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Every time Baua Devi looks out of her house tucked away in Delhi’s narrow lanes, she cannot help but mentally paint a scene straight out of the epic, Ramayana.
The Ashoka tree (Saraca asoca) outside her balcony reminds her of the famous image where Sita sat under the tree in Ravana’s Lanka, awaiting Lord Rama.
“I wish I could paint my wall. I would infuse all the bright colours, and this would be my ode to the century-old art form of Madhubani,” Devi, a renowned artist, tells The Better India.
Although ageing has caused the 78-year-old to cut down on her most favourite thing in the world–painting–her zest for the art form has not reduced one bit.
Devi, who was born in Bihar’s Jitwapur village, stepped into the world of Madhubani through an age-old tradition when she was barely 13. As per the traditional folklore and culture heritage of Bihar’s Mithila, every mother passes on the teachings of Madhubani to her daughter.
“According to the custom, all the women in the village gather during a wedding or a special occasion to draw complex geometric and linear patterns on the walls of the house. The art would usually be scenes from mythology and nature as symbols of love and prosperity. This was till the 70s. Then, people started practising Madhubani on paper and canvases,” Devi, a Padma Shri awardee, explains.
Devi’s talent was recognised during the 1960s famine in Bihar; she was in her teens. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi felt that the eye-catching paintings could be used to create livelihoods in the wake of troubled times.
Devi was one of the pioneering talented artists hand-picked by the team of PM Gandhi to transfer her mud paintings on to paper.
“My first commercial painting fetched 50 paise when I was working with the National Crafts Museum. There has been no looking back since. Over the years, my paintings have travelled to several countries, including Spain, Germany, Japan and France,” she says.
Interestingly, one of her recent paintings was sold at a whopping price of Rs 50,000!
Devi has a peculiar style of painting that ranges from small sheets to canvases as big as 10 feet. Despite modern techniques, she chooses to paint with twigs, matchsticks, nib-pens, and fingers.
“No amount of paintbrushes or colours can ever match the traditional style. Only natural dyes were used, like black came from charcoal, yellow from turmeric, white from rice, blue from indigo, saffron from marigold, an approach which maintains the authenticity,” she adds.
Most of Devi’s paintings circulate mythological narratives of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Gods like Krishna, Kali, Durga, and animals and nature. However, her all-time favourite paintings are those where she depicts Sita’s perspective.
When asked which is her favourite painting, she refuses to pick one, “How can I choose between my babies? All my paintings are amalgamations of customs, history, and love. Madhubani is my identity, so choosing one would be unfair.”
Here’s A Glimpse of Devi’s Stunning Pictures: