The controversy surrounding the film Jodhaa-Akbar at least put the spotlight back on the Mughal era, even if briefly, and, one hopes, aroused some curiosity about this very important period in our history. Here is a book that does not dramatize, but captures the essence of life during the Mughal era through art.
Captured in Miniature: Mughal Lives through Mughal Art has been compiled specially for children. And, it proves one thing —history, or for that matter any academic subject, if presented to children in innovative ways, can be a delight. Suhag Shirodkar has used technology to magnify and bring alive actual miniature paintings from museums and libraries around the world.
Captured in Miniature: Mughal Lives through Mughal Art: HarperCollins & Mapin, 55 pages, Rs295
Shirodkar, who is the founder of Teclarity (a document developing company), began her career in pharmaceutical manufacturing, but soon “found that documenting clean-room practices was easier than following them!”
The Mughals were as passionate about art, architecture and nature as they were about warfare and annexing territory. From Babur to Shah Jahan, the fine arts flourished under their patronage as the reins of power passed from father to son. Books were an integral part of the legacy of successive emperors. As Shirodkar writes, “At the height of the Mughal power, the imperial studios hummed with the activity of hundreds of paper makers, calligraphers, painters and bookbinders, all producing books for the royal libraries. Many manuscripts were illustrated with exquisite miniature paintings.”
Shirodkar mentions some great painters of that age, such as Bichitr, Mansur, Abul Hassan and Daulat, whose works have been featured in this book. Among the beautiful and striking paintings are those which depict royal life —Akbar’s joyous celebration of imminent fatherhood, the royal family playing Holi, and Aurangzeb’s wedding. Each painting is analysed by the author in a very accesible manner and the young reader is likely to remember what he learns in the process.
Should the reader miss some of the exquisite details, Shirodkar asks some clever questions to kindle his or her interest. Like, “How many tiny birds can you spot in the painting on page 15?” If you go back to find out the answer, you are likely to observe many details that you may have missed out initially. “Can you feel the silence and concentration conveyed in this painting?” asks another blurb.
Each painting tells many stories. The book exhorts children to think visually, to feel the mood of the picture and the sense it conveys, and to imagine the painstaking craftsmanship that lies behind each creation. One symbolic painting that shows Akbar passing on his crown to his grandson, Shah Jahan, highlights the emperor’s annoyance at his son Jahangir’s rebellious nature. No bigger than a size-A4 sheet, each of these paintings conveys messages that would otherwise need an entire book.
Some of the brushwork is so minute that the artist had to use delicate brushes made out of a few hairs of a squirrel’s tail! It is a credit to the rulers that such wonderful work flourished. If it wasn’t for their patronage, such extraordinary work wouldn’t have developed. The reproductions of the paintings evoke a thirst to see more.
Miniature Mughal paintings can be viewed at the National Museum, Delhi, the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai and the Indian Museum in Kolkata. But, warns the author, please check the museums’ websites for current exhibitions before you visit because most museums do not always have their Mughal miniatures on display for the public.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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