Indian Miniature Paintings: The Kashmir School

Academy of Fine Arts and Literature

The tradition of Indian Miniature Painting
The tradition of Indian miniature painting can be traced from the 9th-10th century in the Buddhist Pala period palm leaf manuscript of eastern India and in the western India in the Jaina palm leaf manuscript. With the introduction of paper in 12th century in India, illustrations on paper manuscript of larger format than the narrow palm leaf, began to come into vogue. But apart from such manuscripts still there were no schools of Miniature Paintings in India. There came into existence in the Lodi period (1451-1526 AD) a Sultanate bourgeois school of manuscript. The Sultanate illustrated manuscript represented the court style. The full flowering of miniature painting began when India came into direct contact with the civilization of Islam. With Mughal Empire, (1526-1757 AD) the studios were established at the Imperial court and Indian painting began a new phase in its evolution. It was from there that illustrated manuscripts, album miniatures, portraits, celebratory or genre scenes and various other paintings made their way allover India. Indian miniature painting was subjected to a strong initial Persian influence, but it was short lived since the Indian artists soon recovered their own independence and originality. 
The new patrons of paintings with the decline of the Mughal Empire were the provincial governors of Rajasthan and Pahari kingdom (c. 1700-1900 AD). Unlike Mughal artists, Rajput artists were anonymous and did not enjoy the high status of their Mughal counterparts. Thus while the stylistic evolution of the Mughal School is traced by the patronage of the respective emperors, geographical categories are used to explain the evolution of styles of Rajput painting. Miniatures were profoundly influenced by Indian literature and were executed as illustrations to texts or as individual paintings. They were small-scale, highly detailed pictorial compositions, often providing a true record of the social and cultural life of the time. As the Renaissance masters turned to the Bible, Indian painters turned to our epics, and saw as their task bringing these stories into visual reality for those who may not be able to read. They flourished only under generous and sensitive patrons.

Kashmir Painting

Miniature paintings from Kashmir are a unique fusion of various styles. It seems initially to incline noticeably towards Persian models, traces of some late Mughal elements are also visible along with Pahari flavor, and it seems painters even drew upon conventions and iconographies that go back to the Buddhist period of Kashmir history. It was not just for the royal court that these paintings were made, the patronage extended to common people for their religious requirements and therefore Kashmir painting has a long and rich tradition of illustrated and illuminated manuscripts. Few folios from Bhagvata Puran depicting the scenes from life of Krishna are amongst the jewels of the collection. Elements of folk are noticeable in this series, such as decorative borders, the lack of notion of space, absence of essential and realistic faithfulness to nature.

The lion-riding ten-armed Devi holding in her hands a sword, goad, mace, conch, rosary, decapitated human head, tongs, lotus, shield, and wine-cup, is on charge against demons, perhaps of the Raktabija clan. Some already killed lay under her lion's feet while many more, as if emerged out of the soil, face her. Roktabija had powers to recreate a new Raktabija demon out of each drop of his blood that fell on the earth. Various colours of their bodies symbolise evil's various ways. Devi's iconography, floral border and distribution of the space into two blocks, one for the goddess and other for demons, are characteristic features of Kashmir style.


The lion-riding ten-armed Devi holding in her hands a sword, goad, mace, conch, rosary, decapitated human head, tongs, lotus, shield, and wine-cup, is on charge against demons, perhaps of the Raktabija clan.

Inscribed in Gurumukhi saying ‘Guru Nanak had met Sanyasi Dattatreya'. Guru is seen with his inseparable disciples Bala and Mardana. The palette is vibrant, typical of Kashmiri style. Both Bala and Mardana are chancing upon the ascetic figure of Dattatreya. The painter has rendered the encounter with dramatic simplicity.

Inscribed in Gurumukhi saying ‘Guru Nanak had met Sanyasi Dattatreya'.

This seems to be a folio of a manuscript with elaborate geometrical and floral borders. The style is Kashmiri with tiny figures and typical colours of orange, green, mauve and blue forming the plain compartments. This is the beginning verse from the Bhagvata Purana when Raja Parikshit has come to Vishnu.

This is the beginning verse from the Bhagvata Purana when Raja Parikshit has come to Vishnu.

This folio is of a manuscript with elaborate geometrical and floral borders. The style is Kashmiri with tiny figures and typical colours of orange, green, mauve and blue forming the plain comportments. This is the beginning verse from the Bhagvata Purana when Raja Parikshit has come to Vishnu.

This is the beginning verse from the Bhagvata Purana when Raja Parikshit has come to Vishnu.

A simple setting of the interior where Krishna and his brother Balrama are seated. Their parents are shown sitting against bolsters.

A simple setting of the interior where Krishna and his brother Balrama are seated. Their parents are shown sitting against bolsters.

Krishna showed his Vishvarupa to Arjuna in the battle field of the Mahabharata when the latter had refused to fight with his fellows. Krishna took the form of Vishvarupa by opening his mouth and showed the entire Brahmanda to Arjuna. The colours are typical of the Kashmiri palette with orange, green, yellow and mauve.

Krishna showed his Vishvarupa to Arjuna in the battle field of the Mahabharata when the latter had refused to fight with his fellows.

Inscribed in Gurumukhi on top margin 'Baba ji hatti Betha' i.e. "Baba seated in the shop." Guru Nanak was made to run the provision store but he was all the time inclined towards holy men.

Guru Nanak was made to run the provision store but he was all the time inclined towards holy men.

In full force and energy, Rama cuts the heads of multi-headed Ravana as Lakshman and Hanuman, full reverence, which him performing the brave act.

In full force and energy, Rama cuts the heads of multi-headed Ravana as Lakshman and Hanuman, full of reverence, watch him performing the brave act.

The flat patches of green, orange and yellow form the hillocks whereas the two patches of red and yellow in the foreground are where the main scene is taking place. The two royal persons are having some kind of discussion with the two holy men. There is some offering placed in the plates. The painting has elaborate, geometrical and floral border.

The painting has elaborate, geometrical and floral border.

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