essence of the Indian miniaturists' visual expression
lay in the idea of symbolism. In the language of symbols
they recorded their communion with nature, rich in wonder,
awe and delight. Their minds excelled in expressing
what lay beyond the primary function of lines and pigments.'The
master painter disposes', Buddha once remarked while
alluding to the art of metaphysical teaching, 'his colours
for the sake of a picture that can not be seen in the
Painters delighted in unfolding the other dimension
of the object; the basic shift in emphasis was from
the multiplicity of sense experiences to unifying ideas,
from the mutable aspect to an ever-present situation.
Subjects derived from myths served as the base for such
a transformation of nature into art, to reveal aspects
of existence, human and supernatural or divine.
Indian miniature painting is a 'visual chamber music'
to be savoured slowly, intently and privately. 'Miniature'
generally refers to a painting or illumination, small
in size meticulous in detail and delicate in brushwork.
The art of palm-leaf illuminations were traditionally
labelled as patra-lekhana in medieval Indian canons.
But later a generalised term pata chitra was conviniently
used to define other kinds of painting than wall painting.
It indeed included painted scrolls and panels.
Yet these paintings are not detached visions of artistic
expression but provide the basis of Indian music and
art forms. Most of these masterly works are visual creations
of emotional and perceptive concepts that depict the
ragas or musical modes of Indian classical music. Miniature
painters employed at various medieval courts, discovered
the potential of limitless self-expression in their
depiction and today there are 130 known sets of such
These pictorially articulate visions of art first made
their appearance in the Indian cultural scene in the
5th century. The artist drew his inspiration from a
musical text called Narada Shiksha. But while the text
dates back to the early beginnings of art, its artistic
depiction did not gain credence till about a hundred
years later, when artists and painters took cognizance
of the relationship that governs sound and sentiment.
This art form soon generated into a dynamic movement,
fanned by patronage and fulfilled itself into figurative
and pastoral scenes, making music the subject matter
of art, through colour and mood.
These beautiful paintings also depict the court life
of the time when they were created. The raiment of the
figures, the architecture of the land, the features
of the faces come into sharp focus under the painter's
lyrical eye. The thematic stance has given the works
a certain uniformity, a decided formalism and a feel
of the glory and grandeur of the times. The gossamer-veiled
women with pinched noses, doe-eyes and graceful stances
are not just an art form, but become a basis for appreciating
the charm of a bygone era.
Yet within this uniform diffusion of compositional selection,
there are distinct differences. These are due to the
different schools of art. The Persian influence upon
the Indian folk, or the workmanship of one court artist
or another, have given this trove of paintings a varied
content. The schools of Mewar or Udaipur or Jaipur in
Rajasthan have incorporated their desert landscape and
architecture. The hill kingdoms of Kumaon and Kangra
are marked by fine drawing, while the plateau regions
of Malwa and Bundelkhand specialize in attractive brush
work. The crowning glory of the miniature series is
the Provincial Mughal works, attributed to the reign
of emperors Akbar and Jehangir. These depict the rulers
themselves as well as historical personages and musicians.
The Tanjore paintings of the South depict Krishna and
Shiva and reflect the mythical source of music.