Every destination has a local tradition or craft or art form to share. Not only are they the source of their pride but also, form a part of their livelihood. A lot of these have been practiced for years but are now fading into obscurity. Through my travels, I have come across various such stories and they have always interested me. While I have shared a few as a part of my regular travel posts like the Thangka Art of Nepal but never have I done a focused section on my blog. Starting with this post on the Bikaner Miniature Paintings, I begin a new section on my blog on Art & People – with the hope of celebrating these local lores & keeping them alive.
Bikaner Miniature Paintings as an art form was patronized by the Royals in the 15th century and have been a pride of Rajasthan. They can be seen on many walls of the heritage monuments across Jodhpur, Bikaner and even Shekhawati. Narendra Bhawan, the former residence of the Last Maharaja of Bikaner, has a small collection too, and this is where I saw them closely. As a part of the Bikaner Experience, the team from Narendra Bhawan arranged for Mr.Mahaveer Swami – one of the few practicing artists of Bikaner Miniature Paintings to meet us and share his work. With his permission, we visited his art studio in Bikaner where he shared many a secret about this art form.
History of Bikaner Miniature Paintings
Miniature paintings in India have existed since times immemorial. What first was created on palm leaves, later made their way onto paper and then walls of palaces. The paintings changed themes and the colors became bolder. With the encouragement of the Mughal and Rajput courts of the 15th and 16th century, the miniature arts gained popularity and thus, emerged distinct school of arts. Rajasthan itself has several miniature art schools but the prominent among them is the Bikaner Miniature Art.
Bikaner Miniature Art also, gained popularity owing to its location as a town along the Silk route. The Bikaner artists were able to share their work far and wide, leading to not just recognition but monetization of their art form. Sadly, now a lot of it is underappreciated and a lot of artists have left this space to other lucrative professions. A few like Mahaveer Swami ji are still at it and that is where the art is still not dead.
About the artist – Mahaveer Swami Ji
A soft-spoken but a stern schoolmaster – that was my first impression of the master of Bikaner Miniature Art. He spoke only when spoken to but was quite forthcoming with information. However, as they say, the first impressions can be deceiving for when I landed at his home, I found a traditional and shy artist – proud of his work, home and heritage. Quite unassuming, he took us through his work of art, how it originated, what was done and what he was doing to keep it alive.
Mahaveer Swami ji was born in a family of Bikaneri artists. He started painting as a kid, with his father and grandfather being his first art teachers. Completing his studies in Jaipur, he slowly carved his way in this niche with his unique perspective and touch. Mahaveer Swami ji has been received recognition not just in India but abroad as well. His paintings have been made into book covers and have been showcased in many exhibitions – including one that happens at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, every winter.
The Maestro shared his knowledge about how he looks for inspiration as well as how he creates his own colors using natural gem stones. Learning it all from him added more respect to this art form. It also, well justified why the Bikaner Miniature Art costs the way it does – which starts at a 5-digit figure and goes onto a 6 digit one.
The Theme of the Bikaner Paintings
The Bikaner Miniature Art is based on stories and scenes from Indian Mythology and Rajasthani Life. From what I saw at Mahaveer Swami ji’s studio, there were scenes from Bhagwat Gita, Shiva Purana, Hanuman’s story and in general, women and saints from Rajasthan.
Using his own creativity, Mahaveer Swami ji has created his own designs on old papers that his family has been collecting. They were quite unusual and quirky like this one of a Rajasthani woman using a computer. He shared some of his ongoing work like a series of lovely flowers. Some of his work is quite singular showcasing Mughal couples or portraits of women, while some of them are huge rolls of an elaborate slice of life scene. The large ones need you to glance through a microscope for you to see those tiny details that he has created.
Even the portrait pictures have such fine strokes that can be seen under the looking glass. Mahaveer Swami ji explained how each piece takes anything between 3 months to a year to create for it requires a rough sketch first and then a larger sketch of the whole scene on the ancient paper. Finally, colors are applied to it and voila – the painting for you to admire.
The colors used in Bikaner Miniature Paintings
When you talk of the colors used in these Bikaner Miniature Paintings, making them itself is a task. Mahaveer Swami ji opened a whole locker of colorful looking tablets that he used for making his color. Except that these were not tablets.
Large gemstones and rocks are bought and collected by him and these are used for making his colors. First, these are ground in water for a long long time, and then, using techniques made into round tablets. The tablets are then dissolved in solvent or water to create the right shade and used for the paintings.
Being precious stones, these colors are quite priceless and naturally, when used for creating these Bikaner Miniature Paintings, the art itself, becomes invaluable.
Tools & Techniques of Bikaner Miniature Art
It was fun just observing the various objects used by Mahaveer Swami ji to create his masterpiece. Small conch shells and cowrie shells are used to cover the entire parchment with color. Hand Made brushes with varying thickness stuck out from various stands – each one used for a specific stroke. There was so much passion when Mahaveer Swami ji explained these to us. And it is this what translates into his gorgeous paintings.
Recognition & Encouragement
The elaborate process that is used to make this stunning piece of Bikaner Miniature Painting is quite laborious and thus, becomes expensive. Honored by the royalty of the yesteryears, it was easy for them to survive but with the dwindling interest in art, these seem to have got lost in time. There are artisans like Mahaveer Swami ji who are rare and are still trying to revive and preserve this ancient art. If you are an art lover, you should try and collect this rare form from him by either directly buying his ready pieces or commissioning your own. In case you can help showcase it, that would help it reach wide and far making it possible for the other connoisseurs of art to know and access the same. For the others, just pinning this post to your board will do wonders!