Indian Miniature Paintings: Origin, Styles and use in Home Decor

Art is like a mirror of the society. Art forms express the nuances of the culture of a place.

A few days back, my husband and I were on the Mahatma Gandhi Road in South Mumbai. While crossing the Chhatrapati Maharaj Vaastu Sangrahalaya, I saw an impressive head sculpture of resting Buddha at the museum lawn, which tempted us to enter through the gate of the museum. The beautiful work of art with the peaceful expression on the face of Buddha resting on a carpet of grass seemed like a perfect blending of heritage with nature. As my husband purchased the museum tickets, I clicked a few snaps of the sculpture.

Resting Buddha

On walking past the sculpture, we saw that a smaller statue of resting Buddha statue in the concavity at the back of the sculpture.

With only about an hour to see the exhibits before the museum would close down for the day, we decided to focus on one section and went to the Indian Miniature Paintings Gallery. As we explored it in detail, I discovered many things about miniature paintings that were earlier unknown to me.

In this post, I shall share what I learnt about Indian miniature paintings, particularly the Mughal and Rajasthani styles of miniature paintings.

Rajasthani_Miniature
Kishangarh Style of Painting

Origin of miniature paintings in India

Eastern Indian and Western Indian Miniatures Painting Styles

Miniature paintings started as illustrations for sacred texts in the eastern and western parts of India. In eastern India, this art form flourished under the Pala Kings (750 A.D. to the middle of the 12th century) and was based on the religious theme of Buddhism. Buddhist religious texts were written on palm leaves and illustrated with images of Buddhist deities. The long and narrow shape of the palm leaf constrained the area available for painting. So, the illustrations were miniature in size.

In the Western part of India, miniature style of painting was based on the religious themes of Jainism. It was patronised by the Kings of the Chalukya Dynasty who ruled Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan and Malwa from 961 A.D. to the end of the 13th century.

When paper began to be used around the 14th century CE, the manuscripts were written on paper. Initially, the format of the text and illustration remained the same as that of palm leaf manuscripts but later, the dimension of the paper folio was increased.

Different Styles of Indian Miniature Paintings

Gradually, apart from these two schools, other styles and subject matter of the miniature paintings started emerging, of which some of the most prominent were the Sultanate style, Mughal style, Rajasthani and Central Indian style, Deccan Style and Pahari Style including Bhasoli, Kangra and Jammu styles of miniatures.

Let us explore the Mughal and Rajasthani styles of miniature paintings, which influenced and enhanced each other.

Mughal style of miniature painting

Mughal style of painting evolved in the second half of the 16th century, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, who was a great connoisseur of art. He founded an atelier in which a hundred artists worked under two great Persian masters. The synthesis of the indigenous Indian style of paintings with the Persian school of paintings gave rise to the Mughal style of miniatures. It was characterised by trends such as the detailed depiction of nature, exquisite details of textile patterns, wall surfaces and tiles, and other decorative architectural elements, along with border decorations.

The Mughal style introduced realism to some extent and refinement in Indian miniature painting and it was further influenced by the European paintings which came in the Mughal court and absorbed some of the Western techniques like shading and perspective.

Some of these painting styles can be seen in the links below.

Mughal Falcon Miniature Painting 
Mughal Period Portrait of Royal Rajput Procession Miniature Painting on 100 Year Old Court Stamp Paper

Indian Miniatures – Rajasthani style

With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the provincial governors of Rajasthan and Pahari kingdom emerged as the patrons of miniature paintings.

The Rajasthani style of painting is marked by bold drawing, strong and contrasting colours. Though the Mughal influence was obvious in the Rajasthani style of painting, the treatment of figures was flat without any attempt to show perspective in a naturalistic manner.

New schools of painting originated in Rajasthan and Central India in the 17th and 18th centuries. Several states of Rajasthan including Malwa, Mewar, Bundi- Kotah, Amber­Jaipur, Bikaner, Marwar, Nathdwara and Kishengarh developed their own styles of painting.

The Rajasthani style of miniature displays the royal lifestyles of the kings and queens, as well as themes related to Radha, Krishna and folktales or Ragamala, depicting musical modes. Each school of painting has its distinct facial type, costume, landscape and colour scheme.

The early Mewar paintings are characterised by lacquered red backgrounds and dark skies. A distinctive feature of the Mewar painting is a green bower against a red background. Miniature painting is a living tradition in Mewar even today. Nathdwara is known for its intricate Pichhwai paintings which portray Lord Krishna. Hunting themes were very popular in Kotah paintings.  Kishangarh paintings are characterised by slim male and female figures with elongated features, long pointed nose and fish eyes. The depiction of Radha and Krishna in many of the Kishangarh paintings are said to be the stylized representation of poet- prince Savant Singh and his beloved ‘Bani Thani’.

 

Colours and Binders used for Indian Miniature Paintings

Colours used to make miniature paintings are made from pigments extracted from coloured earth, minerals or from leaves and flowers. These pigments are stored in powder form and mixed with gum Arabica, extracted from the bark of babul tree for applying on the surface, which acts as a binder for the colours. Brushes were made from the soft hair from the tail of camels, goats, cows or mongoose.  today the traditional artists prefer to use such brushes, which they prepare themselves.

The tradition of miniature paintings still exists in some parts of India and these miniature paintings have found their way into our homes in the form of paintings and showpieces.

Also Read: Pattachitra: The spectacular art of Odisha

Use of Miniature paintings in Home Décor

Miniature painting done on marble by artisans of Rajasthan, make for attractive home décor items, adding vibrancy to the rooms with their bright colours. Miniature paintings are also available on round marble plates that can be kept on the for desk or table décor. Handmade marble elephants with miniature paintings all around look very artistic. Some miniature paintings are done on faux ivory (false or artificial ivory). Then miniature paintings fit very nicely on paperweights or on coffee mugs. I picked up a few paperweights and coffee mugs from the museum shop.

Also Read: Kantha: Traditional Craft from Bengal

You can see an online collection of the different types of handcrafted miniature paintings and art items, on Amazon. The pictures in the links below will take you to these Rajasthani and Mughal miniature art items on Amazon.

   

Incorporating these beautiful art items in our home décor is one of the ways to preserve our national heritage.

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    By: Somali K Chakrabarti

    Hi there! Welcome to Scribble and Scrawl! Here, I delve into themes related to positive lifestyle – from making smart-living choices, savvy financial decisions to nurturing the mind, body and soul. I share my travel experiences, explore facets of art and culture and highlight inspiring stories. Hope you enjoy reading my posts.

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Somali K Chakrabarti

Hi there! Welcome to Scribble and Scrawl! Here, I delve into themes related to positive lifestyle - from making smart-living choices, savvy financial decisions to nurturing the mind, body and soul. I share my travel experiences, explore facets of art and culture and highlight inspiring stories. Hope you enjoy reading my posts.

comments
  • What a delightful read, and beautiful art. And I am always interested in art and did not know about Indian miniature paintings.
    So was pleased to learn also that the paint was made from natural sources, such as pigments from the earth, leaves, bark etc.. And I so loved the paintings you shared ..
    And I have a resting Buddha in a wooden full carving about 2 ft high at the top of my stairs…. I touch each evening as I climb the stairs to bed. 🙂
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend Somali and loved your visit to the museum.. 🙂
    Hugs and Blessings
    Sue

    • Thank you very much, Sue. Happy to know that you enjoyed reading the post.
      In the earlier days, natural colours were used in Indian paintings and clothes. But slowly the use of natural colours faded away in favour of artificial colours, which were easy to use, added glaze and lasted longer. However, some artists still prefer the use of natural colours in the traditional paintings.
      Would love to see a picture of Budhha sculpture that you have in your blog sometime.
      I am having a good weekend. Just back after watching sunset at the beach. Thank you and hope that you too are enjoying your weekend. 🙂 Love and Regards, Somali

  • That’s a highly informative and highly commendable post Somali Ji. Hearty thanks and compliments for sharing.

  • I agree Somali, Art is such fascinating aspect of our life and it is indeed the mirror of our society. Ironically we have ceased to see that mirror. It’s been long that I have visited a Museum, though it’s been on my agenda, just that this activity manages to slip from my schedule. This post of yours inspires me to make my visit to Museum mandatory. The way you have done the research work and dovetailed with your wonderful insights on the eastern style to the western style of Indian Art Forms and also how it has evolved and influenced by different kings and dynasties over the years…

    Painting those days was purely based on nature and out of nature, the palm leaf to the colors made out of flowers to binder extracted out of the plants, so much interesting facets…with all it’s limitation paintings of those days were remarkable in their presentation. Mughal style to European style and how it has its bearing on the Rajasthani style that is very much a part of today’s art scenes in our country…Miniature Paintings Gallery are making their rightful places into the Home Decor.

    Thanks Somali for such an insightful and informative post on an Art form seemly getting left behind in the digital distortion of art.
    😀

    • I found it interesting to know about the evolution of art and how it adapted to the changing culture. I like to have Rajasthani paintings, thangkas and other traditional decorative items at home. To know how and why these started reveals a lot about the diverse traditions and culture of our country, which is what the trips to the museum brought out. Thank you so much for your valuable thoughts, Nihar. Truly appreciate it. 😊

      • Indeed Somali, it such a revelation as we go deep inside the hinterlands of our country and closely look at the art developed over the years and with a deep diversity in our living and lifestyle across the length and breadth, it perhaps gets the different flavours that makes it so fascinating to observe and absorb the nuanced beauty of such paintings…
        Rajasthan has always led the way on the historical architecture and monuments that gives the artists canvas to play their imagination…Rajasthani painting has its own place.
        😀

  • The vibrant colours of miniature paintings easily attract our eyes. One disadvantage of it is, we often miss the intricacy of the paintings. I especially like the Kangra style; so complex and they are kind of poetic in nature. Thanks for making me enlightened on the different forms and schools of miniature paintings….

  • Hi Somali, as always, this is a fabulous article that captures the essence of art. In a diverse country like ours, there are many local paintings like Worli art and Madhubani painting in different pockets of the country. I would like to specifically mention Tanjore paintings, started in the Vijaynagar kingdom since I have completed my advanced level courses of Tanjore painting. These paintings are made of real gold and precious stones and used to adorn the palaces of yesteryear’s. Studded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, these paintings are still found in popular ancient South Indian temples. I would love to know your perspective about this form of art! Do keep an eye out the next time you’re visiting South Indian temples. I am sure you will love them too !

    • Thank you Ramyani. Gorgeous is the word to describe Tanjore paintings. It is great to know that you have completed advanced level courses in Tanjore paintings. These traditional forms of art are so beautiful. I recently had interactions with master artists and I want to do a series on Pattachitra, Patua, Warli, Madubani, Pichwai, Gond and Terracota,. If at any point you would like to do a guest post on this blog showcasing some of your Tanjore paintings, please feel free to write to me. I suggest you put up a post on Tanjore paintings in your blog as well.

      • Hi Somali, thank you so much for the suggestion on the blog post on Tanjore paintings. I would love to do that. Yes, these art forms are mesmerising. I am eagerly looking forward to your posts on the different art forms, hoping they come soon!

  • This was a very informative and engaging read on miniature paintings. I am in awe of the amazing talent of the artists who paint these miracles with so much skill and patience.

  • Fascinating read about the history of miniature paintings, a wonderful art beautifully captured!

  • Good info in the post. I’ve always been interested in paintings. The post reminded me of my visit to the Alwar Museum in Rajasthan – if you’re interested in miniature paintings, that’s one place to put on your list

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