The Maithili painting was renowned in the region of Mithila, which was a region in Bihar. Painting was an integral part of the people of Maithili. The castes who performed the paintings were Maithil Brahmins and Maithil Kayasths. Among the Brahmins and Kayasths, the women did the paintings.
The walls were decorated for main purposes as:
During the first three occasions, the corridors were decorated with paintings of gods and goddesses. For the two wedding ceremonies at the bride's house, mural paintings were done in the marriage chamber.
The three types of paintings done on the bridal chamber were:
1.The paintings of gods and goddess. The paintings of Radha and Krishna Shiva and Parvati, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Ganesha, Rama and Sita were seen on the chambers to symbolize harmony and bliss in the married life of the couples. Among the paintings, Kali and the Jagannatha trio were also depicted. Repeatedly, the bride and bride and bridegroom with their attendants were also depicted so that they might appear to be participating in the scene and thus be linked with these auspicious beings.
2. The paintings of propitious symbols as a ring of lotuses, flowers, a bamboo tree, parrots, turtles, fishes, sun, moon, flowering trees and elephants. The symbols of the lotus ring and the bamboo tree figured most prominently as they symbolized fertility because of the speed with which they proliferated and because they were diagrams of sexual organs. For the paintings on the second marriage bamboo tree plunging through the lotus circle was depicted. The painting of the moon symbolized long life and the sun symbolized fertility and. Parrots were symbols for the bride and bridegroom and are Indian equivalents of lovebirds. The people believed that buy including all these paintings there will be marriage bliss and the couples will be blessed with progeny.
3. In addition to these, paintings of the four servants of Durga were depicted in each corner of the room to prevent anyone from bewitching the bride and bridegroom.
The materials used in the Maithil paintings were very simple. The mud walls were plastered with cow-dung. The colors were directly applied on to these walls or the walls would be white washed. Powder paints were readily available from the bazaar and were mixed with goat's milk. The colors commonly used were pink, yellow, blue, red and green. Black color was made by the painters from burnt straw and white color was made from rice-powder mixed with water. The brushes were made from a piece of rag tied to a twig for painting the bolder shades and for painting the delicate lines they attached a sliver of bamboo at the end of the twig. All the women of the house hold would gather together when the time for painting the wall came round. Experienced women from the neighborhood would come for help. The most skilled woman of all would draw the shapes. If at all she makes a mistake she would quickly wipe out. Mistakes were rarely committed. As a rule the experienced woman would have the whole design fixed in her mind. Preliminary marks were not made on the wall except when the great lotus circle was being drawn. Then a pair of bamboo dividers would be used to trace the circumference. Once the circles are outlined, the women would fill in the shapes with color. It is the duty of little girls to hold the pots of paint and prepare the brushes. At times these girls had to fill a small part of the design themselves. In this way, at a very early age the girls of the family would learn the family designs by heart. They were not allowed to direct the operation until they were middle aged. By the age of 15 or 16 the girls were experts in Maithil paintings. The girls could draw parrots, a tree and a woman in the traditional Maithil style when they were in the Upper Primary School.
Some families kept a stock of paper patterns on which the family's current designs were recorded, which were painted in pen-and-ink or and watercolors. It is this pattern that has become the property of the Library. These patterns provide symbols for the bride and bridegroom and their attendants, for the god Brahma, for the lotus ring, for Krishna and the circular dance. These were preserved as family possession and the bride takes this when she leaves to her husbands home. So that she could continue her family's tradition of painting and at the same time add it to the stock of her mother-in-law. Through this circulation process, the ancestral idioms were spread throughout all Mithila, thus resulting in common caste styles.
In the paintings made by Maithil Brahmin women, there was an attempt to place figures or objects in a natural relation to each other. They depicted the figures as aimless creatures floating in a tranquil aquarium. The paintings depicted showed Krishna and a peacock standing above the head of a bridegroom's attendant, a bride and bridegroom walk below a lotus ring, a child trips along a ribbon floating from Shiva's headdress fishes drift in the sky, parrots perch at any angle, and enormous flowers burgeon besides a tiny milkmaid. They depicted a fish as big as a tiger and a monkey was depicted larger than a man.
The paintings were relaxed collections of images, which however gracefully combined with one another in the picture space. The figures and objects are depicted on a single flat plane which are defined by a thin and wiry line which bounds large segments of bright color. The bodies were depicted in triangular, rectangular and semicircular shapes that gave them a geometric dignity. Attires and apparels had liveliness of developing plants. For example, goddess Durga may stand firmly in her rectangular skirt, but her arms and crown radiate like the petals of a sunflower. The colors depicted had a vivid brilliance. The blue or black of Krishna's skin, are depicted by religious canons, but most of the paintings had no relationship to life. Parvati may have a pink head or Shiva a yellow body and it is these distortions, which give the figures an air of gentle vision.
The paintings of the Maithili Kayasth were entirely different. Though they painted on a flat plane with the same irrational relationship of figures and images as of the paintings of Maithil Brahmins, in the paintings of the Maithili Kayasth color plays a very little role and the strength of their paintings lies in their line. They used colors as bluish grey, ochre madder and black and in most of the paintings the last two colors were predominant. The figures they painted did not float in space but were tightly bound into panels with patterned frames or ranged in long processions round the walls. The figures instead of being represented as fairy-tale shapes were fleshy, muscular and had an air of sensual energy and quick compulsive power. The chief subjects depicted by them were the pictures of gods, elaborate lotus circles and complicated patterns. As a result the paper patterns were more common in Kayasth than in Brahmin households as the complex designs could be less easily memorized. As time passed the women of the household began to think that painting on walls was menial and below their dignity and they considered knitting, embroidery and sewing more appropriate. Some of the rich families employing lower caste Kumhars (or potters) to execute the paintings.