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Themes

Madhubani paintings reflect aesthetic tastes, religious leanings, love for natural phenomenon, affection for the feminine beauty, divinity, and also the panoramic view of the day to day life of the people. The themes and motifs of Madhubani are rooted in Hindu mythology & epics, religious rituals and local flora and fauna. Nature motifs like lotus, fish, turtles, snakes and other elements of aquatic life are loaded with symbolic meanings. As for example, the turtle is a symbol of Vishnu, the lotus and bamboo signify feminine and masculine sexuality respectively, fish is a symbol of love, fertility & procreation. Sun, fish, elephant are all commonly depicted in a marriage painting following the saying that just as the sun gives light, a marriage must bring light to the family; just as a fish and elephant get big in size so should the marriage result in a larger family with greater prosperity. Pastoral scenes are also favoured. The Brahmin and Kayastha paintings have themes from mainstream Hinduism including the Saiva, Vaishnav and Shakti cults. The Dushadhs paint the stories of Raja Sailesh, the hero of their epic, Mahagatha; the struggles between the subaltern deities and those of the dominant castes. The elephant, which is the mount of Raja Sailesh, is a common motif. Other mostly painted themes are as follows:

Nature

Nature:

Madhubani Painters often depict Nature as their theme for paintings where animals, plants and environments are delineated with artistic magnificence. The Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan is a unique theme of these kind of painting. Chipko is non-violent resistance through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled. The painting depicts a man with an axe approaching the tree to cut it but a woman is portrayed hugging it to protect the same.

Mythology

Ganesha:

The paintings on mythological themes depict the escapades of Gods and Goddesses, stories of Mythological Wars, Folklore of Kings and Figures of various Hindu Deities. Different Hindu deities, like- goddess Kali, Saraswati, Ganpati etc are extensively painted. Lord Vishnu with his four kinds of weapons (namely- sankha, chakra, gada and padmaf are also drawn in here.Ganesha also known as Ganapati, most widely worshipped Hindu deity is one of the popular motif.
Krishna leela:

The paintings describe various stories of Lord Krishna’s childhood. Krishna Leela portrays the beauteous Krishna and his charming demeanor Radha.
Ramayana:

The story of Lord Rama & Sita’s wedding has long been used as a motif of Madhubani painting. Often painted is the Hindu deity Hanuman who was an ardent devotee of Rama, and a character of great strength and devotion.
Mahabharata:

According to the Indian epic Mahabharata, a dynastic succession struggle between two groups of cousins of the Kauravas and Pandavas, for the throne of Hastinapur resulted in the Kurukshetra War. Paintings showing Lord Krishna as the charioteer of Arjuna- one of the Pandavas- in the battle field, is widely popular.

Village Life

Village Scenes:

Some paintings elaborate on the daily activities in the life of villagers, including farming, collecting water, cattle rearing, winnowing rice and wheat etc.

Contemporary

Contemporary Issues:

Today the artists are aware of the current issues and paint on such topics which include drug abuse, alcoholism and smoking. Natural calamities and threats like Tsunami and global warning are also painted now a days.