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The World in Miniature

"The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail "
– Charles R Swindoll.

When we think of fabrics that represent India’s heritage and culture, the two art forms that come to mind are Kalamkari and Ajrakh. Both come from diverse parts of India, Andhra Prahesh and Kutch, but have stood the test of time and evolution. Best known for their eco-friendly, natural colours and earthy prints, here are some remarkable elements of their evolution through the years, and why they need to be preserved as torch-bearers of India’s crafts.

The word Miniature comes from the Latin word ‘miniare’ which means to color with red lead. The capital letters on the illustration were colored with red lead in the beginning. This was not a reference to the size of the painting – it only came to be assumed as such in the later medieval age.

The origins of Miniature paintings around the world begin with manuscripts/ scriptures. In the West, religious manuscripts were accompanied with detailed borders, initials and miniature illustrations used with gold and silver and bright colours –called Illuminated manuscripts. Miniatures are present in every culture simply because there were books/ manuscripts in every culture that needed to be illustrated for better understanding of the story by the reader. The size of the early medieval miniatures was large. The name for Miniatures only came to make sense in the 12th century when the size of parchments became smaller which really tested the skill of the artists.

Slowly, work was commissioned for these illustrations to be made specifically so that they could be carried on one’s person while travelling hence palm sized. Measurement of these miniatures is a technical topic with sizes specified for sculptures and paintings by different associations. But the rule of thumb states that the subject should be represented in drawing or sculpture in 1/6th of its actual size.

The oldest miniatures can be traced back to Babylon where a nobleman named Mani illustrated his most holy book the ‘Artang’ with miniatures of the same type that have been discovered in Turfan, East Turkestan (modern day Xinjiang).  The date on this miniature is pegged at 2nd Century B.C.