these originated from woman painting them on the walls inside their homes. I wonder how common this is today? I am also curious if traditionally Indian women had any artistic training, there is such beautiful detail and precision in the lines, all of the pieces that you submitted look like the work of professionally trained artists. Such a beautiful culture when it comes to color and art, I have always admired their traditional dress. The added element of the class system in India really makes this blog fascinating, to be a woman and be an “untouchable” in that culture and also be an artist… amazing.


  2. Very interesting choice for the Non-Western assignment. I initially wanted to choose Indian art but went with something else only because there were so many interesting cultures to choose from. I appreciate your blog because I can still get some insight into Indian pieces. The line work in these pieces are exquisite and remind me of Henna tattoos. I especially adored the third work you shared, Birth of Siddhartha, because of the story behind the artist and how she chose to veer from the cultural norms that surrounded her. It also shows in her art. The playfulness of the colors makes me want to own a piece like this, as I enjoy this color palette a lot and it fits into my tastes. Good blog!


  3. Kaitlyn,
    You chose some wonderful pieces for your exhibit. I’ve never heard of this style of art. I think my favorite is the first piece. Birth is the most miraculous thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing or watching. This style of art seems difficult and very time consuming. Bravo to the artists for having the patience to create them.


  4. I love the first piece and your connection to a political issue in India: infanticide. This is a great reminder in that art is more often than not connected to social and political issues in the world around us. Yes, art can be used to express the good in the world, but it can also serve to draw attention to the less glamorous parts of society. These pieces of art were truly unique and unlike anything I had ever seen before. The first two with their simple color scheme and only subtle blotches of color highlighted the figures that they were portraying, and the last one, with its abundant color, created a scene that was interesting and visually stimulating to look at. Thank you for a great post!


  5. The art work you choose I thought is very strange but interesting at the same time. The one that caught my attention was the very first one. I did not understand why there was a random leg coming out if the picture, until I read it. When I read the description of the painting and the meaning of why the leg is kicking the pregnant woman’s stomach blew my mind. I love how the artist incorporated the issues of what is going on around her. To me it seems like she wanted to do this drawing to show awareness of what is going on in the world around her and I believe she did a really good job at it. The art work you choose is really interesting and I was really surprised at what I learned about India, that I had no idea was going on. Great job!


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