The art of Madhubani painting is said to have been continuing from time immemorial. History says that during the marriage of Sita with Ram at Janakpur the entire house was decorated with various paintings. At that time it was known as Maitihili painting. Later as it became more widespread in Madhubani it became more popular as Madhubani painting. Traditionally the women of the village used to make these paintings on the wall and floor of their houses. But the painting was mostly done during different social events like marriage, sacred thread ceremony of the Brahmins, birth et al. The main themes of this painting are Krishnaleela, Ramayan, Marriage and other mythological stories. Fish is also a common character as it is thought to be a symbol of love, fertility and procreation. The Harijans paint stories related to Raja Sailesh whom they worship as their god.

The application of painting on canvas has started reportedly from late 1960’s which has led to the great popularity of art form to the outside world, although the art form was known to the outsiders as early as 1930’s when William G Archer, a British official, discovered the painting decorating the floor and wall of the houses, while inspecting the damage caused by an earthquake in the region. According to Pitambhar Jha, during the great famine of 1962 a man named Kulkarni Bhaskar came to distribute relief materials to the villagers of Madhubani. He saw the wall paintings and was deeply moved their style. He distributed 10 sheets of paper to the villagers and gave Rs 5 for each painting. In those days with disaster struck all round the painters could buy 80 kgs of rice with this little amount of Rs 5. Bhaskar again came a few days back and distributed papers among more people as his previous paintings were all sold at good price. This time he gave a better price- Rs 10 - per painting. This is how the painting on canvas started and Madhubani painting became popular all round the world. The GI application form for Madhubani paintings notes that Kulkarni Bhaskar was actually a professional photographer from Maharashtra who came to the region to document the paintings upon the commission of J Thompson Walter Company of Calcutta, which was attempting to commercialize the painting. The same person was later sent to the region by Mrs Pupul Jaykar, Chairman; All India Handicraft Boards along with handmade papers.