My father taught me what he learnt from his father, now I'm teaching my son

“Mughal shaili toh hum neend mein bhi kar lein, lekin realistic ke liye aakhein badi karni padti hai” (I can paint a Mughal miniature even in my sleep, but for a contemporary piece, I need to really concentrate).

This was how Mughal miniature artist from Jaipur, Mohan Kumar Prajapati responded when asked about the difference between these two diverse forms of painting that he is a master of. The practice of this ancient Persian art that was all the rage during Akbar's reign has been confined to a few families in Jaipur for over a century.

Mohan Kumar, who won the State award in 2004, comes from one such family. “It is difficult to say when my family was initiated into the art, all I know is that my father taught me what he learnt from his father and I'm now teaching my son,” he says.

Mughal miniatures are exquisite for the precise detail they embody. The jewellery worn by the queens or their costumes — bring a life-like quality to the pictures.

Single-hair brushes

Every layer of the process makes a unique contribution to the creation of a single work. And so, the smallest of miniatures can take several months to finish. “Just learning to use the brush to form different strokes itself takes about five years to master,” says Mohan.

Single-hair brushes are used to bring out the intricate patterns these paintings demand.

So much so that every stroke drawn is visible under the microscope. “Only two people make these brushes now in the whole of Jaipur,” he adds. The canvas can be made of several materials. From ivory to old reused paper, every kind of material has been experimented upon. “The colours used are extracted by us from between the crevices of mountain rocks of Jaipur,” he explains. “Since they are organic, the colours never fade and remain vivid for several years.”

Tanjore meets Mughal

Experiments have also been made by adapting the Tanjore style of using pure gold and precious stone embellishments in the paintings, making even a small one quite valuable.

“Not too many Indians bought them earlier because of the steep prices. It was ironic to see Indian culture being appreciated and shipped to adorn foreign walls,” laments Mohan. There is room for hope of a greater market within India now, he says.

Does he think this art form will survive in the future?

“There is a great demand for it, no doubt, but then, artists are few. The present generation lacks the kind of patience and skill required to master this art. It also requires very good eyesight. Taking it up as a full-time profession, therefore, is not feasible if you do not have alternate forms of employment later in life,” he concludes.

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