Madhubani painting depicting “cycle of life”, detail. Ink on paper; 322 cm x 142 cm. Work of Ganga Devi, Madhubani, Bihar, Contemporary. 84/6704.

Ganga Devi is one of the most renowned painters of the Madhubani style of painting. As an artist, she belongs to the Kayasth tradition of women painters, but tradition is not a constraint in her work. Through her unique perceptions of the world and nature around her, she depicts her paintings as personalised images connected with each other by a worldview which is very much her own.

Her capacity to transform experience into pictorial images — whether ritualistic, symbolic, iconographic or narrative — makes her a painter who seems to be “traditional” in her “modern” work and “modern” in her “traditional” work.

This large painting from which this detail is taken was executed sometime in the early ’80s. It depicts the “cycle of life” as is customary in the traditional life style of Mithila from the time the child is in the womb. It includes a woman being anointed for fertility; a child inside the womb praying: “O God, relieve me from the hell”; the birth of a child; care of the mother, worship of the goddess Chatthi; visitors to see the child; the deity Chitragupta “writing” the “destiny” of the child; the ritual of the goddess Chatthi in honour of the male child; the ritual of keeping away the evil eye; purification of the body and celebration; worship of the goddess Bhagvati, while children are playing in the sun or with a parrot; a scene of eating, walking and playing; a tonsure ceremony; a child being brought to school; two girls playing being man and woman to please the god of rains; carrying a basket full of objects to celebrate the festival of brother and sister; the temple of Shiva and Parvati; worshippers approaching the temple; an engagement ceremony; a wedding ceremony; the completion of the wedding ceremony; the bride leaving for the house of the bridegroom; the bridegroom proceeding to his home after the wedding ceremony, above the palanquin on the right the newly-married bride shown as a pregnant woman; and so the continuity of the passage of life, from birth to birth.

The detail in the picture shows the bride being decorated for the ceremony.

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