The interesting and secret method of the Indian miniature art.

At the past, I described the background of my musical series of paintings that I represented by the inspiration of Mughal miniature artists and the oldest scripture of Indian musical genre. By following the previous article, here I'd prefer to share the oldest technique of miniature painting I found from another discourse that isn't only fascinating however, it should facilitate us and encourage to experiment with new components.


 Miniature painting thrived in India within the mid-16th century, throughout the Mughal period. Although documentary evidence shows those earliest existing miniature paintings done on palm leaves from the 10th century and on paper from the 14th century.


 I’ll concentrate on the technique utilized by the artists of the mid-16th century in Rajasthan throughout the Mughal period as they have a special significance for my subject.


Artists of the Mughal period were too fastidious for his materials to make an ideal painting. On that era, there was a paper named “Hariri”. It had been looking similar to a silk. However, the paper wasn't too standard since it cracked after few months. I found another nice paper made in Hyderabad that was extremely popular by the name “Dowlatabadi” or “Hindi”. Artists have largely used this paper for their painting. “Bavasaha” was another name of the popular paper made with the bamboo tree. “Tataha” created by jute-plant, however, the color of all the aforesaid papers was slightly yellow. There was nothing any paper on the market in white color. Very few numerable paintings created in Tataha paper.

Image resource - www.artearti.net
Image resource - www.artearti.net

Once selecting the right paper, they started creating colors for his painting. It’s the foremost important matter that every group of the artist had the precise technique to create their own color. On that time, there were many styles known as “Gharana” and every style depends on the location, society, and tradition. They created color by following their own ancient process. Here I'm attending to disclose regarding some of the common strategies I found from my special study relating to the Indian miniature painting. To create a color, they usually depended on the natural elements. The red color they made of the squeeze. Burnt umber (Deep Brown)color came from the leaf of Henna. The purple color they created by compounding the watermelon fruit and a soil that was available on the island named Hormuz, located at the Arab ocean. Yellow came from the turmeric plant. To create the blue color, they used Lapis-lazuli stone. If we tend to take a glance at any old miniature painting of India, we’ll notice that they successfully created many shades of colors and it's the impressive matter they learned traditionally the process to build many shades by using only a few colors.

Image resource - www.artnindia.com
Image resource - www.artnindia.com

There were other sources of color I do know, however, I unable convert those terms into English since those were solely accessible in some specific locations and known by the native language. An example of a flower named “Dhake”. I haven’t found this flower anywhere and don't have any idea what it'd be in English. They created juice of this flower to produce some yellow tones by combining it with turmeric plant. The juice of this flower was flared yellow. Additionally, they used a layer for the decoration on the margins of painting created by pure gold. At that time, the varnish wasn't so well-liked however, only a few artists used it. To create varnish they used one thing named “Sandarak” ( most probably lac-dye [Lac dye is a yellowish red powder. Dissolved in water it turns bluish, dark red.] Lac dye is soluble in ethyl alcohol and methyl alcohol, also in acetone and acetic acid. Lac dye is partially soluble in water and ether.)by combining it with linseed oil.


To make brushes, they used the hair of goat, camel, squirrel and mongoose. They even used valuable stone dust on their painting. I discovered an incredible method of creating the ornamental decorative design. To make it, initially, they poured out water on blank paper. Once the water dried, some spots of water raised on that blank paper. Then they started creating ornamental designs with a fine brush, by following those spots of water! Artists of Kashmir discovered an amazing idea to create an obsession of color on the face of a portrait. They kept water in a certain place and once it dried, they collect salt remained beneath the water. It had been terribly helpful to bring the luminosity in color.

Image source - From personal collection.
Image source - From personal collection.

After finishing all arrangements, they started painting. The old Indian artists believed that each object features a borderline in outward form. Hence, they began to depict the outline drawing at the primary stage. It had been considered as important for their painting according to ancient conception of oriental grammar. I’ll discuss later concerning this world’s first grammar book of painting discovered by a sage at the time of BC third century. However, so as to do it, they used parchment or stained type paper and rubbed gum derived from the acacia tree. They called this method as ‘TAR’. They did it to produce a smoother surface on paper to work with. After the completion of surface smoothing, they began to produce outline drawing using either red or black color. The method of creating outline drawing was known as ‘TARKASH’. It’s a Persian term. Once completion of outline drawing, they started creating colors while filling the outline drawings performed. They commonly used those colors that got simply diluted in water. The primary pass of color would virtually behave as transparent which might be re-applied smoothly and flatly. This system brought a cool effect in their paintings. It’s fascinating to note that during this time of painting, there was no chance to make any correction, first was final because, once, the color was sprayed on the surface, the gum quickly absorbed the color. In order to perform the outline drawing, they used a brush made with single hair. Yes, a single hair! Just imagine, there was no way of correction if any incorrect line has drawn for the first time with this single hair brush. They called it – ‘Ek-bal-kalam’ (ek mean single; bal mean hair; kalam mean pen). After completion of the coloring process, they started to make the ornamentation.

For this purpose, they created several little pin-pricks wherever they gathered gold-dust or different valuable stones and used the pin to in-lay them within the ornamentation method (particularly for females). The ornamentation may vary between actual ornaments of figurines, dresses or even margin of paintings. This gave a gorgeous effect to the painting. Sparkling of light from these paintings made people realize that it was meant for the emperor’s court.

A painting wasn't done by one artist however, a group of artists were working step by step. The master artist drew the outline with one hair brush and then recommended colors. The suggestion of colors was written on the body of the subject in the painting by the master artist. Others completed the colors or worked on the ornamentation. The finishing touch was given by the master artist with a signature below the painting. Typically the master artist advised with a suggestion paper, for the chosen painting by using parchment. In this case, the line drawing was created by the master artist with a pin. He created several very little fine holes encompassing the outline of the object on the parchment and others used that parchment as a stressing paper for perfect drawing.


This technique of painting in the 16th century was necessary to realize the Indian miniature painting in deeply. The figurative idea of a musical rhythm was first performed by these artists from Rajasthan in a miniature format that impressed me to depict farther in my very own style.


[This article has been featured on the blog collaborative platform named Numie and have won the Golden Badge.]

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Last updated on - 07.12.2023