One country and a thousand tales to tell. India has been a pioneer in contributing to the art and literature world through its mythological stories, festivals and unparallel heroism of legends. But, the vibrant depiction of these narratives through paintings added to this glorious contribution. Born in the laps of Marwar & Mewar, Rajasthani miniature paintings have illustrated the history of India through an array of themes for centuries. Though it has its Indian origins, miniature paintings showcase the great influence of the Mughals and Persians. These themes helped the viewer to visualize a world that existed back then and picture the humanly figures of deities.

The warm colours, different expressions and significance of themes together make one intricate piece of craft. So let’s dive deeper into the nuances of Rajasthani miniature paintings and learn the exciting facts about the themes of Rajasthani miniature

Divine Images

Divine image miniature painting
Image Source: Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours

All traditional Indian art forms illustrate the dominance of spirituality, mythology, rituals and traditions in a great deal. Indian art, and particularly miniatures, are replete with divine images. India’s cohesive vision is symbolized by this divine image, which consists of various deity icons. Essentially, the arts formalize this vision into two parts: divine and mortal. In both cases, the worlds are coexisting and are shared. To name a few, Shiva dancing the tandava, Krishna surrounded by his beloved Gopis, Hanuman lifting the mount with the Sanjivini and many more seek their prime importance from the divine acts. Moreover, one can see the prevalence of the Great Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in these paintings.

As described in Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours; Indian theology emphasizes the incarnation of deities and hence by such symbolism miniature paintings discovered numerous forms of the manifest. A large number of paintings also show semi-divinities such as Nandi.

Festivals, Devotion, Music

Festivals miniature painting
Image Source: Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours

Festival is the yarn that binds the emotions, a sense of belongingness and social traditions of India. With every month comes along a festival that is symbolic of mythological tales. And what better than visually depicting these enriching trails of our Gods or social rites followed by our ancestors? Miniature paintings of Rajasthan beautifully captured the essence of festivals and the power and purity of devotion in their art. One can observe the prevalence of festivals like Holi, Diwali or Janmashtami being illustrated in these delicately painted textiles. The picturisation often revolved around the royal damsels rejoicing in the festivities, the emperors performing sacred ceremonies and so on. The popular one, as penned down in Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours is the depiction of Janmashtmi celebrated by the king of Kotah with sadhus and sanyasis.

Not just this, but the welcoming of seasons was also a means to celebrate. Eventually, these events found their way into the art form, Shravana and Bhadhon, Vasant Utsav being the popular ones. Other social rites like worshipping Devi Parvati, and the Govardhana hill were also a centric part of the miniatures.

The Fascinating – Ragamala

Only an artist could envision the mesmerising effect of capturing music in form of colours. The Ragas, melodic modes in Indian music were used as a theme to depict the emotions and essence of tradition and customs of India. Interestingly, the word Raga originates from the Sanskrit root word Ranj meaning dyed in colours. Drawing literal inspiration from the word, each sound was replicated in lines and colours which expressed the emotions in miniature painting.

The prominence of this theme was noted in the 16th-19th century when the spirit of sound was visualised in colours. As believed, the first teachers of music were Lord Shiva and Krishna, hence one can mark several personifications of these Gods in the Ragamala paintings. The Rasa, abstract feelings and emotions were given visual forms. The artisans derived inspiration from the literary renderings of Raga and imitated them in all hues. These paintings are an amalgamation of the artisan’s vision of conveying sounds through art and Indians’ fondness for music.

Hunting

Hunting miniature painting
Image Source: Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours

Regarded as an act of royalty and favourite activity of the Rajputs from Rajasthan, hunting was a common theme in Rajasthani miniature painting. During the alliance with emperor Akbar, the kings and princes were not only fond of hunting but also commissioned paintings of them. Soon after, the reign of Jahangir brought a fashion this pastime was considered a pleasure sport for queens. Following suit, the Rajput women acquired the skills and began to practise them in equal fervour. To name a few prominent ones, Maharana Ari Singh of Mewar, and Prince Zorawar Singh of Bikaner have been noticed in these paintings. Moreover, these miniature paintings provided evidence of falconry being practised as a royal sport. Green foliage, a mountain range and trees were the basic components to create a forest visual.

Games

Chaupar in miniature painting
Image Source: Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours

Remember the turning point of Mahabharta? The Chaupar game caused the eldest Pandava Yudhishthira to lose his kingdom and Draupadi faced the wrath and humiliation from the Kauravas. Not just that, the Sudharshan Chakra used by Krishna during Mahabharata was also used as an instrument to play. This marks the pivotal role of games in the ancient history of India. As a matter of fact, several games played globally originated in ancient India. Therefore, art mediums have captured Indian’s penchant for sports for centuries.

The royal picturisation of the Rajputs playing polo was made en masse. It was regarded as a game for the emperors. Other sports like archery, hunting, sword fighting and shooting are a common theme in Rajasthani miniature. Apart from the legends, even the supreme beings were correlated to the theme of games. The tutelary deity of wrestlers is Lord Hanuman who is worshipped as the embodiment of strength. As Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours states, there are two interesting paintings depicting games that are a part of the collection of the National Museum.

Legends

Legends in miniature painting
Image Source: Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours

India’s ancient history speaks volumes about the legend of men and women who have contributed to the shaping of heritage and culture. Not only bravery and heroism but love and sacrifice have also been popular themes in miniature painting. The poetic compositions of the bravery of kings, like that of Prithviraj Chauhan, is a theme of miniature painting. And where there is war there are also words of kindness and songs of love. Radha-Krishan, Soni-Mahiwal, and Padmini-Ratansen are a few of the popular love legends who professed and lived by the idea of eternal love. How could one miss giving this unconditional love a visual form? Several Rajasthani miniatures have captured the essence of the tragic ends of these love tales. It is done either in the form of folios or just the climax of the story.

Eminent poets, singers and musicians are also a theme of miniature paintings. Legendary poet, Kabir along with his contemporaries, Raidasa, Dadu and Namdev compose a well-known miniature. These paintings illustrate the epitomes of courage, patriotism and beauty through

Literature

literature in miniature painting
Image Source: Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours

Any nation’s wealth is its preserved elaborate literature. Likewise, Indian literature from the ancient to medieval to present times has always been the core of several paintings and other artistic developments. Hindi literature has been an important source of inspiration for the Rajasthani. Folklore like Dhola Maru and the love and romance of Krishna Leela are a few of the paintings based on the texts. Due to the Persian influence, there are miniature paintings also based on the Persian translation of Panchatantra.

One of the popular literary depictions is derived from the Baramasa, which draws a parallel between a man’s emotion and nature’s cyclic changes. Through a folio format, the artists exhibit man’s different emotions that are reflective of the changes around him in nature. They illustrate how nature shapes a man’s emotions.

Along with these themes, court scenes and portraits of the emperors were also equally popular.

Rajasthani miniature paintings have adapted to the changing times. Being relevant to the current scenarios, miniature paintings have illustrated the common man’s life, social customs, shrines and monumental buildings. Moreover, during the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century, the theme of this art also reformed and showcased a bent toward the commercial side of India.

Citation: Rajasthani Miniature, The Magic of Strokes and Colours, Dr. Daljeet