A miniature painting is an artwork that originated in India around 750 A.D when the Palas ruled over the eastern part of India. The traditional miniature painting according to the subcontinent is a technique of making fine illustrations on a minimal scale. The paintings are made by using water based colour and is done in steps. Traditionally there are three techniques of doing miniature painting. Siah qalam (using lamp black water based paint), neem rang (using water based colour), and gad rang (in this another base paint is added within the required colour, called safaida, which is basically used to make the paint opaque). These paintings are characterised by their miniature size and intricate details and acute expressions.
Originating in the Mughal era, around 16th century, miniature paintings were influenced by Persian styles, and flourished under Shah Jahan and Akbar’s rule. Later, it was adopted by the Rajputs, and is now popularly practiced in Rajasthan. As with other art forms, these paintings depict religious symbols and epics. These paintings stand out as humans are portrayed with large eyes, a pointed nose and a slim waist, and men are always seen with a turban.
In miniature painting, the image sizes do not exceed 25 square inches and sculpture sizes do not exceed 8 inches in any dimension including the base. There are different schools of miniature painting such as mughal painting, rajhidtani painting and some more under sub-divided schools, which are being practised throughout the subcontinent as a revival of the tradition or for archival purpose. The tradition of miniature paintings was further taken forward by the artists of various Rajasthani schools of painting, including the Kishangarh, Bundi Jaipur, Mewar and Marwar.
The creation of a miniature painting begins with the artist preparing the sheet. A special form of handmade paper called “Wasli” made by combining multiple layers of sheets made from rice stalk and bamboo that are especially designed for painting, is coated with a layer of Asbestos or chalk white powder usually known as “kharia” locally. This coating of kharia ensures that paper becomes thick, flat and ready to be used for painting. There are many types of brushes that an artist deals with while creating a miniature. The larger ones are used for colour filling, the smaller ones for bordering and washes, whereas the thinnest brushes are required for detailed and intricate work. These thin brushes are made from squirrel hair and are the most important aspect of an Indian Miniature Painting. The squirrel hair brush is very delicate. A good squirrel hair brush is curved and converges to a single point from the tip, this natural curve of the brush hairs makes the drawing line thin and even, which is the most important aspect of a miniature painting. It is to be noted that the brush should always be loaded side to side, not from the tip. This protects the tip of the brush, which must always remain sharp and pointed. An apprentice may spend hours in making these circles on his sketchbook to properly learn the art of using a brush.
Today, the art survives solely due to tourists, specifically those of them visiting Rajasthan. Here too, the art has become somewhat static. The Persian influence seems to have remained intact, as is evident from the decorative style. But the art lacks the verisimilitude of the older paintings. Most artists in Rajasthan have acquired their skill from someone in the family. They can also make copies. This practice of reproduction not only hinders the evolution of the art but also takes away from its value. There are, however, some artists who are breathing new life into traditional styles.
To conclude with, these painting are truly a marvel that India has so far managed to sustain from her past. Do look around for these when you visit Rajasthan!