These miniature paintings were traditionally used to depict the epics of 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharatha'. They were initially created as illustrations of these manuscripts. Later, the paintings appeared on the walls of temples, Rajput palaces, forts and havelis. Now the contemporary usage encompasses interior decorations and souvenirs.
In the 16th century, miniature artists would line the streets where grand processions of Rajput kings would pass. The kings and queens would ride beautifully adorned elephants, the ministers would ride horses, and the royal entourage would comprise of camels, dancers and musicians as they traveled with great fanfare. The miniature artists would sketch this entire event and later detail them as intricate miniature paintings. In this manner the details of the events would be documented on paper or ivory. The artists were so skilled in their craft that they could even match the exact facial features in these small paintings. It is not just the final act of painting, which required excellence, but preparation of the colors was another effort requiring patience and perseverance. These colors were derived from nature and many days of toil would result in extraction of a minuscule amount of rich and exquisite color, which did wonders to the paintings.
The themes of the 'Rajput miniatures' encompassed much broader contexts than the 'Mughal miniatures', which predominantly depicted the events of the Imperial court. The Rajput paintings differed according to the areas they belonged to and gave an insight into the life of the royals as well as the common man. Music was also a characteristic in the paintings. The different 'Raagas' like 'Bhairava', 'Malava', 'Hindola'etc. Were related to the different seasons and depicted different moods. The artists drew entire scenarios with amazing detail and finesse on small canvases for the king to keep as a memory of the event.
Myths & Legends
The history of paintings in India can be traced back to the 2nd century BC. The caves of 'Bhimbetka' and 'Pachmarhi' have various drawings of hunting, farming and dance scenes. These depictions were made, using various media and on various surfaces like caves, walls, leaves, cloth and wood. The paintings in the Ajanta caves are one of the earliest of this craft and date between 2nd and 5th century BC. The 'Bagh' caves in Madhya Pradesh and the 'Sigiriya' in 'Sri Lanka' date back to the 5th century AD. The 'Sittanavasal' caves in South India, is from the 7th century, followed by the 'Ellora' caves of the 8th to 11th centuries.
The 'Pala' miniature paintings of Eastern India dating back to about 11th century are the earliest evidences of the miniature painting tradition. This Eastern school of miniature paintings which dates to the 9th-12th centuries depicts the 'Mahayana Buddhist' deities. In South India, the 'Brihadeswara' temple has depictions of paintings done during the 'Chola' era of the 11th century.
The miniature style of paintings, were introduced to India by the Mughals from Persia. Humayun, who returned from Persia after exile in 1555 AD, brought the painters with him. His son and successor, Akbar, later established a workshop where these artists worked and passed on their craft to many Hindu artists. Later on they brought their own style known as the 'Rajasthani' or 'Rajput style'.
The Rajput school began to absorb elements of Mughal style, due to the growing alliances between Rajput kingdoms and the Mughals and this lead to the creation of 'Rajasthani miniature' in the16th century. The painters, who had moved from Mughal courts to Rajasthan after the decline of the Mughal Empire, found patrons in the 'Rajputs'.
Inspired by the royal and romantic lives of the Mughals, these paintings were done with utmost care and in minute details with strong lines and bold colors set in harmonious patterns. The court artists, who captured the moments on canvas, painted scenes from everyday life.
During the long period of Rajput rule, many kingdoms developed their own distinctive style of miniature paintings. The various schools of Rajput paintings are 'Mewar', 'Hadoti', 'Kishangarh' and 'Dhundhar' and from them 'Mewar' stands ahead prominently. The paintings of 'Udaipur', 'Nathdwara' and 'Devgarh' styles are immortal legacies of this school. The 'Ajanta' style was also blended with this style by artists and the 'Guhil' rulers of 'Vallabhipur'. The 'Vallabhas' were devotees of Lord Krishna and there was a steady growth of the 'Vallabha' influence, which led to the famous 'Radha-Krishna-Leela' stories. This was one of the most important contributions of the 'Mewar' paintings.
The two rulers viz. Rana Kumbha (1433-1464) and Rana Sanga (1509-1539) were great patrons of art. Udai Singh and Rana Pratap are also known to have given refuge to the artisans and craftsmen. Pratap's son Amar Singh produced a remarkable set of Ragamala painted with the help of these artists. This Ragamala is the earliest dated example of Mewar School and it was painted at Chavand. The real beginning of a polished style of Mewar painting started in 1571 AD. By that time, it fully replaced the 'Apabhransa'. One immediate reason of development of this school was that a large number of artists migrated from Mandu to Mewar after Baj Bahadur, the ruler of Mandu was defeated by Mughals in 1570. Thus, we can conclude that the new Mewar style originated as an offshoot to the Central Indian painting. The times of Jagat Singh (1628-1652), the Mewar painting reached its highest glory. Jagat Singh I was a devotee of Krishna and the themes of passion and devotion lent themselves well at court, which can easily translate to loyalty for the Rajput land.
In the texts of the 'Bhagwad Purana' painted by 'Sahabadi' (1648), fine examples of the 'Mewar' style are available. Before paper came to India in the 14th century, surfaces made from materials like bamboo, jute, palm leaf and cotton were used. Before painting, the coarse paper had to be treated and polished to attain the desired surface.
The works of the 'Mewar' school are characterized by simple bright colors, which have a direct emotional appeal. The inspiration for the works was derived from the artistic heritage of 'Medpat', the land of 'Guhil' rulers. These paintings use a wide range of colors like saffron, yellow, crimson etc. The backgrounds usually have a stylized architecture consisting of domed pavilions and small turrets, trees are given a semi natural look and the foregrounds are decorated with flowers and birds. The clothes of the human figures have evolved to the 'Rajput' style with a scarf worn over one shoulder and also around the waist. The turban is either loosely wound or has a band tied tightly around it.
The depictions and styles evolved over a period of time. Initially, the features included prominent eyes, drawn to extend further away from the cheek and used brick red backgrounds. the birds, animals and trees are ornate, the flowers are drawn in bunches, and the Hills and Mountains are depicted in Persian style. Small hillocks and mounds are also inserted into the paintings.
Later the paintings came to be more elaborate and ornate. The elements later had faces in profile with a gradual elimination of angular features.
The ornamentation and the drapery too changed according to the Rajput times. The figures were composed within a matrix and could neither move towards, nor away from the viewer. Dynamic drawings and intricate patterns created a sense of surface energy.
The painters depicted nature in their distinctive styles and took inspirations from their surroundings and local topography. Subjects of Miniature paintings are 'Krishna Lila' (stories of Krishna), 'Raga Raginis' (Musical melodies), 'Nayika Bheda' (different classes of heroines, on the basis of which Sanskrit and Hindu writers of love, classified women), 'Rituchitra' (seasons), Panchatantra.
The artists also painted multiple elaborate borders, which were sometimes more lavish than the painting.
These paintings lost their charm and started to decline in the 18th century. It became a cheap medium to depict the scenes of dance, parties and sensuous palace life. With the advent of photography, these are now only sought after by collectors as souvenirs or to adorn the walls of the houses, hotels etc.