History of Indian miniature paintings goes back to 10th century. In western India between 10th to 12th century miniature paintings were developed. As name suggests these paintings were small in size and were part of manuscripts written during that time. These paintings illustrated the subjects of the manuscripts. These miniatures are found in some of Hindu manuscripts and are 2 to 4 inches in size.
These paintings were created on the leaves of the palm tree known as Taadpatra (ताड़ पत्र) and on the paper available that time. Human characters have doe-eyed, sharp nose, broad forehead which gives little baldness like appearance to human figures in some of these paintings.
The art of Kangra Paintings was flourished in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. The golden period of Kangra paintings was 18th and 19th century between 1750-1850 C.E. Kangra Paintings are categorized under Indian miniature paintings. These paintings are called miniature because of their small size. Such paintings were done on an average 25x30 cm size paper.
The Gita Govinda (गीत गोविन्द) is 12th century work of poet Jayadeva. It describes the relationship between Krishna and Radha in great detail. The love poems of Gita Govinda are the most popular theme of Kangra paintings. Most Kangra paintings of Radha and Krishna are based on narration of intimate love scenes between Radha and Krishna from Gita Govinda.
Kangra paintings were done on handmade paper which was created especially for such purpose. Natural colors extracted from vegetables and mineral sources are used. Special brushes made from the hair of squirrels and bird feathers are used to create these paintings.
The average width of Kangra miniatures is about 28-35 cm and average height is about 22-26 cm. In these miniatures great attention is paid to details. Every object is painted in such great detail that when one sees digitalized miniature paintings one refuses to believe the size of these paintings. But the fact is that most Kangra miniatures are about one foot in size. The amount of details is so tremendous that one can count distinct leaves on trees and individual grass fronds in the background. Most Kangra paintings of Radha-Krishna depict lush and verdant greenery. The landscape is vast and varied and it is made noticeable by using multiple shades of green.
Feminine figures in Kangra Paintings are exceptionally beautiful and have lotus shaped legs which separate these figures from reality. In these paintings most of the characters are shown with side face. Only few characters with front face are seen in these miniature paintings. Human figures are small in size and centered in the image so that enough space is left to depict wide and varied landscape in the background. The wardrobe of Krishna is striking and distinct for its various shades of yellow. No two paintings have same shade of yellow for Krishna’s wardrobe which gives individuality and freshness to each miniature.
The figures are adorned with golden jewelry. The jewelry of Radha and Krishna is detailed to the core and sparkling which brings them close to reality. Yellow and green are the most prominent colors in most Kangra paintings.
Apart from human figures these paintings feature flowering plants, beautifully manicured small trees, small hillocks, rivulets, brooks and birds.