Kailaschand Kumawat has been involved for the last 35 years or so in painting Rajasthani miniatures. So perhaps, one can forgive the rather proprietorial air he adopts towards an art that originated in Persia and which was introduced in India by the Mughal ruler Babur. As a matter of fact, the Kumawats, the community he hails from, emerged custodians of this beautiful art of miniature painting, having received along the way royal patronage.
Reveals the 51-year-old artist: “This is a tradition handed down from one generation to another. My father taught me the rudiments of this art and he learnt the same from his father. I have passed on the same to my son. In fact, not only my son, but even my wife and daughter have taken to this art.”
Both father and son showcase their work at art exhibitions and fairs across the country. Their latest Chennai experience has been fairly rewarding. More than one customer stops at their stall, taking in the simple black-and-white portraits of artisans engaged in various activities, gaily painted birds as well as the kings and queens, gods and goddesses, resplendent in their beauty and appeal. Pointing to the black-and-white paintings, he says, “These portraits are are of people back home.”
Kailaschand is content to let his son Hemant deal with haggling customers, even as he baits a Pakistani customer, (“We belonged once to the same country, child”) and then glad when she buys a few. Another customer selecting a couple hands over the money, but the son shakes his head refusing the sale, until his father, lenient and genial, vetoes him.
So, is he able to support his family? “Yes,” says the father though he gets a little evasive when asked to speculate on the family earnings. Instead, he would rather speak about his community’s involvement with this art. “Back then, each community was entrusted with a particular job. The Kumawats were given the task of painting miniatures.”
What catches the eye are paintings that have been done on a brownish stamp paper harking back to the state of Mysore, Bikaner and Andhra Pradesh.
Says Kailaschand: “That is because the quality of these stamp papers is remarkable. Nowadays, we are not able to source such quality paper. We have in stock paper that is 90 years old.” Which brings us as to what goes into the making of paper? “We paint on handmade paper made from various things such as rice grass, cotton rejects, fuller’s earth, all-purpose flour, which is then mixed in water and ground before being strained with a velvet cloth,” reveals the artist, and adds, “colours used are all natural with many ayurvedic substances and gold leaf in the mix.”
His best moment, we ask. Eyes twinkling, the short-statured man recalls the time when his painting and that of the celebrated MF Husain shared space at an auction conducted in Mumbai a couple of years ago. “While Husain’s painting fetched six crore, mine was sold for five lakh,” he reminisces.
Apart from exhibiting his paintings at art festivals and fairs, Kailaschand also conducts workshops in colleges.