Indian Miniature Paintings: The Rajasthan 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.

Rajasthani Painting

All Indian artists could not make the required grade in the Mughal Imperial atelier and shifted to their respective family homes. While returning they had carried some Mughal painting traits. The influence of Mughal style is obvious in the early Rajasthani and Pahari paintings. The formative style of Rajasthani School of painting towards the end of the 16th century for the first time is seen in early Mewar paintings. Later several states of Rajasthan had developed their own individual styles of painting, the most prominent amongst them were Kota, Bundi, Bikaner, Kishangarh and Mewar and Jaipur. Once Rajasthani Miniature painting came into being, it progressed rapidly under local painters and the obvious feature in them was the Mughal style influence, but their art was very different in temperament and outlook. Part of this difference lay in the more lyrical approach of Rajasthani artists and the pleasure they derived from pure lines and colours. The variety and importance of Hindu deities as the subject matter of Rajput painting marked another departure from Mughal art. There are a few examples of Rajasthani Miniature painting in this collection. Folios from Rasikapriya in the collection exemplify the lyrical nature of these paintings extolling the romantic love of Radha and Krishna. Few paintings of the Nathdwara School depicting the cult of Srinath Ji also enhance the pride of the collection.

The top yellow border within a cartouche carries the verse from the Rasikapriya, which is depicted in the painting. Lord Krishna on the bank of river Yamuna is standing under the Kadamba tree playing on his flute. He is the Venugopala surrounded by his cowherd friends and cows who all have rushed towards him attracted by his flute. Brahma is seen standing in adoration.

Brahma is seen standing in adoration.

The top yellow border within a cartouche carries the verse from the Bhagvata. which is depicted in painting. The scene is of Mathura where the evil king Kansa is giving instructions to Putana to go and kill Krishna the son both to Devaki and Vasudeva but now brought up by Nanda and Yashodha in Gokul. The village life is shown in the background.

The scene is of Mathura where the evil king Kansa is giving instructions to Putana to go and kill Krishna.

An unusual representation of Surya riding on a chariot with seven horses, where body of one horse and seven faces are shown in perspective. What is interesting is the coloring of the horse, half white and half red, striding with great leaps. Holding the reigns of horses is Aruna. Surya is represented with four arms with on earthy face. Distance is created in the pointing with a lake with lotuses in the foreground, the royal chariot in the middle and an unusual, stylized formation of hill, sky in the background. The painting is done in a local idiom.

An unusual representation of Surya riding on a chariot with seven horses, where body of one horse and seven faces are shown in perspective. What is interesting is the coloring of the horse, half white and half red.

Lord Vishnu has appeared in his Narashimha avtar to kill the evil King Hiranyakashyapa, father of Prahlada. After tearing the pillar apart. Narashimha appeared and held the evil King high and killed him. Witnessing the victory of goodness over evil are Prahlada and his mother.

Lord Vishnu has appeared in his Narashimha avtar to kill the evil King Hiranyakashyapa, father of Prahlada.

The pointing portrays the climax part of the legend of child Dhruva, who submitted himself to Lord Vishnu
during his childhood, though his father was against it. He ridiculed Dhruva and challenged the existence of Vishnu. Fed up with all this Dhruva one day determined that he would give up his life by throwing himself into a deep chasm if Lord Vishnu did not appear before him in person. As a result Vishnu, riding his vehicle - the mighty bird Garuda, rushed to the sight and saved Dhruva. The artist has painted Dhruva on higher altitude than Vishnu himself to denote that sometimes the heights ofthe devotee are greater than those of the deity. Lord Vishnu is seated on a golden throne under a gems-studded umbrella. He has behind him a big red bolster and a halo around his head. In his four hands he is carrying lotus, disc, conch and mace.

The artist has painted Dhruva on higher altitude than Vishnu himself to denote that sometimes the heights ofthe devotee are greater than those of the deity.

One figure seems to be that of a holy man wearing a topknot and counting his rosary in the gomukha. The other three heads also of ascetics look more or less similar. A fine drawing with expressive faces.

One figure seems to be that of a holy man wearing a topknot and counting his rosary in the gomukha. The other three heads also of ascetics.

The other three heads also of ascetics look more or less similar.

Parashvanatha is seen seated in mediation on a chouki. A hood of snakes is a usual representation of Parashvanatha A small figure of an attendant is holding a chauri - a f!y whisk.

A hood of snakes is a usual representation of Parashvanatha.

The painting portrays Laila offering fruits to Majnun who in her love has reduced to a mere skeleton. According to the ancient Persian folklore, which was first recorded by the 12th century Persian writer Nizami in his Khamsa, Majnun fell in love the first time he saw Laila. He did all effort to win her love but when failed, he retired into forest to be eaten up by wild animals. Animals, however, happened to be more compassionate, Instead of harming him they brought him food and took care of him, Majnun, though moved with their love and concern, did not eat anything and in the course of time emaciated to a mere frame of bones, The news reached to Laila. She could not think of anyone, to have such love for her. With her family priest and eatables and drinking water she rushed to the forest where she fainted after she saw Majnun's miserable plight. The theme has been repeatedly painted in Mughal, Deccani and Rajasthani miniatures, though with greater details, Majnun is painted as surrounded by several wild animals and Laila
as accompanied by a band of her friends, ttendants and priest. In this painting isolated figures of the two lovers fail to reveal the event in its wholeness.

The painting portrays Laila offering fruits to Majnun who in her love has reduced to a mere skeleton.

A man playing a musical instrument leads the procession followed by Shiva and Parvati seated on a cow. Four-armed Ganesh follows them with a fly-whisk, attending the royal couple. This narikunjan (composite creature made of assembled women) is very typical of Indian art.

This narikunjan (composite creature made of assembled women) is very typical of Indian art.

Two priests garland Krishna, while two others watch. An elephant-headed boat floats, surrounded by lotuses.

Two priests garland Krishna.

An elephant-headed boat floats.

The composition is divided in two sections. In the upper half is the king listening to a holy musician and an attendant behind him. The cremation seems to be of a priestly figure, the circle of flames offset the white of the shroud.

The cremation seems to be of a priestly figure, the circle of flames offset the white of the shroud.

Rama and Lakshman wander in search of Sita. Hanuman the monkey god visits the latter in captivity in Lanka. A lot is happening simultaneously in this little work.

Rama and Lakshman wander in search of Sita. Hanuman the monkey god visits the latter in captivity in Lanka.

Two ladies, obviously a lesbian couple, one drinking wine and other enjoying a puff of hookah, are in an intimate posture of love. Their passionately charged faces reveal great sensuousness and excitement.

Two ladies, obviously a lesbian couple, one drinking wine and other enjoying a puff of hookah, are in an intimate posture of love.

The painting represents Bahubali, a Jina, not a Tirthankara, though enjoying Tirthankara-like status. Bahubali was one of the hundred sons of Rishabha, the first Jain Tirthankara. Rishabha's other illustrious son was Bharata. This land gets its 'Bharatavarsha' name from him. When in his advanced age, Rishabha distributed his empire equally amongst all his sons and renounced the world. Bharata inherited Koshal and Bahubali, Takshashila. Bharata later ousted his ninety-eight brothers and annexed their territories. He was, however, defeated by Bahubali. This greed to possess disillusioned Bahubali and led him to renounce the world. For many long years he remained standing without food or water, defeating his desire and everything that bound him to the world. Creepers grew on him but nothing obstructed him from attaining arhantahood - a state beyond bondage. The two female monks on either side, Sundari and Brahmi, are his sisters. Bahubali and Sundari, born of Sunanda, one of the wives of Rishabha, were twins. Similar twins were Bharata and Brahmi, born of Sumangala, Rishabha's another wife. Influenced by their brother Bahubali they too renounced the world and joined him. Not so much in the north, Bahubali is one of the highly worshipped Jain divinities in the South. His colossal fifty-eight feet high image situated at the 400-500 meter-high rock at Shravana Belagola in Karnataka is one of the world's tallest images.

For many long years he remained standing without food or water, defeating his desire and everything that bound him to the world. Creepers grew on him but nothing obstructed him from attaining arhantahood - a state beyond bondage.

Hanuman has been painted as carrying Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders, besides the usual Mount Dron and a symbolic mace in his right and left hands. In the legend of Rama, Hanuman is twice alluded to as carrying Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders - first, as Sugriva's emissary, when he met them for the first time near Rishyamuka mountain in Kishkindha where Sugriva was seeking refuge, and the second time, to rescue them from Paatala - the subterranean region where Ravana's brother Ahiravana had kept them after their abduction. In the first instance, Hanuman carried them on his shoulders, when on his persuasion Rama agreed to meet Sugriva. He carried them to the mountain top where Sugriva was hiding. In the second instance, he brought them back, again on his shoulders, from Paatala, domain of Ahiravana who had abducted them to help his brother Ravana in his war against them. Both times he expanded his form. In the painting Hanuman has under his feet oceanic water with lotuses scattered all over. It suggests his emergence from the ocean. The Ahiravana episode is obviously the painting's theme. The artist has specially focused on Hanuman's mighty form. In exile Rama and Lakshmana wore ascetics' cloths and no ornaments. The artist did not accept this position. He saw in them only Ayodhya's princes, and hence, their princely costumes and ornaments. Hanuman is himself fully bejeweled from head to toe. His crown has even a crest such as had monarchs.

"Hanuman has been painted as carrying Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders, besides the usual Mount Dron.

Hanuman has under his feet oceanic water with lotuses scattered all over. It suggests his emergence from the ocean.

"King Dharma Mitra and his wife are offering first ahara food, to the sixteenth Jain Tirthankara Shantinatha after he attained kevalajanana (absolute knowledge). As acclaim Jain texts, during his long years of penance, Shantinatha had neither taken any sleep nor food. After he attained absolute knowledge he came to Somanasapur where king Dharma Mitra offered him his first meal. Well versed in Jain rituals and customs, the painter has rightly portrayed the bare-footed king pouring water the initial course of ahara, into the hollowed hands of the divine guest, with his wife carrying the tray of food for the second course. As prescribed, a Jain monk did not use any bowl or other pot."

As prescribed, a Jain monk did not use any bowl or other pot.

Radha and Krishna are mounting a parrot, suggestive of this unity with entire nature. A chowri-bearer blowing a flywhisk, and the contentment on the face of the parrot apart, two musicians, a dancer and a drummer, are the ecstatic sharers of the unique phenomenon.

Radha and Krishna are mounting a parrot, suggestive of this unity with entire nature.

The sadhvi with a white band on her mouth and seated on a chowki is a senior Jain monk in the Swetombara-line. Other one is a new entrant. As symbolized in the painting, flames are her path, but it would ultimately yield flowers.

The sadhvi with a white band on her mouth.

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