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Miniature Paintings – Narrating Stories Of Mythological India

Miniature art

Miniature paintings can be described as pictorial narrations of mythological stories painted on small, colourful canvases by expert artists who intricately create these. Among the natural sources of colours applied in these paintings are fruits, indigo, rare stones, pure gold, and silver. Paintings such as these stand out for their delicate brushwork, which contributes to their distinctiveness. 

Rooftop will explore this ancient art that has survived the test of time.

History Of Miniature Paintings

These ancient paintings are present in all cultures around the world. But do you know that Indian Miniature painting dates back to the 9th-10th centuries? It originated during the ‘Buddhist Pala’ period in the East and the ‘Jaina’ period in Western India. 

Image Source: (L) Etsy; (R) Saffron Art

Under the Mughals (16th-18th century AD), Indian Miniature art flourished, marking a rich era in the history of traditional art. The artists during this reign blended Persian styles with Indian local art to produce high-detail, rich works of miniature paintings.

After the decline of the Mughals, the rulers of Rajasthan and the Pahari kingdoms became the new patrons.

Symbolism & Importance Of Miniature Paintings

Image Source: Christie’s

Have you ever wondered how old this art form is?

Miniature paintings originate before paper. The Indian painters illustrated epics, fables, and religious texts so that those who could not read them could see these stories through their art.

This ancient art revolved around themes like ‘Raga malas’, ‘Bhagavata Purana’, and ‘Gita Govinda’, and depicted hunting scenes of Mughals, sensuous palace lives of Rajputs, ‘Krishna Leela’, ‘Panchatantra’, and many more. There was a profound influence of Indian literature on miniatures, which often served as illustrations to texts and as individual paintings. 

Various Schools Of Miniature Paintings

Pala School

Indian miniature paintings originated with the ‘Pala School’. Several painted manuscripts of Buddhist themes on palm leaves are on display in great Buddhist monasteries like Nalanda, Odantapuri, Vikramsila, and Somarupa.

Image credits: The Metropolitan Museum of art

The colours and the motifs seen in the Buddhist tantric rites are in extensive focus. Many students gathered in India from South-East Asia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, and Tibet to learn this ancient art form.

Jain School

Jain School
Image credits: The Metropolitan Museum of art

After Pala, the Jains pioneered this artform in India. We can find thousands of manuscripts related to ‘Jain philosophy’ and teachings by ‘Jain scholars’ of medieval India. These manuscripts contained several Miniature paintings in them. 

Mughal School

Miniature paintings enjoyed a prominent position during the reigns of Emperor Akbar, Shahjahan, and Jahangir. The scenes from the court, wildlife, and war were the central themes during this period. There was a strong influence of ‘Islamic’ and ‘Persian’ cultures on the paintings. 

Detail and delicateness were evident in the Mughal art. ‘Tuti Nama‘ and ‘Hamza Nama‘ are two of the most celebrated works from this period. 

Pahari School

These Miniature paintings originated in the Himalayan kingdoms during the 17th-19th century. Schools like, Basohli, Mankot, Kangra, Chanba, and Garhwal became popular in Pahari schools. Each school provided its unique variation.

Heavily influenced by the Mughal school, the Pahari school was greatly supported by the Rajputs. Paintings depicting gods, goddesses, divinity, and love became popular themes due to the ‘Bhakti movement.

Image Source: (L) Mughal Schol; Allahabad Museum, Allahabad; (R) Pahari School; Cleveland Museum of Art

Rajasthani School

Rajputs were enthusiasts of art and culture like the Mughals and fully supported the ‘Rajasthani school’ of Miniature paintings. Despite its great inspiration from the Mughal school, the subjects of the Rajasthan school were all about Kings and Royals.

Image Source: (L) and (R) National Museum, Delhi

Orissa School

These paintings are relatively new and emerged from Hyderabad, Golconda, and Tanjore during the 17th-19th centuries. Migrants from Mughal areas migrated to the Deccan to become artisans. Turkish, Iranian, and Persian cultures heavily influenced the works of this school. 

Image Source: Sotheby’s

Despite its deteriorating practice, miniature art holds a significant place in the history of humankind. Museums and Rajasthan forts are now home to many preserved Miniature paintings. Many Indian regions still practice the art, sometimes under the patronage of royal families, but not as meticulously as the originals.

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