Indian Miniature Paintings - an ode to the rich history of classical art in India - are divided into Rajput, Mughal, Deccani, Pahari and other schools, each having their signature stylisations. These paintings, across all the various schools display a strong connection with nature, people and early Indian culture and tradition. Although these pictures seen at a glance, are easily recognized as Indian in origin, they are a confluence of various cultures and traditions. This genre of classical Indian art is also an important window into the past, as the images reliably depict the surroundings and milieu around the time of their execution.
The tradition of Indian miniature painting finds its beginnings around the 7th century ACE. Appearing as text illustrations, these paintings emerged primarily in Jain and Buddhist palm leaf manuscripts. Reaching a high level of sophistication in 15th century, the style grew steadily, sustaining its similarity with other schools of miniature painting while articulating a unique aesthetics of its own. The schools of miniature painting consist of two broad variants – the first centred on Islamic elements unique to Iran and Turkey, and the second an indigenous tradition of India. Indian miniature paintings are famed for its diverse qualities – its myriad themes, subtle aesthetics, stylistic diversity, sensuality, religiosity and the opulent life of the royals to name a few.
Mughal painting sprouted and grew during the Mughal Empire (16th to 19th centuries). It was exclusive to the nobles and royalty its development depended, to a great extent on, the patronage of this class of society. With its origins in Central Asia, the Mughal empire was heavily influenced by Persian cultural trends, which was taken to new heights in India. The paintings are known for its subtlety and appreciation of historical or quasi-scientific themes in nature. Its scientific quality ensured that the paintings were largely secular in nature, consisting of allusions to natural life, literature and the routines of royalty. The Mughals were best known for their fusion of Indo-Islamic culture, and early Emperors — particularly Akbar (1556-1605) — commissioned paintings to illustrate Hindu epics as well as various Persian texts.
The Rajasthani School emerges around the 16th century as an off shoot of the 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. Rajputs of the time, who patronised the art to a great extent, ensured that it featured themes of religion and literature in a distinct sense. Once Rajasthani Miniature painting came into being, it progressed quickly under local painters. While the influence of the Mughal style was unmistakable, the style retained its unique lyrical temperament and classical worldview.
At the close of the 7th century, the Pahari school of painting developed in the Hills of Punjab, which, at the time, grew in the margins of mainstream culture and art. The lively and romantic school of Pahari miniaturists produced some of the finest religious scenes, offering a glimpse of the daily mind and sentiment of India. The earliest Pahari School of miniature painting is called Basholi. Basholi had produced some wonderful portraits and is famed for its Rasamanjari series. Pahari art, produced in Kangra under Raja Sansar Chand is known for its pronounced rhythmic quality. The Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism, celebrating the love of Radha and Krishna, bears its distinct stamp of the Kangra style.
Deccani painting grew almost simultaneously with Mughal art, with Ahmednagar, Golkonda, Bijapur, and subsequently Hyderabad as its centres. Most of the painters working at these courts were immigrants of Turkey, Iran and Europe, and had brought with them their artistic idioms and skills. Deccani art attained a great maturity in form and sophistication, acquiring the same regard as Mughal paintings.