Madhubani art is also popularly known as Mithila art as it finds its origins in the village of Mithila in Bihar, India. Its roots can be traced back to the time of the Ramayana, approximately 2500 years ago. Legend has it that King Janaka, the ruler of the Mithila Kingdom in the 8th or 7th century BCE, commissioned an artist to depict the wedding of his daughter, Sita, to Prince Rama. Since then, Madhubani paintings have adorned the walls of houses in Mithila during joyous occasions. This art form has been passed down through generations, with mothers teaching their daughters the techniques and interpretations. While historically women have been the primary custodians and practitioners of this unique folk art, men have also begun to practice it in recent times to meet the growing demand.
Mithila paintings are characterized by bold line drawings filled with vibrant colours that create striking contrasts and patterns. Natural dyes and pigments are used and artists employ various tools such as twigs, brushes, fingertips, nib pens, and even matchsticks. The art form is distinguished by its captivating geometric motifs. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, Mithila art serves as a visual expression of creativity, a medium for storytelling, a means of cultural preservation, and a source of community identity. Its intricate details and symbolic representations make it a captivating subject of study for art enthusiasts, anthropologists, and scholars; offering valuable insights into the rich heritage and artistic traditions of the Mithila region.
Today, we are going to explore a beautiful book titled Waterlife, which exquisitely captures the artist’s own interpretation of the Mithila art form. It is the labor of love of talented visual artist Rambharos Jha, who has masterfully rendered images of water and marine life; including fish, crabs, and lobsters within the pages of this book. The book is structured like an artist’s journal, where aquatic motifs of the Mithila style are transformed to invoke childhood memories and lore. Silkscreen-printed by hand on handmade paper and published by Tara Books, Waterlife is a work of impeccable quality.
In an interview conducted by the Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences, Jha reveals how he had an integral relationship with water since his childhood. He loved swimming in ponds and lakes. So he began thinking to himself how he could interpret his love for water bodies to create an artwork. He wanted to create capture the beauty of water through a “poem in colours”. Then the artist grappled with the notion of how to capture his idea through the Mithila folk art form and at the same time make it look contemporary. He wanted to invoke “awe” among the viewers. Jha put his ideas as paintings on the canvas but he had no idea about book-making. And so, he resorted to the expert guidance of Gita Wolf, the founder of Tara Books. The rest was history, resulting in this marvelous work of art that has sold several copies not just in India but in Japan, France, Portugal, Korea, Germany and Italy.
Check out the full interview below:
The enterprising Tara Books has recently come up with a new way of packaging Jha’s artistry. They have taken five striking portraits of underwater organisms from Rambharos Jha’s Waterlife and are selling them in the form of a specially crafted hand-made card box. Each set contains ten blank cards — two of each image — along with ten envelopes. This would make for an ideal and distinctive gift for your loved ones.
Rambharos Jha's Waterlife is his literary debut and you can tell, that like all good art, it comes from a very personal place. He is a visual alchemist at work — having combined Indian folk mythology, marine life, childhood memories and literature to create a brilliant piece of art through the Mithila lens.