Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to Talk to Madhubani Artists at The Craft Fairs

Today my mother-in-law, our neighbor and I went to Shilp Utsav Fair in Noida. We do this every year. India's biggest yearly festival Diwali is approaching and so we like to shop some diyas (clay candles), Laxmi and Ganesh tiny sculptures, decorations that say "Shubh Diwali", warm shawls and some Andgra Pradesh suits.

The stuff is amazing and I always wish I had more money and no matter how much money I bring it's always too little. This time I actually thought about avoiding visiting the fair because it makes me feel bad when I cannot buy 10 Kashmiri paper mash boxes each worth 600 rs.

 Exactly the same thing happened with the Madhubani stall. It had a ton of amazing paintings and black and white drawings ranging from 50 to 10.000 rs. The finer the work, the more expensive the painting is. It can be small in size, it can  be black and white but line work is the thing that decides whether the painting will be expensive or not. As my budget was pretty limited, I just bought 6 bookmark size fine paintings. 

The First Painting I Chose. It looks the most antique and has "OM" written on the back. The stall owner said it was made by the descendants of the famous Sati Devi.

In this post I am going to share the tiny but enchanting Madhubani works that I bought at the arts and crafts fair. While buying a Madhubani painting, I to talk to the stall owner as much as possible in order to learn more about Madhubani painting. I ask about what do they use to make the painting, how do they make black color, the bamboo nib, the colors, where do they get the paper, what is reflected in each painting, who made it and how long did it take.

Just a tiny fragment from life. A little pink butterfly is flying among the blooming tree branches. It says "OM" on the back and the date - 2013.
While viewing the Madhubani paintings I ask the artist about his village in Bihar. I ask him if they  still paint these images on the walls of their houses. He laughs and says: "Yes, of course!" I also tell him how I wanted to visit Madhubani but my family wouldn't allow me saying:

a) "There is no village called Madhubani".
b) "They don't paint on the walls anymore."
c) "The villagers are just a bunch of common people who are too lazy to practice their traditions just like (we) are too lazy to practice ours".
d) "Madhubani is so dangerous and full of bandits that everyone who is not local is killed on the spot."
e) "If one intends to go by train, his pockets are emptied by conductors and police and money taken away."

I told the Madhubani seller all the things that I heard and he found it very funny. He said they did practice Madhubani painting on their house walls, the Madhubani village did exist, people are not killed on the spot (but it was before when the other politician was in charge). His lack of concern shed some light onto my dream to visit Madhubani and do it in a normal, safe way.

My favorite animal in Madhubani art - the fish.
Later I asked the artist about the symbolism of animals. He explains that fish is the symbol of good luck and prosperity. The fish would be drawn to open doors to financial success and income. It's similar to the images of Laxmi and Ganesh which we can see in many Indian shops and markets.

The next animal I asked about was turtle. The artist explained to me that the turtle is associated with an auspicious marriage life. It would be drawn and visually enforced during or after the marriage ceremonies. Thinking about the turtle's life span, we can imagine how auspicious luck is wished for by using its imagery.

A typical simplistic Madhubani design with yellow borders.
The next animal I asked about was the snake. We can't deny that in all cultures snake has been one of the most mysterious and intriguing creature. The snake has been responsible for the Eve's and Adam's "fall", the snake was considered sacred in my countries (Lithuania) folklore and it used to be given milk when found visiting the house. I can never forget about a Lithuanian folk story called "Egle, the Queen of Serpents". It is a story about the serpent who fell in love with a beautiful girl called Egle. He would crawl into the Egle's clothes when she would swim in the lake with the other girls. He would only agree to give her clothes back if she would agree to marry him and she does. Later it appears that the serpent was the sea prince and turns into a human when under the sea. It was a sad story where, at the end Egle breaks the promise and is turned into the egle tree (fir tree or Xmas tree) and her brothers and sisters were turned into other trees depending on their personalities. For example the younger sister who was timid was turned into the drebule tree (aspen tree or esp in Hindi). 

Eventually the artist suggests that snake symbolizes a long life and when I asked: "Because snake is long?" He says: "Yes".

Colorful and rich peacock in the tree.
After choosing my few cheapest Madhubani paintings, I rushed to buy a key ring stand from one of Kashmiri stalls. I don't really know if the owner was a Kashmiri but the fact that he couldn't speak Hindi and packed my purchase in the Urdu newspaper, I thought he would be. The key stand was originally for my husband who always looses his keys on the bed, on the floor, in the rooms A, B and C and so on. It was an enjoying shopping as always and I would recommend for everyone to visit as well as talk to the painters and ask questions when buying (not sure if they will answer your question if you don't buy anything).


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