Meet the artisan – The backstory of Miniature Painting

Meet the artisan – The backstory of Miniature Painting

Miniature paintings originate from the era of the Mughal

With intricate details and a Persian influence visible,

They stand out incredibly in the reign of modern art

And prevent our age-old traditions from falling apart.

India and its resplendent art works don’t need any introduction. Our culture and heritage is, was and will forever be the part and parcel of rich art repositories with the abundance of spell bounding art making techniques and forms.

Miniature Painting is one such renowned art which falls under the treasure trove of intricate and delicate brushwork and is a mirror to the medieval history of India. Indian paintings can be broadly classified as murals and miniatures. Murals are large works executed on the walls of solid structures, as in the Ajanta Caves and the Kailashnath temple. Miniature paintings are executed on a very small scale for books or albums on perishable material such as paper and cloth. The Palas of Bengal were the pioneers of miniature painting in India. The art of miniature painting reached its full glory during the Mughal period. The tradition of miniature paintings was carried forward by the painters of different Rajasthani schools of painting like the Bundi, Kishangarh, Jaipur, Marwar and Mewar.

This illustrious form of miniature paintings started declining over the years, suffering lack of devotional fervor and creative desire among the artists and that was when Mohan Lal Pahadiya , an artist both by profession and enthusiasm, based in Rajasthan took the initiative to revive this diminishing art form in 1960. He did his level best in reviving this art form and then forwarded this commendable legacy to his son, Mahendar Pahadiya.

Mahendar Pahadiya, an artist, now in his mid 40’s, is smoothly pushing forward this art-form with a team of 40 skilled artists, who consistently have their brushes running on the stencils, papers or canvas to turn them into magnificent pieces of art, which speaks proudly of Indian art and culture.

We invited Mahendar ji to our office for lunch one day to hear about his journey and the story behind the making of Miniature Paintings to let the tales of perseverance and hard work reach out to the masses.

Meet Mahendar Pahadiya, an artist based in Jaipur, the Pink City of India. He got inspiration to make Miniature Paintings from his father. From the time when he was kid to now, when he is a grown-up, miniature paintings are what he sees all around him. He was not provided with anything extraordinary for this work, just the passion to take forward the legacy of this art from his father acted as a driving force for him.

Mahendra Pahadiya (right) with this nephew. Both of them are Miniature artists and their art is well recognized across the nation

There are around 40 artists working with him currently and these artist work consistently regardless of the working hours. When asked about the refreshment the artists must be needing while they keep themselves engaged in shaping the painting, Mahendra ji said:

“Madam, lagatar kaam karte rehte hain sab jab tak painting khatam nai ho jati. Jhapti aati hai toh beech beech mein chai le lete hain.”

An average miniature painting or a canvas piece takes around 10 days to be completed with a pure finish. Zero number brushes that are made from squirrel’s hair and natural stone colors are used for filling colors in the paintings. They use the following bases to make the paintings:

1. Stencil/Synthetic Sheet – These stencils were initially made with elephant’s teeth but now when this process is banned by the government for the sake of wildlife conservation, a synthetic replica of the same texture is adopted to make the stencils. 

Miniature painting on stencil done by Mahender Pahadiya’s team

2. Stamp Paper-The stamp papers are provided to them by the Jaipur Government in bulk amount and in return, they give them 2-3 miniature paintings. What makes the painting made on stamp paper different from the paintings made on other bases is the quality and life of stamp paper. The older the stamp paper, the higher is the cost of the painting.

An old stamp paper re-invented with the miniature art painting by Mahendar Pahadiya’s team


3. Postcards- The postcards too are provided by the Jaipur Government in return of miniature paintings.

 4. Canvas-  A strong, coarse unbleached cloth made from hemp, flax, or a similar yarn is used as Canvas. The canvas if fixed on a wooden stand to make paintings

 5. Handmade Paper – Handmade paper is a layer of entwined fibers held together by the natural internal bonding properties of cellulose. 

Miniature painting done by Mahendar Pahadiya’s team on handmade paper

6. Silk Cloth- Delicate silk cloth is used as base in some paintings.

Each painting that they make is based upon a certain ideology and these ideologies can help people connect with the historic Indian art. Back to the time when Mohal Lal Pahadiya (father of Mahendar Pahadiya) used to make miniature paintings, the works of renowned artists Raja Ravi Verma and Picasso was in full bloom. Now, as the times are changing, the themes have changed too. As Mahendar Pahadiya says it, the paintings they make these days revolve around the scenes of Mughal era, the Rajput Period, Radha-Krishna’s Raas Leela, Historical Sites like City Palace of Jaipur, Chittor ka Kila, Hindu Gods & Goddesses and Flora Fauna.

The area of their sales is not confined to the region they are based in; instead they reach out to far-off places to sell their work and to promote the art. In Delhi alone, their paintings are exhibited in Dilli Hatt ( INA, New Delhi), Soorajkund Mela (held annually in Faridabad), National School of Drama(Mandi House, New Delhi), Pragati Maidan (New Delhi), National Handicraft and Handloom Museum (Pragati Maidan, New Delhi). Other exhibits include Moti Bhawan (in Lucknow) and exhibitions in Agra and cities of Madhya Pradesh. In a nutshell, they leave the impression of their work everywhere from “ Kashmir” to “ Kanyakumari”.

When asked about the contribution of Indian Government in promoting the art work they had a pleasant smile on their face and were really thankful for the help they are provided with. Here are those areas where they get the assistance from the Government:

  1. Ministry of Textiles is their central source of assistance.
  2. They get the postcards and stamp papers for free. All they are required to do in return of this help is to gift them one miniature painting or may be two.
  3. All the expenses incurred while they set-up their exhibitions in different cities is funded by the Government. These expenses include everything from travelling to lodging.
  4. They are not required to give any share of the revenue they gain from the exhibition sales, to the Government.

Such assistance is a great sigh of relief for them, as they manage to save sufficient amount of money to run their family. They believe that the hands of Government will reach out to their help in the hour of need and that is what provides the determination and diligence to keep doing the good work.

Some interesting facts about Miniature Paintings that Mahendar ji told us:

  1. Each and every artist which is a part of Miniature team, belongs to the same family i.e; all of them are relatives and together they are making efforts to glorify and populate the Indian art.
  2. Though they showcased their art in every zone of the country but they got the best response from the South part of India. Mahendar Pahadiya says that people there have more appreciation for the Indian art then the rest of the country.
  3. A lot of popular people get the paintings made by these artists as per the design and features that they ask for and once the painting is made they don’t let the real maker put their signature on it. They say “aap sign mat karna, hum apna signature karke isko sell karenge”.
  4. There are few cities in North India, where people find it difficult to believe that the paintings are handmade and they ask the artist to give a live demonstration.
  5. Bani Thani is one of the Indian miniature paintings which portrays an elegant and graceful woman. She has also been labeled as India’s “Mona Lisa“. 

Bani Thani, popularly known as the Indian Monalisa

6. Kangda Painting and Raasleela Painting are high on demand in Kashmir.

7. The paintings they make are not just limited to the royal Indian past and religious pictures, instead they reach out to showcase the popular Tanjore Paintings , Pichwai Paintings, Italian Paintings, Oil Paintings and scenes from the British period.

The dexterous art master ended the conversation with a composed demeanor and said – 

“ Log kehte hain ki hum aapki shakal nahi pasand karte , par aapka kaam kaabil-e-tareef hai”.

We are grateful, that we reached out to a top-notch artist and realized the gravity of hard work and tenacity a person goes through to push forward the long lost legacy of Indian Art.

Find this artists work at Direct Create, here.