Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 19

BY: SUN STAFF - 1.3 2017

Rama and Laksmana Attack the Demon Ravana 
Ramayana – Malwa, 1640 A.D.

A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.


17th – 19th Centuries


Among the most important Miniature paintings to be produced by the Malwa School in the 17th Century are those illustrating a Rasikapriya manuscript from 1634 A.D., a series from the Amaru Sataka painted in 1652 A.D. in Nasratgarh, and a Ragamala series produced in 1680 A.D. at Narsyanga Shah. The Malwa School of painting existed for a relatively short period of time, ending around the end of the 17th Century.

Typical characteristics of Malwa School paintings are the refined drawing styles and use of boldly contrasting colours, and as previously mentioned, the use of compartmentalized scenes. A significant Mughal influence is present in both ornaments and costumes, which sometimes feature black tassels and striped skirts not found in indigenous Central India paintings of the period.

Ragini Khambavati 
Ragamala - Malwa, c. 1660 A.D.

In the Ramayana illustration above, we have an example of all these characteristics. Rama and Laksmana are framed separately from the demon Ravana. Sita Devi is shown, in a striped skirt, framed almost like a picture on the wall, although the scene takes place outdoors. All the figures are flat and one-dimensional. In both the patterned pedestal the divine Heroes stand on and in the earth/rocks behind the demon, we have an interesting co-mingling of designs. The patterns seem to be mid-way between Indian and Persian motifs.

Art historians have suggested that the Malwa School does not belong to the geographical region of Malwa, but more likely to the Bundelkhand, on its eastern side. The ancient Malwa kingdom spanned part of western Madhya Pradesh and southeastern Rajasthan, up to the Nimar region, north of the Vindhyas. It has been ruled over the ages by the Avantis, the Mauryans, the Guptas, the Parmaras, the Malwa sultans, the Mughals, the Marathas, and British India.

Ragini Khambavati 
Ragamala - Malwa, c. 1680 A.D.


There have been many cultural influences in Malwa, each contributing to the arts. However, in comparison to the geographically close Bundi school, the Malwa Miniatures are considered rather archaistic, following 16th Century influences, and not advancing beyond that century.

The Krishna-lila scene below is an interesting example. This Miniature is an illustration from a Bhagavata Purana most likely produced in Malwa circa 1540 to 1560. It shows Lord Krsna's pastime of refusing to take the crown of Mathura, which is being presented to Him in a basket. In juxtaposition of colors, brother Balarama's dhoti is the same color of blue as Sri Krsna Himself.

Set into separate compartments are the main pavilion the figures stand on, a bedchamber and living room, and a black mountain in the background. Even the pavilion is compartmentalized, with one red and one green wall. The pink steps, like brickwork, lead down to a lotus pond. The tank and the lotus motifs are distinctly Indian.

There is a beautiful makara gargoyle at the corner of the roof, holding a banner that flies against the black hillside and blue sky above. The Ragamala verse was originally inscribed in Devanagari script above.

Despite the different content themes, the examples shown here illustrate a cohesive, recognizable style of Malwa School paintings. Across the diverse scenes from Krishna-lila, Ramayana and Ragamala, there is a consistency of presentation and style. However, there are many variations in Malwa School design, theme, color and mood to be found, and we'll consider some of these in our next segment.

Krishna Refusing the Crown of Mathura 
Bhagavata Purana – Malwa/Mewar, c. 1550 A.D.



National Museum, New Delhi