School of Miniature Paintings
is for the first time in the history of Indian, or world, art that miniature
paintings of the Kashmir school are being displayed in an exhibition. With
the solitary exception of a recent work by a Russian art historian, no
attempt has been made so far for a systematic study of this important school
The story of
art in Kashmir opens with a pre-historic rock drawing discovered at the Neolithic
site of Burzahom depicting a hunting scene. A subsequent stage
of development is represented by master-pieces of art in the shape of Harwan
tiles and Ushkar (Wushkar) stucco figures. The Nilamata Purana makes clear
reference to the existence of painting in ancient Kashmir. From 7th-8th
century onwards the school of Kashmir art acquired distinct features, even
as it was absorbing Gandharan and Gupta influences reaching its pinnacle
of glory in the times of Lalitaditya. The movement sustained till the 10th-
11th century when its fame spread throughout the Himalayan region.
direct example of Kashmir painting of this period has survived, the characteristic
features of the Kashmiri style can be clearly seen in the Gilgit manuscript
paintings assigned to the 6th-7th century. The murals of the Buddhist monasteries
of Alchi in Ladakh, Mang Nang in Western Tibet and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh
present a successive stage of the development of the tradition of painting
in Kashmir. These mural paintings appear to be a pictorial translation
of the exquisite Kashmir bronzes dated to 9th to 11th century.
artistic tradition faced decay during the political and religious upheaval
in the 14th century. Lack of patronage and fear of religious persecution
forced master painters of Kashmir to neighbouring Himachal princedoms where
the Kashmir style revived and flowered after being grafted into the Pahari-Kangra
scale vandalism and destruction in the subsequent centuries, the traditional
artistic propensities of the Kashmiris could not be entirely stiffed though.
The Kashmir school of miniature painting survived taking a new avtara during
the late 18th century, continuing through the l9th century to the early
decades of the twentieth. The Puja room (thokur kuth) of the Kashmiri Brahmins
became a virtual museum of religious art which found expression in the
illuminations of Sharada manuscripts, horoscopes, folk-art works like the
krulapacch, nechipatra (almanac) etc. besides individual paintings. The
themes were essentially religious with forms of Hindu deities and local
gods and goddesses dominating.
In fact miniature
paintings became a family tradition, passing from generation to generation.
It even became a collective act of creativity with one expert making the
border, another executing the drawing and a third one painting the colours.
These Kashmir miniature paintings are characterized by the delicacy of
line introduced to the massive and weighty proportions of form, the colour
scheme being throughout soothing, soft and harmonious. The facial type,
in the words of Dr. A. K. Singh, is "marked with ovaloid face, fleshy cheeks,
double chin, aquiline nose and full lips, highly arched eyebrows and almond
shaped eyes". The division of space has the unique characteristic of correlating
the foreground and background. Ornamental border, with occasionally strong
use of gold, is another striking feature of the school.
this rich treasure of miniature paintings has gone virtually unnoticed
by art historians, making it difficult to reconstruct a chronological history
of the Kashmir school. 'Unmeelan' is an attempt to invite the attention
and appreciation of art lovers and conneisseurs to this very important
but neglected school of art.