This is Karpuri Devi, 86, younger sister-in-law of the renowned Madhubani artist, Mahasundari Devi, whose name is synonymous with this folk style. Sitting in the veranda of her single storey home, which she has painted with ornate patterns and figures in Madhubani, Karpuri reminisces about the days when she had first picked up the brush, “Decades ago, women in the village were not allowed to step outside the confines of the home. We had to be very discreet about our work. Typically, we used twigs, brushes, matchsticks or nib-pens to make paintings with themes from the Ramayana or what we saw of daily life around us. For years, the wall was our canvas. Paper came much later.”
Here is a sneak peak into the lives of three generations of women in a family who are engaged in making the wonderful Madhubani paintings in Bihar. With a lot of young women artists taking up this art form, it is undergoing a huge transformation. Read how they are using the ancient art form to highlight modern issues like gender equality and justice and to free themselves from the shackles of patriarchy.
At first glance, it seems to be just another nondescript rural hamlet in India – acres of flat, green agricultural land, stacks of harvested crops by the roadside, a small cluster of modest dwellings… Yet, this rather plain countryside has a remarkable history and heritage. It is home to one of the most intricate, colourful and expressive traditional art forms – the Madhubani.
Ranti village is where the “barely literate” Mahasundari Devi shed her purdah (veil) and picked up the brush to make a name for herself as one of the foremost practitioners of a fine art that typically draws its inspiration from Hindu mythology or scenes from everyday rural life. Today, the great artist may be no more but her sister, Karpuri Devi, lives and paints there along with several other women who are keen to take the legacy forward.
Meet Karpuri, 86, Dulari, 49, and Mahalaxmi, 26, three generations of women artists from Ranti in Bihar’s Madhubani district, who are generously using the characteristic colours of the Madhubani to give this ancient art form their own new twists. An evocative photo essay by Tahir Ahmed.