Miniature paintings are delicate handmade paintings, much smaller in size than a normal painting. It is also called limning, small, finely wrought portrait executed on vellum, prepared card, copper, or ivory. It is an ancient art in India and there were many schools for the same, including those of the Rajputs, Deccans and the Mughals. They are also done on wooden tables, ivory panels, paper, marble, and leather, on walls and even on cloth.
Now, the question is –“What kind of painting is considered as miniature painting?”. If paintings to be considered as miniature paintings then it must covers less than 25 square inches or 100 square cm; Subjects are depicted in 1/6 actual size. Notable examples are Tutinama and Hamzanama.
1. The colours of this style of painting are handmade and made from vegetables, minerals, indigo, conch shells, precious stones, pure gold and silver.
2. Paintings of this style associated with the Ragas i.e. the melodies of Indian classical music.
3. The paintings of this style give an insight into the life of the royals and the common man, the beauty of their womenfolk and the inspirations and devotions of the artists themselves.
The Bhimbetka rock shelters paintings witnesses’ prehistoric art of cave paintings which is about 30,000 years old. These cave paintings show themes such as animals, early evidence of dance and hunting. Hence, we can say that, paintings in India can be traced back to the Neolithic age. Then after, human evolve their style of paintings which can be seen in Ajanta Cave Painting (2nd Century BC to 5th Century AD); Bagh Caves in Madhya Pradesh.
The actual, miniature painting started taking form in the Western Indian Himalayas during 17th century AD. These paintings were very much influenced by the mural paintings that originated during the latter half of the 8th century. Initially they were done on Palm leaves and later the work was done on paper.
The themes of Miniature paintings are Krishan Lila (sports of Krishna), Raga Raginis (Musical melodies), Nayika Bheda (different classes of heroines on which Sanskrit and Hindu writers on love, classified women), Ritu Chitra (seasons), Panchatantra.
The paintings give an insight into the life of the royals and the common man, the beauty of their womenfolk and the inspirations and devotions of the artists themselves. Music is associated with paintings here The different ragas were considered appropriate to different seasons such as Bhairava, Malava, Sri-Raga, Hindola or vasanta, Dipaka and Megha.
With the advent of Mughal, the Indian miniature paintings shifted to the portraits and richness of colour effects with the unique Persian flavour. During this period, the art specialises in Court and Palace scenes. The concept of illustrated palm leaf manuscripts came into being during the 11th and 12th centuries.
During Mughal period, the special miniature paintings show illustrated manuscripts of Jain and Buddhists, scenes from the Rajput history and also Deccan miniature. Additionally, miniature paintings also included themes from Indian epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvata Purana, Rasikpriya, Rasamajari and the ragas of Indian Classical music.
The Indian Miniature painting was at the zenith point during the period of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan because he was a great patron of miniature painting. But after his regime, paintings lost their charm and started to decline in the 18th century. It became a cheap medium to depict the scenes of dance, parties and sensuous palace life. This is because the successor of Shah Jahan focussed more on architectural grandeur and though the paintings during were further refined from the earlier periods, it was still not the focus.