Artisan story – Anju, the Madhubani painter
On a wintry evening five years back, I was visiting a bustling handicraft fair in Bhubaneswar. The chill in the air, the vibrant colours in the handicraft stalls, the lively crowd, some wonderful cultural performances and many cups of piping hot tea – all these lifted my spirits to a great extent. As I browsed the stalls set up by craftsmen from different states, I came across a stall from Madhubani, Bihar displaying paintings that were eponymously called Madhubani paintings. Like many other Madhubani stalls, it had painted sarees, shawls, dupattas etc. on display. On closer inspection, I really liked and appreciated the quality of the workmanship. However, what further drew my attention to this particular stall was the cheerful young lady who was in charge. We struck up a conversation and I learnt that she was herself a Madhubani painter and ran her own small enterprise. She revealed that though she hails from a small village in the Madhubani district of Bihar, she travels extensively across the country to participate in handicraft exhibitions and supplies to some boutiques in various cities. She explained to me about the entire process of making Madhubani paintings – the organic colours used in the paintings and how they are extracted from various plants, the canvas and fabric used, the popular themes, and so on. Her passion about Madhubani shone through, and her confident and pleasant personality made her stand out instantly. She was an artist as well as an entrepreneur. Given my own passion for crafts and textiles of the east and the Arteastic promise of showcasing high quality and handcrafted traditional artforms of the East, this interaction seemed both fortuitous and timely.
Her name, she said, was Anju Singh and thus started a warm association of friendship and business of half a decade which continues to this day.
Legend has it that King Janaka had ordered some paintings to be made to celebrate the union of Rama with Sita. The paintings, inspired by mythology and nature, were mostly wall art and done on freshly plastered mud walls and floors. That tradition continues to this day though the use of paper and canvas has become widespread and has helped in expanding the reach of this artform. These stylised paintings are called Madhubani or Mithila paintings since the artform is primarily practiced in that region, where the women use their keen sense of beauty to create evocative paintings of gods and goddesses, animals and characters from mythology, using natural dyes and pigments and painted with the help of twigs, fingers and matchsticks.
Currently Anju owns and runs her own workshop in her village. Her association with Arteastic, which started with hand painted Madhubani Silk sarees, has expanded to include Madhubani Paintings (wall décor) as well as hand-painted scarves for women.