Indian Miniature Paintings: The Deccani and Paithan Schools

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.

Deccani Painting

The Deccani painting, with Ahmednagar, Golkonda, Bijapur, and subsequently Hyderabad as its centres, evolved during the later half of the 16th century, almost contemporaneously to Mughal art. Most of the painters working at these courts were immigrants of Turkey, Iran and Europe, and had brought with them their art idioms and skills that their lands had acquired by then. Hence, in almost no time, Deccani art attained considerable maturity of form, subtle refinement and great merit on par with the Mughal painting. The volume of Islamic elements in Mughal and Deccani painting was almost similar but their chemistry was completely different. In Mughal art, these elements blend, dissolve and undergo a chemical transformation and acquire a new elemental status, while in the art of Deccan, they retain their identity, distinguishable from their Indian counterparts. It was a sort of physical compounding. Deccani art is like a combination of two sets of elements. The two sets do not so blend that from them is born a third.

This initial form which was more or less the Turkish or Persian idiom transplanted on Indian soil apart, what defined the Deccani painting to most minds was its subsequently evolved form that blended with the Islamic the elements of indigenous art traditions folk or otherwise, and the characteristic Deccani landscape with rich vibrant nature, which gave to Indian art some excellent miniatures. This Deccani art, with its highly charged compositions, fine line-work, great sense of geometry, pleasing perspectives, faces and eyes brimming with sensuality, well defined nature and landscape and intense colours, reveals a kind of moody romanticism, which even the Mughal paintings often lack.

An excellent portrayal of a professional snake-charmer displaying his skill in streets. He is holding a snake's hood in his left hand, while its rope-like long body passes to his feet from around his back.

An excellent portrayal of a professional snake-charmer displaying his skill in streets.

The holy family, which generally depicts Shiva Parvati with both Ganesha and Kartikeya, has obvious absence of Ganesha in this painting. Shiva is holding Parvati and Kartikeya appears frightened of something and is trying to climb up to Nandi for protection. The Ganga falling from the jatta of Shiva is painted right in the center of the painting divided it into two halves. The tiger, vahan of Parvati is shown as a small figure behind the seated couple. The colours are strong and the green hillock is peculiar of late Deccan style.

The Ganga falling from the jatta of Shiva is painted right in the center of the painting divided it into two halves.

On a patterned ground, the holy man reads the text from a manuscript and facing him are four disciples. Three of the disciples seem to take interest in the discussion and the fourth is completely lost in his own thoughts.

On a patterned ground, the holy man reads the text from a manuscript and facing him are four disciples.

In the form of acrobatic performance the painting represents Raga-putra Deshakha, one of the offshoots of main Ragas. In visual transform Deshakha is represented as three acrobats, one, turning clubs, second, climbing a pole, and third, lifting a weight.

In the form of acrobatic performance the painting represents Raga-putra Deshakha, one of the offshoots of main Ragas. In visual transform Deshakha is represented as three acrobats, one, turning clubs, second, climbing a pole, and third, lifting a weight.

A big halo encircle the head of the man symbolizing his high position.

A big halo encircle the head of the man symbolizing his high position.

The two sons of Siva fight with each other (who will inherit the kingdom) as their Mother Parvati admonishes them. The colonial style had begun to cast its influence as is evident from the two worshippers with caps / hats.

The colonial style had begun to cast its influence as is evident from the two worshippers with caps / hats.

A detailed drawing of a man of high status as apparent in his posture and costume. The green colour of the ground is very typical of the Deccan style of painting.

The green colour of the ground is very typical of the Deccan style of painting.

A lady with shy expressions on her face stands holding the branch of the tree as a soldier approaches her with a feeling of admiration. The branch of the tree is as sensuous as her delicate body of the lady. The tree and the lady seem to merge in the same spirit. Very fine painting with intricate details in drapery leaves and border.

The branch of the tree is as sensuous as her delicate body of the lady. The tree and the lady seem to merge in the same spirit.

The old Sadhu is depicted with grey hair and beard. Except for a Kaupin his body is bare. In spite of its somewhat unfinished look, an air of immediacy is seen in the work.

In spite of its somewhat unfinished look, an air of immediacy is seen in the work.

Extravagance of the lady who is attended by a maid is accentuated by the pose and comfort in which she is seated. She is surrounded by items of luxury like perfume bottles and has a very dramatic headgear. There is a hookah in fore ground, as some Indian painting shows ladies smoking hookahs.

She is surrounded by items of luxury like perfume bottles and has a very dramatic headgear. There is a hookah in fore ground, as some Indian painting shows ladies smoking hookahs.

This seems to be the return of Rama to the kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile.

This seems to be the return of Rama to the kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile.

With both sides joined, the painting depicts the Rajasuya-yajna performed by Rama to become Chakravertin. On one side the blue-complexioned Rama is giving instructions to Lakshmana who was to conduct and guard the sacred horse of the yajna across different lands. The folio portrays splendidly saddled horse with royal umbrella over it. On Rama's side is seated sage Vashishtha and behind are Hanuman, Bharata and Shatrughna. On the reverse, led by a flag-bearer Rama's army begins it victory march. It uses Paithan technique of Gujarat.

On Rama's side is seated sage Vashishtha and behind are Hanuman, Bharata and Shatrughna.

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