Lord Krishna’s Raasa leela, garland exchange in the marriage, bride being carried in a palanquin, stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, are the Madhubani art  you see etched on fabrics like sarees, shawls, scarves, dupattas and dress materials.

Madhubani is a tiny hamlet in Bihar, where every home has a woman who is gifted with this traditional art. There is a lady behind this transition who has inherited this art from her mother and has furthered it to her daughter. 

Madhubani is a folk art, which is also called Mythila Painting, because it is the birthplace of Sita, Rama’s wife. The families in Madhubani village, it is said, have inherited this traditional art for centuries. 

At Madhubani, men prefer to stay at home doing all the household chore, while women leave home as early as five in the morning and start working on Madhubani paintings.

Catering to modernity

Moushmi Kabiraj is the lady struggling day in and day out to not only revive this 400-year-old art, but also to bring in innovations to suit the modern world. She has grown up seeing her mother’s artistry in Madhubani paintings, apart from her skill in croshay, embroidery etc. Her daughter Nupur Ghosh, who once worked for an MNC as a French language expert in Bangalore, saw ‘what after me?’ feeling of uncertainty in her mother, gave up the job and took up sales. 

Selection of cloth for this painting is very important. Whether cotton, tsar, maheshwari, gudwal, kanjeevaram, bengal, mangalgiri or chettinad, the fabric has to be pure. The fabric is customised and ordered. 

Designs include either fish or bird, considered as the signs of peace and freedom. There is also a flow of poetry, singing the hymns of the Hindu epics. Designs are drawn directly on the fabric, without any kind of tracing paper. 

The colours used are mainly herbal. They are fruit, flower and vegetable extracts processed at home in proper proportions. Black is obtained by burning post cards, then mixed with cow dung and cow’s milk. Red is made using hibiscus flower; yellow with turmeric. Efforts are on to bring innovation in colours as well.

Madhubani painting is a freehand painting done with a fountain pen nib, which is made for this purpose, either using bamboo stick or metal.  

Earlier, Madhubani paintings were restricted to walls. It is her innovation that has brought it to fabrics. Once the fabric is chosen, it is washed and shrunk before the design is drawn on the fabric.

Colour is contained in either coconut shells or pots, so that it is easy to dip the nib in. A major portion of the painting dries even as it is being done, while the final drying happens when it is spread out in the sunlight. After painting and drying, the fabric is washed and polished. While Madhubani painting on cotton takes 10-15 days to be completed, on tsar it takes 25-30 days.

Women at Madhubani are trained to fine-tune their inborn skills. A set of senior girls personally trained under Moushami will further train the juniors. To get qualified, juniors will first try their hand on scarf and dupatta before moving on to cotton sarees. Only seniors are allowed to handle tsar.  


As vegetable colours are used, one has to be very careful while washing Madhubani sarees. Care has to be taken to handwash them with liquid detergent only, in cold water. The fabric has to be dried and ironed on the rear side.

The artistes are glad that the government has always been supportive of this traditional art. At many places, they have emporia that help in its promotion. They are also associated with the Crafts Council of India that invites them to participate in exhibitions across the country.