Unfolding the magic of miniatures

A WORLD in inches, this is life shrunk to a small size. And the biggest collection of this "art of the tiny'' is now just round the corner for Delhiites. Showcasing the hallmark of painting in India - miniatures - is a new gallery that has come up at the National Museum on Janpath.

Bringing alive the myths, stories and legends of the kings and queens, it chronicles a tradition that has survived for centuries. The collection at the National Museum, for the first time, gives space to more than just the commonly known Moghul school of miniature paintings. With images of the murals in Ajanta to paintings on palm-leaf and cloth-strips to finally paper, it is easy to see the different styles of miniatures as well as the changes that took place with the shift.

More than just a celebration of the artist's skill, miniatures have their own unique place in history as well. Used by Akbar to preserve his valour in colour, they are also frozen images of royalty within their gorgeous borders. While Shahjahan built the symbol of eternal love for his wife, Jahangir immortalised his queen Nurjahan in a miniature. And unlike the Taj, this tribute to love is not far away.

In an age where photography did not exist, unlike artists abroad who soften aristocratic features in oils, Indian painters preferred stylised versions in miniatures. The Pahari rulers - Siddha Sen, Sansar Chand and Maharaja Ranjit Singh - were all part of these family albums.

With state-of-the-art equipment and modern lighting, this is a part of the National Museum that will certainly stand out. The first of its galleries that lives up to its promise of "world standard'', for people who have not visited the national treasure house for a while, it will definitely be a pleasant change.

This gallery has paintings that have never been seen before. For students who have only studied the influence of European art on Indian paintings, this is a gallery that will give them the chance to "see'' their lesson. With a painting of Jahangir holding the picture of Madonna, this is the place where East meets West.

A `small' journey to the more exotic India, when kings and queens ruled, this new addition to the museum is certainly worth a visit.

By Mandira Nayar

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