People of Indo-Pakistan subcontinent have always
had deep appreciation of all the various art
forms, pictorial art ranking as one of
Indo-Pakistan's foremost arts. On the one hand,
there are splendid cycles of mural paintings
splashed across temples and places, and on the
other, the intricate Mongol miniatures, small and
yet expressing volumes. These miniatures throw
light not only on religious matters, but also on
numerous aspects of secular life as well,
fortunately, not at the expense of their
essentially poetic quality.
The origin of painting in this area do not even
begin with Buddhist frescoes of Ajanta and Bagh.
These wonderful wall pictures emerge too fully
matured to be regarded as the very fist stages of
the art. As many references in ancient literature
indicate, painting was done extensively in
Indo-Pakistan subcontinent long before Buddhist
artist-priest perfected his style of work.
Nevertheless, these pictures of the first
centuries of Christian era are the earliest
examples of painting in Indo-Pakistan subcontinent
that have survived.
According to Chinese writer of 11th century,
priests at the monastery of "Nalanda" in
Bihar, "painted pictures of Buddha's and
Bodhisattvas on the linen of the West",
obvious examples of the same art as that of "Tanga"
or temple banners of Tibet. None of these painted
fabrics has been preserved, but fortunately, there
are a few rare examples of illustrated books of
pre-Mongol era which have escaped destruction.
Several of these are Jain manuscripts on paper,
containing pictures of 15th century, but they are
crudely painted and show little evidence of
artistic experience. Paper found small favor with
Indo-Pakistan people, either for commercial,
literary or pictorial purposes, until it was
brought into common usage by Mongol.
Palm leaves proved to be more popular than paper,
at first. Some of these palm leaf manuscripts (the
writing was executed by means of a pointed iron
style) were illustrated and a few of these, along
with Buddhist miniatures of 12th century, have
been handed down.
It seems fairly clear, however, that there was
very limited amount of painting executed in
medieval times in Indo-Pakistan subcontinent on
any other surface than that of the walls of
The condition of art at that time of Bahur's
invasion of the subcontinent is also a matter of
surmise. It seems probable that tradition of
Buddhist frescoes was still maintained, but hardly
in its original form. Painting, instead of being
applied to the living rock, as at Ajanta, was
adapted to the surface of structural edifices and
so perished when these buildings decayed.
Of the painting in palaces of ruling princes, it
appears that portraiture was the most popular, as
it is recorded that Firouz Shah Tughlaq in 14th
century, while holding that it "was right
among monarchs to have painted chambers to gratify
their eyes in retirement...", prohibited
painting of portraits, as contrary to the law, and
directed that garden scenes should be painted
Therefore, when in 16th century Mongol began to
turn their attention to the revival of painting in
subcontinent, they found that, while the
indigenous art was, due to political reasons, in a
state of decay, there still survived strong living
tradition among people on which the foundations of
the art of miniature painting could rest securely.
Miniature painting as true art from was
established in the latter part of the reign of
Mongol Emperor Homayoun, who on his return from
Iran (Persia) brought with himself two renowned
miniature painters of the court of Shah Tahmasb I,
namely Mir Seyed Ali of Tabriz and Abdos Samad.
Early Mongol Miniatures, therefore, understandably
owe much to the "Arabesque, two dimensional
decorative style of art created by Iranian School,
which, in its earlier stages, was influenced by
Chinese painting". Later, mainly through
contact with the early Christian missionaries,
Mongol miniatures absorbed distinctly European
During the reign of Emperor Akbar, a host of local
artists worked under the direct supervision of
Seyed Ali and Adus Samad. This system of
production, seems almost to suggest that the
painting of Mongol miniatures was more craft than
fine art, at first. Painters were assembled in a
hall or workshop, and there, under a headman, each
was employed in executing those parts of picture
with which he was almost familiar. The actual
composition or layout of miniature would be
sketched in by the chief artist, which, when
approved, would be passed from hand to hand, one
artist drawing the figures, another painting
background, a third putting in the features and so
on, until each had completed the portion of the
work allotted to him and the whole was finished.
Thus, under such system, it was extremely
difficult to attribute painting to a single
Fortunately, this "division of labor"
system did not last long and, in the course of
time, the school evolved vision of reality all its
own. Mongol miniatures present unique blending of
styles, especially in some early works, such as
illustrations found in "Dastan Amir Hamzeh",
where Persian style and conventions are quite in
the composition, architecture, ornamentation and
And Yet, there is distinct local flavor to be
found in the atmosphere and environment depicted
in this famous work, so that it becomes obvious
that such work could only have been produced in
Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Detailed description
of a pair of Hamzeh-nameh illustrations depict
Mihrdukht accepting the wager of shooting an arrow
through a ring hung on top of minaret. Luxuriant
trees of the garden and, still more, exotic plants
scattered below them recall the paintings of
Deccan School. Architecture is also so elaborate
as to give clue to the background of the painter;
for the rich bracketed capitals and the chevron
slender columns are reminiscent of Man Singh's
palace inside the fort of Gwalior.
Faceted and staged minaret with its topmost part
is related to the mosque building at Ahmedabad.
Girls in Pavilion wear transparent muslin veil and
show the energetic movement of the earliest known
Rajasthan miniatures, while behind the group on
the upper floor is a dark girl from South India,
who might have come straight from Tanjore wall
In fact, everything points to the painter (or
painters) of these illustrations as having been
trained in Deccan School. Yet, design and layout
rigidly to Mongol conventions and the delicacy of
detail owes a great deal to Persian painting.
Gradually, Mongol School, absorbing multitude of
influences, developed individuality which is easy
to recognize and even easier to appreciate. Mongol
miniatures are primary different from Persian
ones, because they are more realistic, pulsating
with life and vigor.
The most formative phase in the development of
Mongol miniature painting was during the reign of
Akbar, real founder of Mongol School of Art.
During his reign, many famous works were produced,
such as "Hamzeh-nameh", "Shah-nameh',
"Tarikh Khandani" Teinourian and "Akbar-nameh".
Among the local artists the most prominent were
Daswanth, Basawan and Mansour, whose best works
are to be found in paintings of animals and
flowers, hunting scenes, portraits and paintings
concerning court life. But even these artists owe
a lot to Persian masters, as far as their basic
style is concerned.
It is only during the reign of Emperor Jehangir
that we see greater contacts being made with
Western world, that the naturalistic tendency
comes to the forefront. This tendency is revealed
quite clearly in many paintings animals, birds,
flowers and trees executed during this period.
All that was Persian in Mongol Miniature seems to
steady, but surely disappear. The style
predominant at Jehangir's time was continued and
slowly perfected during the reign of Shah Jehan.
The most popular themes in both these reigns seem
to be Royal Court in all its glory, and portraits
of courtiers, often in groups.
A "new" technique was also developed at
about this time, that of lightly touching sketch
with gold or any color, but even this so-called
"new" technique owed a lot to similar
developments in Persian Art. Paintings, however
good they may be technically, sadly lack the
essential vitality found in those of Akbar's
Although most scholars feel that Mongol Art passed
its zenith after the reign of Shah Jehan, which
came to end in 1658, yet it remained technically
sound until the last years of Emperor Mohammad
Shah, who died in 1748.
The gradual decline of the once glorious Mongol
Empire saw the artistic moving away from Imperial
Capital. It was an age when patronage was
declining at Mongol Delhi and political upheavals
were decimating princely courts; wandering artists
found sanctuary and new patrons in the hill
principalities. There, they developed new idioms,
which blended the intricate and rather
sophisticated Mongol style with more vigorous and
energetic folk art of the hill people - this
school known as "Pahari" (means 'hill'),
generated a brief but exquisite renaissance of
Indo-Pakistan miniature painting. Many fine
examples of Pahari Art are to be found in Lahore