Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 5

By editor - 7.1 2017

Illustration from the Nimat Nama, 15th c.

A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.


During the 15th Century, the Persian style of painting began to influence the Western School, as evidenced by the Persian facial types and hunting scenes appearing on the border's of some of the illustrated manuscripts of Kalpasutra. Introduction of the use of ultramarine blue and gold colours in the Western Indian manuscripts is also understood to have come from the Persian schools of painting.

To put the period in context, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared in Navadvipa in 1486 A.D., and departed from this world in 1534 A.D. In 1526 A.D., the Muslim conqueror Babar defeated Delhi, becoming the 1st Mughal Emperor. This period of art history ended just prior to the rule of Akbar.

The early Persian paintings coming to India were in the form of illustrated manuscripts, a number of which were copied in India and dispersed throughout the country. At this point, a fairly unified style of painting was found in North India, being comprised of Hindu, Jain and Persian influences. Artistic convention was that Indians were depicted in full profile, while non-Indians were shown in three-quarter profile.

An illustrated manuscript of the Nimat Nama (cookery book), currently housed in the Indian Office Library collection in London, is marked by a new trend of painting that emerged at Malwa. The manuscript was created during the reign of Ghiyasaldin Khilji of Malwa (1469-1500 A.D.).

An illustration from the Nimat Nama manuscript (top of page) shows Ghiyasaldin Khilji supervising cooking being done by maids. In this manuscript, the Persian influence is visible in the scroll like clouds, flowering trees, grassy tufts and flowering plants in the background. Various Indian elements are also noticeable, for example in some of the women's costumes, ornaments and colours.

We also find in this manuscript an early attempt at melding the Persian Shiraz style with prevailing Indian styles.

Illustration from the Nimat Nama (Nimmatnama)

The topic of Persian and Mughal influences on Vaishnava art were explored in some detail in a 2010 Sampradaya Sun Feature series, "The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism". In the current series, we would like to emphasize the central Vaisnava themes that represent the finest examples of painting belonging to the first half of the 16th Century in Western Indian art. Representative of this group of exceptional Miniatures as those known as the "Kulhadar Group". This category of Miniatures includes illustrations from the Bhagavata Purana, Gita Govinda and Ragamala.

The style of Kulhadar Miniatures is marked by the use of brilliantly contrasting colours, vigorous and angular drawing, transparent drapery and the appearance of conical caps, or kulha worn by male figures. In our next segment, we'll begin to survey some of the Miniatures from this group.



Sources: Excerpted and paraphrased from: 
Ministry of Culture, Government of India