In continuation with our series on arts of India, today, we bring to you the world of Indian miniature painting – as the name suggests, these paintings are much smaller in size as compared to the regular ones, but if you were to take a closer look, you would see how absolutely amazing they are, in terms of details and colour usage.
What exactly is miniature art?When you hear the term miniature art, you think of these tiny canvases and tinier art work on them, but the fact is that miniature paintings are not actually mini; they are made on a canvas that is much smaller than the general ones and requires a lot more exactly because the canvas is much smaller. But simply because they are smaller in size, by no means indicates the lack of creativity – as a matter of fact, the brush strokes that are used in these types of paintings, are intricate and this is one of the factors that contribute to the uniqueness of these paintings.
As was the case with many of the ancient and medieval styles of paintings, miniature painting too used only natural colours that were extracted from vegetables, fruits, indigo, and precious stones and metals. The theme of almost all these paintings was based on the stories from mythology and religious scriptures and you would also be able to see inspiration from musical notes. They were most often created to be the covers of books that were written during the time and were executed on materials that were easily available during the time, including paper and cloth.
What is the history of miniature paintings?It is believed that the Palas of Bengal were the first to create this style of painting, which is why the Pala miniature painting is considered the original format. Around 750 AD, when the Palas rules in the eastern parts of the country, the religious teachings of Buddha became the first subjects for these paintings. Because these paintings were done on palm leaves, there was a space constraint, which is the reason why the paintings were so small. 250 years later, similar paintings were being produced in the Chalukya dynasty too and here the themes were majorly religious. However, the art truly reached the pinnacle under the patronage of the Mughal emperors, particularly under Akbar, and over the following years, several other schools of the style of painting emerged. Once the Mughal kingdom started to decline the Rajputs of Rajasthan took over and eventually, it was much appreciated and supported by the European invaders as well.
Which are the main schools of miniature paintings?Even though the beginning was from the Pala school, over time, the style of paintings evolved and several schools were formed and each had something that was unique to it. It is important to remember that each school was influenced by the prevalent social, economic and political climate. Here are the main schools:
- Pala school – Dating back to the 8th century, this is the very first school of the traditional miniature painting style and it emphasized the use of colours symbolically. There were a lot of inspirations from Buddhism and several monasteries can be seen in the paintings. With the spread of Buddhism, the style of art spread to Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.
- Orissa school – The Orissa style came into existence around the 17th century AD and the usage of palm leaves continued, even though paper was now easily available. The Radha Krishna miniature painting was the most famous variety from this school. These paintings were known for their bold strokes, vivid colours, and expressive insights.
- Jain school – This is perhaps one of the earliest styles and originated somewhere around 11th century and while in the beginning it was done on palm leaves, by the 12th century, paper became the medium. Some of the interesting and unique features of this school included large eyes, square hands, and stylish figures.
- Mughal school – When the Persian and Indian styles met, the Mughal school emerged and this was when the style of painting truly flourished. Scenes from the court, hunting trips and battles were commonly depicted and the Mughal harem paintings of the time were extremely popular. So much was Akbar’s love for this style that he had famous artists brought in to paint specific pictures and images. While there were paintings inspired from Mahabharata and Ramayana, a majority were portraits of the erstwhile rulers and their family members. The art form started to decline once Aurangzeb ascended the throne because he was against all forms of art.
- Rajasthani school – As the Mughal patronage started to dwindle, the artists started moving to other kingdoms and the Rajput was one of them. The Rajputana or the Rajasthani miniature painting style chose to showcase the royal life and also the past rulers. Bold and contrasting colours, that took weeks to prepare were used and several precious stones were used too on ivory and silk.
- Pahari school – The Pahari miniature painting style emerged in the northern most kingdoms of the country; the inspirations were religious and while gods and goddesses were the common favourites, there were landscapes too.
- Deccan school – As the name suggests, this was a school that was predominantly flourishing in the southern parts of India and although there were influences of the Mughal school, there were local elements too. The Deccan miniature painting style has various types of brush strokes and there were attempts to create multi-dimensional effects too.
- What kind of materials were used for the paintings?
The paintings were made on materials like paper, palm leaves, wood, ivory, and cloth like silk.
- What were the brushes made from?
The brushes would be made from really fine hair, including those of squirrels.
- How were the paintings made?
Charcoal or think ink would first be applied to the entire canvas and a thin tinted paper would be applied on top. Grounds of different colours would be used to demarcate the main areas of the painting. The painting would be burnished being placed face down on a smooth stone and then eventually be set inside a wooden holder. Details would be filled in and materials such as gold, silver, and precious stones would be laid in and once ready, these would be perfect wall decor items.
- Who are some of the famous artists?
Mir Sayyid Ali, Miskin, Pandit Seu, Nainsukh, Bichiter and Chaitaraman were some of the most famous artists of the past and one of the better-known miniature artist who is still practicing the craft is Ajay Kumar Garg artist of miniature painting.