Small paintings, Giant impact
The term ‘miniature painting’ often evokes quite potent imagery within one’s mind- vivid colors, depictions of opulent courts, daily life – illustrated beautifully in all its simplicity – and of course, religiously significant events, to name a few. While these images may be common to most of us, the actual discipline behind the art is quite diverse – and is more like a cohesive unit of rivers – different, and distinct from each other – unlike the vast, united sea people think it is.
The art of miniature painting is thought to have been perpetuated in India by The Mughals, most notably Humayun and Akbar, both of whom brought along skilled artists from Persia. These artists, who taught their craft to Indian artisans, were not only given a platform to sustain their art form, but also an eager audience. So much so, that the skills they passed along became quite heavily – and interestingly modified, into regional styles – each with their own, unique flavors – all of which would not only become culturally significant to Indian society, but also seamlessly integrate themselves into the cultural fiber of Indian society as a whole.
The original interpretation of this skill is said to have led to the birth of the Rajasthani/ Rajput paintings, which further had four principle schools of discipline within itself. There was the Mewar school, within which one could find the Sawar, Chavand and Udaipur styles of painting; the Marwar school, which fathered the Bikaner, Kishangarh & Jodhpur styles; the Hadoti school, which contained the Kota, Jhalawar and Bundi styles; and last, but definitely not least – the Dhundar school of Jaipur, Amber and Shekhawati styles of painting.
These schools weren’t arbitrary classifications by any means – each school had its own unique take on the art form, and thus its very own personality. One only needs to look at the Bani Thani paintings of the Kishangarh province in Rajasthan to verify this – characterized by features like long necks & fingers, large eyes, and generally exaggerated proportions, this particular style peaked during the reign of Raja Sawant Singh, who, smitten by his love for a slave girl that went by the nickname of Bani Thani, ordered his artists to paint them both as the divine couple, Krishna and Radha. And thus, be it intentionally or not, a style of painting reached new peaks.
The paintings themselves were created with meticulous care – artists used colors derived from vegetables, minerals, and even precious stone – upon paper, ivory panels, marble, or cloth to produce stunning results. But as is the case with timeless art, it cannot be rushed; even after the elaborate color mixing process, it took weeks – even months – to get the desired, high quality results. Even the fineness of the brushes used was of utmost importance – even today, some brushes are actually made out of squirrel fur! Needless to say, this strive for perfection has resulted in some of the finest pieces of artwork known to the Indian civilization.
While the capacity to produce traditional masterpieces seems to have gone, the art form still lives on, thanks to the dedicated artists devoted to keeping it alive, if only through imitation. While the craft as a whole has been commercialized, the divinity and purity of the original form still breathes on, albeit in muffled, quiet breaths as opposed to the heavy sighing it once enjoyed.