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The Values of Manuscript Art

Updated: Mar 24

Part - 2

In the manuscript paintings of the Pala era, we can discern a sculptural quality that is not present in Jain manuscripts. This distinction arises from the influx of itinerant mendicants, sages, and devotees from China, Tibet, and Nepal during the reign of the Pala dynasty, who influenced Indian artists with their native grammatical doctrine and ideas on painting and sculpture. On the other hand, Jain manuscripts adhered to traditional Indian grammar in painting without incorporating any sculptural elements into their artistic vision. The evolution from Jain manuscript art to miniature paintings of Rajasthan and Mughal kalam[1] was a logical progression characterized by homogeneity in style and pattern; however, this cannot be applied to Pala manuscripts.

 Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Manuscript pala dynasty
Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Manuscript, pala dynasty

Subjectively, there was a rationale behind it. Within Jain manuscripts, one can find illustrations that depict the Hindu mythological folk tale through paintings of meditative Jain spiritual leaders. On the other hand, Pala manuscripts solely showcase paintings of Buddhist deities and their anecdotes, albeit with only a handful of depictions portraying the holy life of Lord Buddha. This is because these figures in Buddhism had already been depicted earlier in sculpture forms, such as Tara, Prajnaparamita, Vajrapani, and Manjughosha. It can be speculated that Indian illustration artists were influenced by the virtues embodied in these sculptures and were encouraged by visiting mendicants from overseas to incorporate this artistic reform into their paintings within manuscripts.

The coherent ground was the surface where an artist started illustrating the manuscript made of palm leaf, which we know as "Terate Paper," mentioned earlier. The surface texture was slightly uneven due to the presence of leaf veins, making it challenging for brushes to glide smoothly across. This created a difficulty in achieving a smooth and rhythmic line. Consequently, Pala manuscript illustrators tended to mimic overseas experts' sculpture-like values rather than relying on their unique style and form. Nonetheless, despite these challenges faced by artisans, we can observe exceptional calligraphy artistry in Pala manuscripts that showcases their artistic prowess by easily overcoming such obstacles.

Kalpasutra Jain Manuscript
Kalpasutra, Jain Manuscript

As the ancestor of the Indian miniature painting, Jain manuscript art has demonstrated its eminence by showcasing remarkable narrative artistry replete with artistic finesse. After defining the values of manuscript art, we must delve deeper into the world of Jain manuscripts to fully comprehend this iconic facet of India. In our next installment, we shall explore the nuances and intricacies of Jain manuscript art.



1. Mughal Kalam(painting) is that particular style of South Asian painting which generally confines miniatures either as book illustrations or as single works to be kept in albums, which emerged from Persian miniature painting (itself mainly of Chinese origin), with Indian Muslim, Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist influences, and developed mainly in the court of the Mughal Empire of the 16th to 18th centuries. The Mughal emperors were Muslims, and they are credited with consolidating Islam in South Asia and spreading Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture as well as the faith. Mughal paintings later spread to other Indian courts, both Muslim and Hindu, and later Sikh. The mingling of foreign Persian and indigenous Indian elements was a continuation of the patronization of other aspects of foreign culture as initiated by the earlier Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate and the introduction of it into the subcontinent by various Central Asian Turkish dynasties, such as the Ghaznavids.


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