Raja Karan Singh of Bikaner, 
Gouache heightened with gold on paper
M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco 
Indian miniature artists, supported by
Mughal Emperors and Rajput Kings, 
had employed multiple perspectives 
unlike their Persian counterparts in the 
art of painting. The idea was to convey 
the reality that existed beyond a 
specific vantage point.

Miniature Paintings are characterized by their compliance to three visible aspects: small in size, illustrating an event narrated in a popular book, and executed meticulously with delicate brushwork. The history of miniature paintings in India could be traced up to the sixth and seventh century AD. This art had evolved over centuries carrying the influences of other cultures and traditions.

Indian art had seen many movements, spanning from ancient to modern time. Obviously, these movements have created their own styles of functions and their own schools for the promotion of heir movements. Each school of paintings had its own features. For instance, take the example of miniature paintings done in the Rajasthan area of India. It depicts the flowing rivers, dense forests, lush green fields of the Kota-Bundi region into the paintings of these regions. 

For their subjects, Some artists depicted hunting, whereas some painted the animal fights. Take the portraiture of women. The women depicted in these paintings, mainly the Miniature art which is known as Mughal Miniature Paintings are graceful, with well-proportioned costumes and sharp features. The artists used bright colours mainly, with red, which prominently appeared in the background of the art piece. The men portraited were invariable carrying weapons, especially the sword. The horses and elephants also became the part and parcel of the painted frames.

Medieval Period Paintings    After the Miniature painting boom in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the other similar artworks started getting their own importance. They were known as the Kangra Miniatures, or the Pahari School practised mainly during the 18th century.  These artists were influenced by the Mughals; however, their art had retained its separate aroma and feel.  While making the paintings more naturalistic, the artists used the newly found colours, too. These colours were generally extracted from minerals, vegetables and other locally available materials.

What matters much were the themes they practised in making the miniatures and other paintings.  The mythological books like Gita Govinda and Baramasa of Keshavdas were the main source of the subjects. 

Vasant Ragini  - Ragmala Paintings
Rajput, Kota, Rajasthan. Opaque watercolour
with gold on paper. Art Gallery of New South Wales 

RAJASTHAN MINIATURES   Lord Krishna and Radha were eternal and divine lovers. This mythological pair was portrayed in much of the paintings. The artists of the Rajasthan school preferred these subjects for the reason that these subjects had characteristics of making the people feeling joy and reverence. 

The Kangra style of miniature paintings is known for portraying the famine charm with its natural grace. These paintings tell us about the contemporary life of the people; they let us know about the life and habits of the kings and their pursuits, their lifestyles and the court proceedings.

Today's state of Rajasthan was a part of the much-expanded area known as  Rajputana. The Rajputana has been one of the major regions and an important centre of the original Indian paintings. 

The decoration of the houses, the kings' courts, battle scenes, and monuments they built, were the subjects of the creative genius of the Rajasthani artists depicted on canvasses and other frames. Miniature paintings are perhaps the most interesting and distinctive styles that have existed in India and in Rajasthan in particular. 

From the start of the sixteenth century, different schools of paintings, supported by the Emperors and the Rajput kings,  flourished in various parts of northern India.  Some of them are very prominent, and others are locally known, but they have done recognition-worthy work in the field of art. The main schools of miniature paintings in the Rajputana regions are the Mewar School, the Bundi-Kota kalam, the Jaipur, Bikaner, Kishangarh and Marwar schools.

Kalinga Ragaputra

Ragamala Paintings    The Rajasthan, mainly the Jaipur school of paintings, along with other schools, had developed a novel set of subjects. They depicted the effects of the raga, the vocal rendition style of singing, into the paintings. They called them the Ragamala style paintings. Ragamala means the garland of Ragas.

The Ragamala, the garland of Ragas, is a set of vocal rhythms based on classical Indian music. In this type of paintings, one raga is selected and a painting is done to depict the soul of that raga. It represents the essence that a particular raga is carrying with or is capable to create certain effects when such raga is sung. 

With the spread of the religious sect called Vaishnavism, a sect of Hinduism, in the early Eighteenth Century, the tales of Hindu mythology became a major source for the artists. The books like Gita Govinda came to be regarded as a popular pictorial theme in various art centres like Rajasthan and Gujarat. During this period the Poems of Gita Govinda were extensively illustrated in miniature paintings and other artworks like Pahari Painting and other illustrations.

RAJASTHAN, JAIPUR STYLE   It is beyond doubt that art represents the culture of the period. Likewise, the period of the sixteenth and seventeenth century in India was marked by the Mughal emperors. In the Rajputana region of northern India, the  Rajput kings ruled. Whereas the art would influence the values of, whereas the art can translate the people's lifestyle, the Miniature Art in India is an excellent example of mirroring the life-style of Indian society.  These miniature paintings depicted the then cultural values and the history of medieval India.

You would like to  Read 

 Mughal Miniature

 Basohli Painting

 Kangra painting

 Phad Painting


What does the word 'culture' mean, or include? Certainly, it includes the languages the people spoke, the costumes they wear, the ornaments they used, and the weapons they used during war and peace. So the art of medieval India did depict all these aspects. The miniature paintings were the vehicle for the art.


Rajasthan artists used locally available materials. Some of the rich princesses imported materials from then Persia, too. Generally, they used colours extracted from minerals, plants and conch shells. Some colours were derived by processing precious stones. They used precious materials like gold and silver, too.

The people are shown in Mughal miniature paintings belonged to the upper class. They mainly came from princely families. Princes and princesses wearing gold ornaments and jewellery were like the mines of the subjects for the miniature artists, and they used these mines extensively. One of the important characteristics of Indian art was its secular nature. There were rulers following Hindu religions; there were rulers following the Islamic religion. But the religions were never a cause of dispute in the field of art. Associated almost exclusively with royalty, the jewellery was, too, the subject for miniature artists to consider before taking brushes in hand. It was an emblem of power and proof of wealth. 

Paintings of Radha and Krishna   The divine pair of Radha and Lord Krishan was one of the prime subjects of the Rajasthan style of miniature paintings. This beauty-clad style of painting flourished in the late seventeenth century in the 18th century. Influenced by the Mughal paintings, the Rajputana or Rajasthan paintings were the subject of the royal courts of western India.          

Lord Krishna and Radha in Rasleela,
The Divine Dance

Most of the princely states in the then Rajasthan had evolved their distinct styles, but they have maintained their distinct features, too. Rajput paintings depict several themes: the themes are the events of great epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the incidences of Lord Krishna’s life. Though the lovely landscapes and painting humans were common.

Generally, these Miniature paintings were stored in albums. There are paintings which were done on the walls of palaces, inner chambers of the forts and Havelis, the big residential houses of the Lords. Among them, the palaces built by the Shekhawat Rajputs are prominent. These paintings tell us the story of that period; they educate us about the way of life and habits of the kings and their pursuits, and their lifestyles and the court proceedings.  

The Materials: It was not the time of synthetic dyes or industrially manufactured colours. Hence all the materials these artists used were procured from the surrounding areas. Colours were made by extracting juices from vegetables. The coloured stones available locally were powdered and pastes were made. The Indian miniature artists used indigenous materials to give their artistic products their unique appearance.

The miniature painters were like other artists functioning during that time. They allowed their feelings and expressions to be revealed on available mediums. They had hand-made paper, they carved out the ivory panels and wooden tablets to use as the support material. Other materials in vogue were leather, marble stones, cloth and plastered walls used as canvases. They used minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, and conch shells. Precious materials like pure gold and silver were also used to detail the masterly executed drawings.

The Themes: The subjects they chose to paint and the themes they selected to depict were influenced by the choices of their mentors. Various themes these artists depicted in miniature paintings were rich in the cultural aspect. They tended to be deep in meaning, too. Among the popular themes, there was a depiction of incidents from scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagavata Purana. These are the sacred books of the Hindu religion. The Muslim Emperors also respected these scriptures. The miniature painters also illustrated various scenes from other popular books like Rasikpriya and Rasamanjiri.

Sri Krishna as Envoy
Painted by Raja Ravi Varma

With the spread of the Vaishnavism cult of Hindu religion, in the early Eighteenth Century, a book named Gita Govinda became famous among the elite class. The poems and stories narrated in this book became popular pictorial themes. 

Gita Govinda was a popular book in various regions of north India, like Rajasthan and Gujarat; so the artists exploited the subject in full. During this period the love songs written in it were extensively illustrated in Mughal and other styles of paintings prevalent in north and south India. Thus the subjects chosen by artists were really secular. In the painting given here, the master artist Raja Ravi Verma has painted a mythological story. In this painting, Lord Krishna is painted in the court as an envoy of peace.

In one of the paintings, depicting mythology, the artist has depicted Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi. The materials used in these miniature paintings are the paper sheet and the opaque watercolour made from local materials. As the use of Gold and silver was in vogue in those days, they are used in the decoration of this miniature painting. In this painting, we can see that Lord Visnu and his wife Laksmi are being carried by their beloved Garuda. According to Hindu scriptures, the Garuda is a Godly bird and it is a vehicle for Lord Vishnu.    [All the images depicted here are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]


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