The Mahabharata in miniatures, from the brush of a Muslim artist
A four-volume collection of 2,000 unseen Mahabharata miniatures, commissioned by Maharana Jai Singh and painted by Allah Baksh from 1680 to 1698, features exquisite designs and translations
A four-volume set of books showcases nearly 2,000 never-before published miniature artworks of the Mahabharata which were commissioned by Udaipur's Maharana Jai Singh and painted between 1680 and 1698 by his court painter Allah Baksh.
The Mahabharata: Mewari Miniature Paintings (1680–1698) by Allah Baksh is authored by Chandra Prakash Deval (an expert in Rajasthani literature) and Alok Bhalla (academic and translator).
The selection of paintings, published in the four volumes, is enhanced by specially designed covers, gilded pages and translations. Each exquisite painting includes a verse from the Mahabharata in Mewari written by Pandit Kishan Das, related to the image.
The Mewari text has been translated into Hindi by Deval and then further into English by Bhalla, who has also written the extensive general introduction to each volume, as well as the introductions to the 14 parvas (episodes) for which paintings have been showcased in the book.
A fifth volume of 500 paintings devoted to the Bhagavad Gita was published by Niyogi Books in 2019.
These radiant miniatures painted by Baksh follow almost every story in every chapter of the Mahabharata and have no precedent in India's art tradition.
The emphasis in these paintings is not on heroic posturing and spiritual pride, but on the pain that the earth and its creatures endure when human beings tragically fail to fulfil their dharma, loosely translated as moral duty.
The images in the paintings are symbolically charged, their colours are clear and luminous, their lines are restrained and precise.
Each painting by Baksh with details of the costumes of the characters, the flora and fauna in the background, the depiction of magical and mystical events, is a delight in miniature.
In an initial 'Note on the Text', the authors write, "Our hope is that readers will find, in these miniature paintings, an exciting dialogue between the verbal and the visual imaginations of the poet and the painter; between the grandeur of Vyasa's epic and the vision of Allah Baksh who draws upon an endless store of images, designs and colours to offer his own discovery of moral truths in old fables."