Rajasthani Miniature

“The skill is in highlighting each minute details and hence it is called miniature art”, explained the tobacco chewing Madan Lal. He confessed to eating a heavy breakfast followed by nothing till late in the evening so that he could spend a lion’s share of the waking day dedicated to his art. Learning Rajasthani miniature art from him was a pleasure. The weekend was spent in anecdotes about how he would create various details and how his ancestors have been involved in this art for centuries together. He told us of an elaborate painting that he sold in Delhi for over a lakh (but by then we were so much in awe of him that a lakh sounded like pocket change).

He was glad to have me in his class because I was the only guy! The coordinator of this workshop expressed her surprise about finding a guy sign up for a painting workshop (“only girls have signed up till today”). With great pride I cherish that moment when Madan Lal-ji thought that a particular piece of painting in a picture was done by him when actually I had done it. He kept insisting it was his work till the fine ladies in my group had to show him the canvas on which he had actually done it. That, was accolade enough for me! Pretty Bina, from Nagaland, added to my joys (in more ways than one) by proclaiming that my first piece was better than the sample artwork (which was up on sale in Madan Lal-ji’s shop). I could have hugged her just for that but I had to keep telling myself that this is Madras! Having gone for this workshop without any expectation it was easier for the Master to mould me in the way he wanted and for me to emerge with great satisfaction and a sense of joy.

Rajasthani miniature is not something to be learnt in two days. Any claim to having mastered the technique in such a short duration is ridiculously stupid. Two days into this art form and I realise the great amount there is to still learn and master. I have become comfortable with only two techniques: flattened brush shading, jaali-work. We worked with delicate squirrel-hair brushes and my wrist and every tendon in my opisthenar cries in pain! Madan Lal-ji is available in Dakshina Chitra till 4th of Aug 2009. It would be worth your while to stop by and learn from him.

If I may bring to your notice, note the jaali (something like a mesh but supposedly made of fine silver threads or similar precious metal) bordering the elephant’s howdah (blanket). One can actually see through it what lies beneath. The background colour is textured to give it a feel of mural (with chipping plaster, etc.). Rajasthani art (the way they draw their figures and objects) is not meant to be realistic (would an elephant really have such a bump on the forehead? Would its nails be collected in the front? etc.) but artistic-fantastic-realism. The human figures have elaborate eyes and lips but the women are mostly flat chested though the roundedness of the breasts is depicted. Clothing is transparent and that is a technique. I would share the other work in my possession which provides a sample of the detail work that can go into landscape, but it is incomplete and would add it to this blog once complete.

Rajasthani Miniature


14 thoughts on “Rajasthani Miniature

  1. The Rajasthani painting in your blog post is fascinating:)
    I love paintings and have tried out some paintings since my childhood.Unfortunately its been a year since I did anything.
    I wish I were in Madras to learn this 😦
    Awaiting to see your other paintings.

  2. Beautiful things chase beautiful people! – going by your variegated personal posts, it is evident that you lead a healthy, well balanced, highly enriching life, always young at heart, always learning and living to the fullest. Quite a rare and amazing attitude, in this day and age, when all are lost in the obsessive slavery to career-building or in a worse slavery to laziness and endless sleep and boredom.


    # The painting is vibrant, the elephant seems truly alive though mild and benevolent, and leaps out of the monitor to hit our senses.

    # And, yes, elephants indeed have highly prominent bumps on their head, especially the African ones. And yes, there are no toes at the back of the foot…;-D

  3. Dear S,
    I did notice you created a blog exclusively for your paintings. Hope you find time to put up more paintings. “Fascinating”? That is slightly undecided, no? 😉

    Dear P,
    I wasn't chasing Bina!! How could you accuse me of that!!? 😀 Thank you for your kind words. Glad you found the painting so. BTW, African elephants don't have bumps and the toes are not all gathered on one side: http://www.photokingdom.co.uk/articles/mammal/proboscidean/images/elephant_comp.gif Even the Indian ones don't have such prominent bump like a dinosaur in the movies!

  4. Wow!!
    could not stop from commenting… such a nice painting!

    BTW, did you use oil paints or water based ones? I am afraid I know too less..


  5. Dear Anon-P,
    Welcome to this blog. Glad you found the painting so. The paints were some special “rock” colours that Madan Lal-ji had brought with him from Rajasthan. We had to mix them in a gum solution (tree gum) by continuously mixing it till our finger tips turned sore. This was mixed in coconut shells. We used these shades for the main body and the jewellery. For most others we used poster colours as water based ones would give a non-uniform finish and acrylic/oil paints would ruin the squirrel hair brushes!

  6. No wonder such an excruciating task done but with so much love for the art brings out such a creation…

    BTW, I am not new here… your posts are the much needed oxygen at times, and a reader's delight at all others… 🙂


  7. Dear Anon-P,
    You are very generous with your kind words. That this blog can serve as a delight, let alone oxygen, is an honour to this blog.

  8. Hahaha.I was referring to Bina chasing you, not the other way round :-D.

    Sorry about the 'bumps' info faux pas – in my mind's pictures African elephants showed with big bumps on their heads, and I unlike you, did not check out on google images or google search before making declarations with unwarranted confidence.

  9. great painting! i like to paint miniatures too and my laptop holds a large collection of miniatures from all over the iranian and indian schools which flourished.you were fortunate to learn the art from an experienced guru.like you,i too am a guy and have surprised many by turning out to be the only guy at art workshops!my friends think i live in the blissfully romantic and glorious India of the 1600's where palaces and gold and kings were in plenty.do you know where one can get those impossibly fine brushes(some go like 20/0 or 10/0).the stationery shop guys here in delhi repudiate the very existence of such incredibly fine brushes!i guess i'll have to go to some big art store or make them myself from quills and tufts of squirrel hair.what do you think?
    btw i tried making a brush from a pigeon quill and tufts of hair from the tail of a cat(how i got the cat to sit still is another story).it sure was tough and the result was unsatisfactory.

  10. This is very good buddy! I do not know much about colors/proportions etc, so will refrain from commenting on those nitty-gritties, but the elephant really looks nice and kindly.
    The detailing indicates to me that you spared no effort in your palpably sincere effort 🙂

    Kudos! 🙂

  11. Dear Anon-P,
    Another detail that I recalled after going to bed was the names he used for the paints. They were dry powders and the white colour was a zinc “rock” (which I suspect to be zinc oxide) and the yellow he called cow-uranium (not cowranium but clearly cow-uranium).

    Dear P,
    🙂 I get confused between Indian and African too at times (well, the average African male has a wider forehead than his Indian counterpart but amongst elephants it is the other way). Google or no goolge, it helps to be correctly informed! 😉

    Dear T,
    Welcome to this blog. Glad to hear about your love for painting. Would love to see some of them. Biases rule this world, my friend, and people to maintain those which are convenient to them.

    Dear K,
    Thank you, sir! The colour combos are not mine. I obediantly followed whatever I was told. The design on the howdah and some of the jewellery are mine (as in, the design are mine not the jewellery).

  12. Yes, he might have been referring to salts as 'rocks'. Just now I came across a 'uranium cow' which is a mixture of aqueous Uranyl Nitrate (uranium salt that is, hydrochloric acid and Amyl acetate (used as a mixing medium for many such salts)… but why such name don't know!

    Thanks anyway 🙂


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