Miniature Paintings of India: Breathing Life Into History

Paintings communicate with us in a way no other artwork does; they invoke feelings, stimulate our brains, take us down to the path of creativity and open a whole new world of interpretation to us. Indian miniature paintings are one of the finest treasures of Indian culture; done in the most intricate ways, traditional Indian miniature paintings have evolved over the years but some primitive features and practices still make them the most meticulous form of art.

Miniature paintings of India go back to the beginning of time, from being an archaic practice amongst us humans to record our daily activities, traditional Indian miniature paintings have made it to the 21st century and very well in our homes as well. The medium might have changed but the astonishment of its fineness still thrives. Read on to know more about the history of miniature painting in India and why you should buy one today:  

  • The origins of Indian miniature painting
  • The history of painting in India began primarily with two categories — wall paintings and miniature paintings. The best existing wall and cave paintings example stands to be the Ajanta Caves, made as Buddhist religious art in the 2nd century BCE. On the other hand, the history of miniature painting in India began between the 9th and 10th centuries, though the dates remain contested.

    Made on small-sized palm leaves for Buddhist manuscripts in eastern Indian and Jaina manuscripts in western India,  these have survived the test of times, as they were usually religious in nature and hence, carefully taken care of. Indian miniature paintings soon began to be made on paper in the 12th century and the culture of depicting court matters through miniature paintings saw the light briefly during the time of the Lodi dynasty.

    The actual development of the miniature paintings of India happened under the Mughal dynasty (1526-1757 AD). The Mughal empire provided patronage to various artists who developed and experimented with various styles and eventually expanded the Mughal school of painting, which was known for its faultless miniature paintings.

    The growth of Indian miniature paintings is hence credited to the Mughal dynasty which started the tradition of producing illustrated manuscripts, miniature albums, and independent folios which depicted scenes of everyday life, court scenes, portraits of ministers and emperors, hunting scenes, and special occasions. Soon with the decline of the Mughal dynasty, the artists scattered around the country and found patronage under different dynasties which then culminated into different styles of traditional Indian miniature paintings.

    The four important schools of Indian miniature paintings

  • The Mughal School of Painting

  • Beginning from the 16th century, the Mughal style of miniature painting developed in the northern Indian subcontinent. Mughal school of miniature painting is considered one of the most prestigious styles of painting. It was from here that the other three schools of paintings were influenced and developed with the Mughal dynasty being the foundation. These Indian miniature paintings are known for their sophisticated techniques and a wide range of themes that are depicted in them.

    Miniature paintings are considered reliable sources for understanding history since they portrayed important events and daily life equally. The Mughal nobles and emperors were keen on establishing a custom of recording their everyday life through miniature paintings of India. Under the guidance of two Persian masters, Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdus Samad, courtesy Humayun, the artists under the Mughal patronage were guided enough for the Mughal style of painting to reach its pinnacle, especially during the period of Jahangir who was considered a great connoisseur of art and literature.

    Mughal miniature paintings were made as illustrated albums and sketches in  books; the themes varied from portraits, flora and fauna, court room scenes, daily lives of emperors, nobles, queens and consorts, to special occasions. Under the reign of Aurangzeb, the Mughal miniature paintings lost their importance and soon the patronage was decreased as well, this forced the artists to scatter to different parts of the country and princely courts which gave birth to new schools of paintings.

  • The Rajasthani School of Painting

    The princely courts of Rajasthan during the 17th-18th century had artists from the Mughal dynasty and even though a lot of the growth in Rajasthani miniature paintings can be accredited to Mughal school of painting, the two styles differed from each other because of their portrayal of different themes. The Rajasthani school of painting which is also known as the Rajput style of painting focusses on themes like religion, love, Krishna and Radha, and mythology.

    These Indian miniature paintings branch out into schools such as the Mewar School in the style of Chavand, Udaipur, Nathdwara, Sawar and Devgarh, the Hadoti School in the style of Kota, Jhalawar and Bundi, the Marwar School in the style of Bikaner, Kishangarh, Ghanerao, Nagaur, Jodhpur and Pali, and finally the Dhundar School in the style of Shekhawati, Uniara, Amber and Jaipur. The history of miniature painting in India is incomplete without the Rajasthani school of painting and its artists who contributed to the art form.

  • The Pahari School of Painting

    The next school of miniature paintings of India that evolved out of the scattered artists of the Mughal dynasty was the Pahari school of painting. Originated in the sub-Himalayan regions of India, this school too has several styles - Guler, Chamba, Garhwal and the two most prominent styles are Kangra and Basohli and the Jammu/Dogra school of art. The Pahari school of miniature paintings has themes that are similar to the Mughal school of painting and otherwise focuses on themes related to Vaishnavite stories.

  • The Deccan School of Painting

    Coming from regions like Bidar, Ahmednagar, Berar, Bijapur, and Golkonda, one of the traditional Indian miniature paintings flourished and came to be known as the Deccan school of painting. This painting style thrived under the Deccan Sultanates and stood out because of its peculiar features. Standing apart from the Mughal school of painting, this style of painting portrayed their subjects in a different manner — depicting individuals in portraits with elongated faces, vivid colors, and three-quartered face exposure.

    Deccan paintings were inspired by the Persian and Mughal schools of art starting in the 16th century and were at the height of their style during the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah II. This classical Indian art was included in illustrated books related to the Mughal empire, such as Tarif-i-Husain Shahi and Nujum-ul-Ulum. 

    The history of miniature painting in India is one that is tied together by the common thread of immaculate and faultless talent; passed on from generation to generation and dynasty to dynasty, today it has been converted to various digital mediums and made available to the public through several domains.

    Now that you’ve read everything about the miniature paintings of India, pick up your favorite one from the Classical Indian Art collection from The Bimba and relive every aspect and tradition of Indian history!

    May 29, 2021 — Team Bimba