Mewari Miniature Paintings Retell Epic Mahabharata

The Mahabharata, Mewari Miniature Paintings (1680–1698) is a Grand Visual Retelling of the Great Indian Epic. An exclusive feature by columnist Riccha Grrover for Asian Lite International.

The collection Showcases nearly 2000 never-before- published miniature paintings of the Mahabharata by Allah Baksh, from late 17th century Mewar. Features fine translations of the Mahabharata from Mewari into Hindi by Chandra Prakash Deval and English commentary by Alok Bhalla. Insightful introductions by Alok Bhalla on each of the parvas, provide a comprehensive understanding of this great Indian epic.

Allah Baksh’s magnificent miniature paintings of Vyasa’s great epic, the Mahabharata, were commissioned by Udaipur’s Maharana Jai Singh, and painted between 1680 and 1698.The selection of nearly 2000 paintings, published in four volumes, are from a folio of more than 4000 extant works illuminating the Mahabharata.The fifth volume of 500 paintings devoted to the Gita, has already been published.

These radiant miniatures, which follow almost every story in every chapter of the Mahabharata, 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.The images in the paintings are symbolically charged, their colours are clear and luminous, their lines are restrained and precise. Allah Baksh’s art of visionary thoughtfulness deserves an honoured place in the great library of Indian scriptures and their visual interpretations.

Introductions to the parvas illuminated in these four volumes offer reflections on the moral resonance of the stories, as they reveal the fate of a civilisation from its divine beginning to its fateful destruction.The Hindi translation

of the Mewari text in the colophons, describing the story being illustrated, furthers our understanding of the history of cultural exchange between the different religions, regions and languages of India. Comments on the paintings in English enable the reader to decode the images and follow the narrative grandeur of this great Indian epic.

Chandra Prakash Deval says, ‘The Hindi text, published below the reproductions of the paintings, is a faithful translation of the original Mewari version. There are, however, some instances where additional information has been provided to help the reader follow the storyline and make the necessary narrative links.’

Chandra Prakash Deval

Alok Bhalla says, ‘When I first caught a glimpse of more than 4000 magnificent miniature paintings of the Mahabharata and the Gita by Allah Baksh in the State Museum of Rajasthan, Udaipur, I understood what Plutarch meant when he exclaimed, ‘The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. 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.’

Alok Bhalla

On publishing the set Bikash De Niyogi, Managing Director, Niyogi Books says, ‘When I first heard about the magnificent miniature paintings eight years ago depicting the Mahabharata, commissioned by Udaipur’s Maharana Jai Singh, and now in the collection at the Udaipur Government Museum, I was full of curiosity to go and see them. When I saw the paintings, I was filled with wonder at their fine artistry, the depth of detail and the richness of the colours. Publishing this four-volume compendium for me has been a labour of love, which showcases the richness of Indian culture and craftsmanship. It is the biggest and the longest project taken up by Niyogi Books so far. This is our humble contribution in bringing the Mahabharata to discerning readers.’

About the Authors

Alok Bhalla is a widely published critic, translator and poet. He has taught in various universities in the US and India, and has held Fellowships from different academic institutes in France, Italy, England, Germany, Canada and Israel. His books include Stories about the Partition of India (4 volumes), Partition

Dialogues, Shades of the Preternatural, among others. His verse translation of Dharamvir Bharati’s play, AndhaYug, is a recognised classic.

Chandra Prakash Deval is an eminent poet, fiction writer, translator, bibliophile, and cultural historian. He has published 14 collections of poetry in Hindi and Rajasthani. He has also translated the works of Ashok Vajpeyi, Ramakanth Rath and others into Rajasthani. He has been the recipient of many

prestigious awards like the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Padma Shri.

About the Publisher

An internationally acclaimed publishing house, Niyogi Books, established in 2004, has more than 700 titles today. Niyogi Books not only specializes in textual context but also strives to give equal importance to visuals. It purveys a wide range of content on art, architecture, history, culture, spirituality, memoirs, and every aspect which connects with our rich heritage. The house has co-published a number of critically acclaimed books with reputed institutions like the British Library, Rietberg Museum Zurich, IGNCA, National Gallery of Modern Art, Ministry of Culture (Govt. of India), National Manuscript Mission, Sahitya Akademi, among many others.

Niyogi Books also publishes fiction and non-fiction that cover books on social science, cookery, and self-help as well as English translation of modern classics from different Indian languages. Niyogi Books now has four more Imprints: Olive Turtle (English fiction), Thornbird (English translation) and Paper Missile (English non-fiction) and Bahuvachan (Hindi translation: Fiction & Non-fiction).

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