Chamba artists out to popularise miniatures


By: Riva Bhardwaj

Chandigarh: In an effort to popularise miniature art among masses, a workshop on miniature paintings was held at Kalagram in Chandigarh recently. Around 12 painters (five from Jaipur and seven from Chamba) working in traditional style and subjects, participated in the workshop.

Unfortunately, this highly aesthetic art doesn’t find mass popularity as much as the photo-real paintings owing to the western codes of aesthetics taught and bought in the Indian academics and galleries respectively. Lack of awareness about the artform in places where it originated has added to its isolation. Minute brushwork and subtle symbolism is what sets apart a miniature painting. In fact, there is an entire era frozen in a frame of miniature.
“We still use mineral dyes and natural colours,” says Vijay Sharma from Chamba, a place known for the earliest schools of Pahari paintings. Not belonging to a traditional artisans’ family, Vijay was fascinated towards miniature art and went on to learn the special technique at Benaras and Jaipur, and now works at the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba. The other six painters in the camp are his students and state award winning artists.

Compared to Rajasthan where there is more influx of tourists including foreigners who are aware of Rajasthani art, the art of Himachal doesn’t attract enough buyers. “The state tourism department should focus on promoting this art,” rues Vijay, speaking about lack of infrastructure in the state.

Miniature facts:
The colours used in these paintings are all derived from natural elements and hence have a long durability. That’s why miniatures of the 17th century still retain their lustre.

The hues are thus made of vegetable, metallic and stone extracts. Also zinc oxide is used for white, sindur for red, neel for blue and lamp black charcoal for black.

Painted on handmade paper, these are then bound through Arabic gum (babool ka gond). The special fine brushes are made of hair from squirrel’s tail.

Miniature painting is a unique form of art whose origin can be traced back to the 11th century in Eastern India. The Mughals were instrumental in developing it on paper during the 16th century by the amalgamation of local styles and Persian technique. Rajasthani rajas also patronised this form of art simultaneously. However, due to religious extremism and less patronage by later Mughal emperors, painters had to flee to the Pahari region where this art acquired a fresh face in the valleys of Kangra and Guler.

Pahari Art flourished under the rule of Sansar Chand in Kangra. Later the political scenario changed with Ranjit Singh coming into power and patronage dried up for these painters.

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