Storyteller: Jayashree Rao, From Microprocessors to Mannequins to Madhubani

Art, Creatives+ Creative Entrepreneurs / Sunday, January 15th, 2017


Hello! I hope you are enjoying your weekend (and it’s a long weekend for some)! I am here with the latest edition of the Storyteller series on Collectivitea. With every story in this series, my goal is to get to know, and share with you the journey of people who I think of as ‘creative powerhouses’. They are not just creatively inclined in that they are an artist or in a field that we typically think of as creative (art, craft, music, etc.), but the creativity spills over into every aspect of their life. From the way they see beauty in day to day life. In how they are driven to, and persevere in the expression of their creativity. And how they handle life’s blessings and challenges.  Today’s storyteller is Jayashree Rao, a Chicago area-based artist, teacher, all-round creative, and creative entrepreneur. She shares with us her fascinating journey from From Microprocessors to Mannequins to Madhubani.  When I got the interview answers and photographs back from Jayashree, I was reminded of the quote, how you do anything is how you do everything. In Jayashree’s case, it is with joy and exuberance; with style and panache. With dedication, and an exquisite eye for, and attention to detail. Read Jayashree’s story in her own words. -Priya

Jayashree Rao/ Storyteller/Collectivitea       My Journey – From Microprocessors to Mannequins to Madhubani. 


“I am Jayashree Rao, teacher and founder at Ethnic India, an art endeavor that focuses on the traditional folk art form of Bihar, India, called MADHUBANI. I hail from Mangalore, a coastal town in Karnataka, India, whose blue skies, sugary beaches and turquoise waters have always fascinated my appreciation for colors and textures. Home decor, fashion and art have been my passion from a very young age. Despite my artistic inclination, I decided to study engineering in Electronics and Telecommunication and after successfully completing my engineering degree, I worked for a couple of years in the engineering field only to realize that I wasn’t too happy with my job and wasn’t enjoying it as much. After much introspection, I decided to take the bold step of following my heart and quitting my engineering job to pursue fashion. Convincing my conservative parents wasn’t easy. But they finally gave in, and in 1994, I packed my bags to travel to Bangalore to study fashion. The paradigm shift happened right there.  A degree in fashion designing and a rigorous training in visual merchandising was followed by marriage, and I moved to Chicago in 1997.  My first job was with AnnTaylor — a women’s specialty apparel retail chain here in the U.S — and I was exposed to several aspects of the Western fashion world. After working for many years for AnnTaylor, I decided to quit my job in the year 2007 to start a family. This was when Madhubani art entered my life, and there has been no looking back ever since. Currently, I reside in the suburbs of Chicago and have been learning and teaching this traditional Indian folk art to both adults and children and have conducted many workshops.”

Madhubani:Pooja Hari:Jayashree Rao

  A sacred force – A creative power – A feminine Shakthi – “Shri Shakthi“, by Jayashree’s student Pooja Hari.


Right after quitting my job in 2007, I had moved into my new house and there was a creative lull in my life during this time. It was around this time that I discovered a new passion for Madhubani. Bright colors, imperfect motifs, paintings of gods and goddesses with mythological stories behind them attracted me to this particular form of art and before I knew, I was in love with it. The big blank walls of my new home became my canvas and the strokes of my brush brought life to the blank walls.  Around the same time, I happened to meet a wonderful lady named Bhagya Nagesh, who is also the founder of “Bollywood Rythyms Dance and Art studio” in Chicago. Impressed by my wall murals and my penchant for art, during one of our dinner get togethers she asked if I would consider teaching Madhubani art at her studio to her young students. My instant reaction was “NO” as I am a self taught artist and I had no prior experience in teaching. She asked me to give it a thought and get back to her. It took me a week or so to decide, and finally I made up my mind to give it a try and go ahead with the idea of teaching this traditional Indian art to young kids.

Year 2017 celebrates the successful completion of 10 years of Madhubani and my journey from microprocessors to mannequins to Madhubani has been quite an incredible one.  Today, I take pride in the fact that many young kids and adults have learnt this art from me. Though I am aware of and appreciate other folk art forms of India, I haven’t deviated from Madhubani just for the reason that I can totally relate to the boldness and the colorful imperfections this art portrays. I cherish the moments when I narrate mythological stories behind this folk art to my little students  with pride and joy. With humility and gratitude, I must say that I am blessed to have a powerful medium like Madhubani in my life through which I can make a difference. Today I have a reason to smile because I have found my calling!

Madhubani:Jayashree Rao & Students:Collectivitea                With students (from left to right) Madhu Prakash, Ria Dhar, Saavi Krishnan and Apsara Attavane.


Jayashree Rao:Collectivitea In a vintage Sabyasachi jute saree with a woven Taj Mahal on the border and a Bagru print blouse by the designer.

Jayashree Rao:Collectivitea

The talented and dedicated future stars of Madhubani, diligently understanding, and planning their work

Jayashree Rao:Collectivitea                                                            The wind beneath my wings – my students!


Who would have thought that something that started off as a hobby in 2007, would keep me completely engrossed and change my life in such a positive way. Madhubani has given me love and a tremendous amount of creative balance in the last 10 years. Many of my students who started off with me a decade ago are still learning this art from me and growing along with me artistically. We stand tall absorbing the nuances and the fine details of this intricate art, and today when I look back, I am what I am, solely because of their love, support and their tremendous faith in me. The bonding we share is LOVE – actually!

Megan Kamath/ Jayashree Rao/Collectivitea

Madhubani artwork by student Megan Kamath.

Megan Kamath/ Jayashree Rao/CollectiviteaTaking a minute to admire each others personal style, with student Megan Kamath.

(I am wearing a Sabyasachi flecther ( jute and cotton combination) sari, an ombre blouse with potli buttons and a hand embroidered head band from the designer.)


Megan Kamath/ Jayashree Rao/Collectivitea“Jala Kanya” – Megan worked on this 9ft x 6ft tall piece for almost an year with utmost passion and dedication.

Megan Kamath/ Jayashree Rao/CollectiviteaMegan, who is a fine arts student and currently learning graphic art from Benedictine University, Lisle, has been a part of my decade long journey.


Madhubani art, also known as Mithila art is a form of Indian folk art. Madhubani comes from a village by the same name, meaning forests of honey. It is believed that Madhubani paintings originated during the time of Lord Rama and his wife Sita. These paintings were traditionally done on freshly plastered mud walls. Madhubani paintings mostly depict nature and hindu deities like Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. The sun, the moon and the religious plants like Tulsi are also widely painted along with birds, flowers and other geometrical designs.

Jayashree Rao:CollectiviteaA collage of Madhubani art work of my students over the years.


“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Would I consider myself a creative entrepreneur? Absolutely! Loving something dearly is one thing, but believing in it and continuing to pursue it, is passion. I have always maintained that I love all things Indian, and I am happy that I stuck to my belief and continued to make and teach this beautiful Indian art.  Madhubani happened to me by accident, but the love for this art has grown stronger everyday to a point where I have completely surrendered myself to this art now. The wall murals painted in my house was my first tryst with Madhubani but once I decided to teach this art form, there was no looking back. I completely stuck to this art form by understanding and learning its fine details . Over the years, as I started gathering more knowledge about this art, though I did try to get a little innovative by adding my own touch, I didn’t deviate from the basic rules and essence of Madhubani.

Well, there are challenges in every walk of life and art is no different. But I consider myself lucky because in my case the triumphs have outnumbered the challenges. There are many students who have learnt from me for a while and have moved on but there are also students who have been with me throughout this artistic journey and are still learning and growing with me.


Jayashree Rao:Collectivitea

My Madhubani wall mural at the studio.

Jayashree Rao:CollectiviteaSeen here in a cotton voile Sabyasachi by Sabyasachi sari, and intricately hand embroidered backless blouse by the designer.


Jayashree Rao:CollectiviteaMy crazy bunch – their love for me and the art keeps me going! Pictured here with students, from L to R, Tanisha Dogra, Dia Saini, Shweta Subramanian, Bianca Dharamshi and Samhita Subramanian.


Jayashree Rao:Collectivitea

A moment of pride and joy as I stand here, teaching this traditional art to my students.



People often ask me – how long does it take to learn this art?, to which, my answer is – “the saga between the art and the artist is an ongoing one and one should continue to create art because the best is yet to come”. My advice to everyone who wants to learn something new in their life is – Never say never, go for it with 100% conviction and make it happen!



Jayashree Rao:CollectiviteaWith my fashion guru Sabyasachi on his birthday – treating him to his favorite dessert – Tiramisu!

If art washes away from my soul the dust of everyday life, fashion completes me as a person. To me, fashion and art are the two sides of the same coin and I see a deep creative connection between the two.  As a kid, I was fascinated to see my mother, dress up to go to work in her “Garden Vareli” and “Only Vimal” chiffon and georgette crepe saris. The ease with which she draped her saris, her choice of colors and textiles made a huge impact on me. Today, I can attribute my love for saris and colors to her as she was my true fashion inspiration during my growing up years.

I feel that one cannot buy style, as it’s very innate. Having studied fashion and having a fairly good understanding of the fabrics, cut and color – my personal style is very edgy and unconventional. Again, I don’t follow the rules, instead I follow my heart. I like earthy handwovens in natural fabrics (sans any bling or glitter) and I love wearing clothes by many Indian designers, who share similar aesthetics like mine.

I am a huge Sabyasachi fan and proud to own his stuff from the time when he had just started, to the recent years. He is one Indian designer who was largely responsible in bringing back the sari to modern India in a major way. He drew inspiration from India and gave it back to Indians in a beautiful package.  Apart from him, I love the works of many other Indian designers like Anamika Khanna, Payal Khandwala, Pero, Rimzim Dadu and Kallol Dutta, to name a few. With Western designers I admire the works of Jason Wu, Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana.” – Jayashree Rao

Coming soon, a tour of Jayashree Rao’s Chicago area home. Stay tuned!

All images are courtesy of Jayashree Rao/Sage & Slingback.

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4 thoughts on “Storyteller: Jayashree Rao, From Microprocessors to Mannequins to Madhubani

  1. What a post, perfectly captures the charming personality of the lady and her creative persona. Being a huge fan of Jayashree, I can attest that she does not align herself with no particular style be it her madhubani art, her bold dressing or her decor fundas, she has a fresh eye for everything. Thank you Priya for bringing this ‘Storyteller Series’, looking forward to read many more inspiring and creative journeys as you unfold here.

  2. Love the story! And Jayashree represents a true free spirit of one beautiful woman who dares to dream and see those dreams fulfilled. Hoping to read more such inspiring stories.

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