Bikaner Miniature Paintings by Mahaveer Swami

posted in: Asia, Art & People, India, Rajasthan | 42

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 by Mahaveer Swami
Bikaner Miniature Paintings by Mahaveer Swami ji

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 Paintings at Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
Bikaner Miniature Paintings showcased at Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

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 - one of the few artists of Bikaner Miniature Art
Mahaveer Swami ji – one of the few artists of Bikaner Miniature Art

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

Themes in Bikaner Miniature Paintings
Themes in Bikaner Miniature 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.

Mahaveer Swami's creation_Bikaner Miniature Paintings
Mahaveer Swami’s creation_Bikaner Miniature Paintings

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.

Details in Bikaner Miniature Paintings
Details in Bikaner Miniature Paintings

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.

Finer details like the hair and beard observed under the Microscope
Finer details like the hair and beard observed under the Microscope

The colors used in Bikaner Miniature Paintings

Mahaveer Swami sharing the colors he uses for his Bikaner Miniature Paintings
Mahaveer Swami ji sharing the colors he uses for his 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.

Gem stone colors made into tablets for use in Bikaner Miniature Paintings
Gem stone colors made into tablets for use in Bikaner Miniature Paintings
Grinding of color gems to make tablets
Grinding of color gems to make 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.

Large gemstones used as colors
Large gemstones used as colors

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

Mahaveer Swami ji explains his use of conch shells for paintings
Mahaveer Swami ji explains his use of conch shells for paintings

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.

Work in Progress with a brush
Work in Progress with a brush

Recognition & Encouragement

Bikaner Miniature Painting on a book cover
Bikaner Miniature Painting on a book cover

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!

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42 Responses

    • Ami

      Indeed. It is the effort that makes the art so invaluable. Thanks for stopping by, Ramya.

  1. Lisa

    What a beautiful art form! I like reading about new forms of art around the world, and these paintings are exquisite. A really stunning finish, and a lot of new techniques I’ve learned about too.

  2. Kala Ravi

    These are such treasures that require so much patience and skill to create. I don’t think any other country has the kind of diversity in art, crafts as India. You have taken so much pains to gather all the info on technique, history and materials used to create these miniature masterpieces, Ami, so hats off to you!

    • Ami

      Thank you Kala. You are so right – every place in India has a different type of art to showcase. And it is kinda fun knowing more about them. Thanks for stopping by

  3. Heidi Medina

    Such a beautiful expression of art. The detail is just amazing and how he makes the colors. I didn’t realize anyone was still using the old ways of grinding gemstones to create the colors anymore. And you got to experience it all in depth. India is such an amazing place.

  4. xxvallixxl

    I can’t believe I visited Bikaner and completely missed this! What a gem, and they even prepare their own colors themselves, amazing!

    • Ami

      Aww…but now that you know, I am sure you will catch it at some international exhibition.

  5. Martha

    He is so extremely talented! All of his paintings speak to me and feel as though they are telling a heartfelt story. I’d definitely hang all of these on my walls because they are so beautiful. Great post, thanks! I feel like I know him so well!

    • Ami

      Now that you know about him, am sure you will keep a watch out for this art. Thanks for stopping by Martha.

  6. Nicola

    The pictures are absolutely stunning! You are so lucky to have met him and have him show you what he does. The intricacies are amazing and I love how he makes his colours using natural materials. What a great idea for blogs – Art and People – I’m going to be following and looking forward to more!

    • Ami

      Thanks Nicola. I am sure you too have plenty of local art stories to share – every traveler has. In some ways, I feel showcasing those is like giving it back to travel.

  7. Iulia

    This is so interesting. I love how open the artist was, showing you all his means of creating such a beautiful work of art 🙂

  8. Rhiannon

    It’s incredible how much work goes into these intricate designs! I visited a workshop sort of thing in Jaipur for similar works of art (they weren’t called Bikaner but something else, and basically just featured a lot of elephants and Hindu Gods) and the speed at which the artist created the design so perfectly really blew m me away.

    • Ami

      Yes, the insights that you get at the studio are something else and makes you appreciate the art even more. Glad you experienced the Jaipur style. It is similar but not the same. Cheers

  9. Arnav Mathur

    Quite an interesting post, I must stay. Having stayed in Rajasthan for a couple of years, I have a lot of these Rajasthani paintings, which look so royal on the walls, but never knew the behind the scenes story. Must have been overwhelming, interacting with such a down to earth artist.

    • Ami

      I was quite awestruck to be honest. Mahaveer Swami ji is indeed a gem to interact with. If you ever get a chance, don’t miss it. Thanks for stopping by Arnav.

  10. Aisha

    Wow this was a really great, detailed post on these paintings and the artist. I love the idea of going ‘behind the scenes’ and delving into the work and process of Mahaveer Swami…the accompanying photos really bring the art form to life!

    • Ami

      Thanks Aisha. He is a really talented person with a quest to keep the heritage art alive. Hoping that he is successful.

  11. Jolina S. | Dipkiss Travels

    Really admire this artist, his masterpieces and methods! Interesting about the conch shell painting, would have never guessed that could be used for painting! Love that they are continuing to practice this intricate art. They might be so small, but you can tell how much love and work has gone into each piece! Wow!

    • Ami

      Thanks Jolina. Glad you could see the passion too. Hope they can keep it alive for it is a unique form of art.

  12. noelmorata

    Amazing how detailed and minute the paintings are and the painstaking work to capture all that colorful details. I’m impressed that natural materials are still used in his paintings to do the actual work, it’s quite impressive.

    • Ami

      Getting into details with this art did bring out a lot of surprises for me too. The natural paint and the detailing being two most amazing ones. Am glad you too, find it impressive. Hope you can visit here and check it out for yourself.

  13. Indrani

    This was like a flashback for me. I was not aware how gem stones are directly used in art till I saw it from him.
    I hope this art form continues to flourish. It is possible if many more students learn this art directly under him.

  14. Ghia Lorenzo

    This post is giving me goose bumps! Traditional art, natural materials are used in his masterpiece and combination of skills and creativity to come up with a stunning art piece. Thanks for sharing!

  15. 100cobbledroads

    I found this post fascinating. Its wonderful to see all the details you’ve collected about the Mahaveer Swami’s craft. I love the innovation in his work like the Rajasthani woman with the computer. That’s creativity.

    • Ami

      Thanks Punita. When an artist evolves the art with time, it is commendable indeed. And yes, like you pointed out, his creativity is obvious in that.

  16. Nisha

    You have rekindled my memories. It was getting dark when we met him. However he cheerfully met us and explained the process and proudly displayed his awesome paintings. Good to see this detailed post 🙂

  17. mags

    Wow these are beautiful, and so time consuming. It must really be a labor of love.

  18. Archana Singh

    I was supposed to go on this trip with another friend of mine. But had to cancel it for the third time as my dates were clashing with some other event. But now i know what i missed. I love local arts and artists. I would have totally digged on Mahaveer Swani’s craft and masterpieces he create. It’s cool that you shared the whole thing in so much detail.

    • Ami

      Maybe the next time you will get lucky with your dates. Bikaner and Narendra Bhawan is a treat. Cheers

  19. Sandy N Vyjay

    Loved reading this post. It is definitely of a different genre altogether and so interesting. Have always been intrigued by miniature paintings as these would definitely require skills and precision and eye for detail than the normal paintings. I was really amazed to know that the paint used for these paintings are made from gemstones. The painting of the women with the computer is absolutely genius.

    • Ami

      Thanks Sandy and Vyjay. It was a pleasure discovering this myself. And am glad to have met the man behind it for I would not have known so much otherwise.

  20. Sam Sparrow

    I’d never heard of this but now I’m fascinated, it really is so interesting! Things like this always grab my attention, similar to the intricate boats in tiny bottles – I just can’t get my head around the skill and talent to do it! Swami is clearly a passionate talent and advocate for the craft – the thing that really blew me away was the paint made from gemstones!

    • Ami

      Thanks Sam. It was truly amazing to have spoken to him and see the process myself. I realized that I had a new found respect for these arts.

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