Hotels in India » Art and Crafts in India » Magic of Miniatures-The Bundi School of Art

Magic of Miniatures-The Bundi School of Art

The art of Indian miniatures, with intimate detail illuminating each scene, is truly breathtaking. They are rightfully referred to as `treasures of the nation'. Bundi, in Rajasthan, has some of the finest murals in the history of Rajput art.

High on a hill-side on Bundi, enclosed within the mass of greenish-brown serpentine stone, that is Chhatramahal, is a silent, secret garden, its elegant formal layout still visible through the tangle of wild roses and weeds that is the most enchanted place in the world.

(Ms. Virginia Fass, the high priestess of photography)

My first encounter with Bundi -- a tiny picturesque town nestled in the hilly terrain of the Hadoti region of Rajasthan, took place when I was in architecture college. A group of 15 students with 2 professors, embarked on an ambitious tour to study the art and architecture of this small, remote town, largely untouched by the outside world.

On our overnight journey by train from Delhi to Kota, and then the 36 km to Bundi by bus, we were briefed about the history of this region. Bundi is situated in the Hadoti region, which comprises Kota, Bundi and Jhalawar. The kingdom of Hadoti was founded by the Had Chauhans, an offshoot of the famous Chauhan clan that ruled over Delhi and Ajmer, on territory usurped by the Bhil tribals. It became the battleground for the invading Huns and Scythians and served as a gateway to the richer kingdoms of Gujarat and Malwa. Later two branches of Hadas formed two separate states of Kota and Bundi on either side of the river Chambal. While Kota grew to become an industrial and prosperous town, Bundi remained a simple, rural town caught in the web of history.

Bundi is renowned for its scenic beauty and as a seat of learning, and so also referred to as `Chhoti Kashi'. Rudyard Kipling, the famous writer sojourned at Sukh Mahal on the bank of Jait Sagar in Bundi, and took inspiration from the exquisiteness around for many of his works.

Reaching Bundi was like being transported in time to a medieval era. The small town is surrounded by the Aravalli hills on three sides and is circumscribed by a massive wall with four gateways. Taragarh Fort and the Garh Palace dominate the rocky hills, where are found one of the finest murals in the history of Rajput art, painted in the Hara style of the Bundi School of Art. We realized that we were in the midst of a living, thriving culture, with interesting monuments including forts, palaces, havelis, temples with stone idols, baoris (step-wells) and chhatris with intricately carved pillars, and the scenic lakes -- Sukh Mahal lake and the artificial lake of Nawal Sagar. However, Bundi's greatest achievement lies in its distinctive school of art, which together with other styles of Rajasthani paintings has played an important role in the development of Indian art. The decoration of dwellings and other household objects was one aspect of the creative genius of the Rajasthani people, but the world of miniature paintings is perhaps the most fascinating style that has existed here and is famous the world over. From the 16th century onwards, different schools of paintings have flourished like the Mewar, Jaipur, Bikaner, Ajmer, Kishengarh, Shekhawati, Marwar and the Bundi-Kota schools.

The history of the Indian miniatures goes back to Persia where manuscript illustrators enlivened and decorated the Koran and other Muslim holy books. After the conquest of Hindu India by the Muslim Persians, the workshops of the painters, weavers and architects were moved down over here. After the Mughal reign, which lasted 200 years, by the second part of the 18th century, the Rajput Maharajahs became independent. They employed these highly skilled artists to replace their own artisans, leading to a sort of painting renaissance in northern India. The paintings of this era have their own unique style, being influenced by the surroundings- the deserts, lakes, hills and valleys, as the case may be. The flowing rivers, dense forests and lush green fields of the Bundi region have been translated into paintings.

A visit to the Bundi palace, perched majestically on the hill overlooking the Bundi town and Nawal Sagar lake, introduced us to one of the finest examples of Rajput architecture. The beauty of intricately carved brackets, pillars, balconies and sculpted elephants is seen in the Diwan-I-Am, Hathi Pol and the Naubat Khana. Also located in the palace is the famous Chitra Shala: a fascinating pavilion and a gallery of miniature murals of the Bundi school embellishing the walls and ceiling. Colourful glimpses of history are provided by these paintings depicting hunting and court scenes, festivals, processions, animal and bird life, and scenes from the Raagmala and Raaslila -- Lord Krishna's life story. Also, courtly luxuriance and prosperity have been exhibited, major themes being young princesses looking into a mirror, plucking flowers and playing musical instruments. Graceful, well-proportioned bodies and sharp features bring out the elegance of the female figure. The gestures of the subjects of the paintings express more than their looks.

A study of the paintings revealed that the painters were masters of their brush strokes and the chiaroscuro of light and shade. The lines are mainly serpentine and circular in character. They were developed to capture complex and intense emotions. The deep brush marks add life to the clouds, trees, cascades, lotus flowers and flowing streams in the paintings. There is use of characteristic shades of blue, green and maroon reflecting the verdant greenery of the region, while bright colours are seen in the borders with red prominently appearing in the background. These paintings are made in gouache, an opaque watercolour that requires less preparation than oil. From a local Bundi artist we learnt that the colours used by the artists of miniatures were made from minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells, pure gold and silver. The preparation and mixing of colour was an elaborate process and took weeks, sometimes months, to get the desired results. Very fine, specially created brushes were made for different kinds of paintings.

By the end of our study tour, we were truly amazed by the resplendent beauty and master craftsmanship of these paintings. Our visit to Bundi; a treasure trove of art, which is found everywhere in the town, was much more fascinating and fruitful than viewing the best art galleries in the world. An art connoisseur could spend days admiring and learning from this ancient art. If one travels around the rest of Rajastan, one finds that as the landscape changes, the colours vary and the mediums change -- paintings are done on paper and palm leaf to illustrate manuscripts, on cloth for scrolls and decorative wall hangings, on walls of palaces, forts and havelis like those found in the Shekhawati region. However, the importance of miniatures has never diminished, even after hundreds of years of being practised. To this date, Rajput and Mughal paintings provide an interesting insight into the lifestyles of earlier centuries and continue to fascinate scholars. Artists all over Rajasthan still work and develop on miniatures and continue to produce work par excellence.

General Information:

Area: 5628 sq km

Altitude: 515m

Temperatures in summer: 43.0 deg C mean max., 35 deg. C mean min.

in winter: 30.7 deg. C mean max., 5.0 deg. C mean min.

Rainfall: 75 cm.

Best season: August-February

Clothing: Summer- light tropical

Winter- light woolen

Languages: English, Hindi, Rajasthani

Prime sites to visit:

Taragarh or the Star Fort

It is perched on a thickly wooded hill surrounding Bundi town. Built in 1354 A.D, the fort is one of the most impressive forts of Rajasthan. It is a white fort with a huge reservoir that once supplied water to the palace.

The Palace

This lies on a commanding position on the hill overlooking the Bundi town. It has some fine examples of Rajput architectural elements, divided into the Mardana and Zenana areas. It is also a reservoir of some of the finest murals of the Bundi school on the walls of the Chitra Shala.

Nawal Sagar

This is a square artificial lake broken up into islets, visible from the palace. A temple dedicated to Varuna, the Aryan god of water, lies half submerged in the centre of the lake. One can see the entire reflection of the palace and the town in this lake.


This is a 46m deep step-well situated in the heart of the town. The women of the town used to come here to collect water and it was a resting place for travellers. It was built in 1699 A.D by Rani Nathavatji and has a high arched gate and beautiful carvings on the pillars.

Sukh Mahal

A magnificent summer palace built on the Sukh Mahal lake amid the lush greenery of the gardens around. An underground tunnel is believed to run from the Sukh Mahal to the old palace.

Kshar Bagh

This is an ancient garden near Bundi, which has the tombs of the rulers and their queens. The town's rich architecture can be seen in the intricately carved chhatris, arranged all over the garden.

Eighty-four pillared cenotaph

Situated a few kilometres from Bundi, this was erected by Rao Anirudh. It is an amazingly magnificent memorial with 84 pillars in a single cenotaph along with a Shiva Lingam.

Best Time to Visit

Festival of Kajli Teej (July/August): This is celebrated on the third day of the month of Bhadra, unlike Teej, which is celebrated on the third day of the month of Shravana. A procession takes place for two days from the Nawal Sagar to the nearby Azad park. Cultural performances by the local artists as well as artists from the Hadoti region are part of the celebrations. The festivities continue till the eighth day, finally ending on Janmashtami, the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna.

Places to stay in:

Dak Bungalow

Yatri Niwas

Private Havelis

Post Your Travel Related Queries