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Creating a Mithila-style painting (activity)

The Hindu deity, Krishna overcoming the serpent Kaliya

The Hindu deity, Krishna overcoming the serpent Kaliya, 1988, by Bauwa Devi. India; Mithila, Bihar. Museum purchase1999.39.16

A holy man in the forest (Shiva as Lord of the Animals)

A holy man in the forest (Shiva as Lord of the Animals), 1981, by Jogmaya Devi. India; Mithila, Bihar. Ink and colors on paper. Museum purchase, 1999.39.39.

Radha and Krishna under Kandab tree

Radha and Krishna under Kandab tree, 1985, by Kapoori Devi. India; Mithila, Bihar. Museum purchase, 1999.39.47.

Govind Maharaj with His Friends on Horse to Kamaru Kamakhaj

Govind Maharaj with His Friends on Horse to Kamaru Kamakhaj, by Shanti Devi (born 1926). India; Mithila, Bihar. Ink and colors on paper. Museum purchase, 1999.39.23.


Students identify the characteristics of Mithila paintings and create their own Mithila-style paintings.

45 minutes
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Mithila-style paintings were traditionally painted by women. However, in recent years men have also taken up the art as the demand grows for this style of painting. To the people of Mithila, the painting of these images can be a devotional or meditative act which brings the painter close to the deity being painted.

Mithila paintings are sometimes called Madhubani which means "honey forest." Mithila paintings have been in existence for nearly three thousand years and were originally painted on walls to decorate homes. They often include geometric designs and bright colors and have always been painted by women.

Materials: See Downloads Above: Legend of Krishna Packet, Activity Sheets F-H


  1. Have students look at several examples of other Mithila-style paintings from the Asian Art Museum collection (see images above and/or Activity sheets F, G, and H). Discuss with students:
    • What are the characteristics of Mithila-style painting?
    • What colors (if any) are used?
    • Are the figures drawn with life-like features?
    • How are human figures positioned?
    • How is empty space filled in each painting?
    • How are the borders of the paintings decorated?
  2. Have students read about an event in Krishna’s life from the Legend of Krishna Teacher Packet. They will then create their own painting using Mithila style characteristics.
  3. Inform students: Before you draw or paint your Mithila-style image, clear your mind and take a couple of deep breaths. Be calm and silent as your work on your image. Painting the image is sometimes an act of worship for the people of this region of India. Although your painting will not carry the same meaning for you, we should be respectful and paint the image while thinking good thoughts.
  4. Have students draw/paint their selected stories in the Mithila style, making sure they are aware of the characteristics we identified earlier. These paintings may look simple, but you might discover that they are rather difficult, but fun, to create.
  5. For a longer, more comprehensive unit on this topic written and field tested by Bay Area teachers, please refer to: Mathila Painting: Folk Art of India.

Common Core Standards:
RL 4.3: Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).

Content Standards (California):
VPA/VA  4. 1.4: Describe the concept of proportion (in face, figure) as used in works of art.
VPA/VA 4.2.6: Use the interaction between positive and negative space expressively in a work of art.
VPA/VA 5.3.2: Identify and describe various fine, traditional, and folk arts from historical periods worldwide.
VPA/VA 6.1.2: Discuss works of art as to theme, genre, style, idea, and differences in media.
VPA/VA 6.5.3: Create artwork containing visual metaphors that express the traditions and myths of selected cultures.