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LITTLE FRAMES, LARGE LIVES
AMBICA GULATI

Among the more accoladed traditional artists, Mahaveer Swami has worked diligently for over four decades to keep the Bikaner miniature art alive

In the narrow lanes of Bikaner lies a home where a 500-year-old art lives on. If you are not a native, you wouldn’t know this place or the people who live in it. But for the natives, this is probably the high point of this quiet city. This secret home is where national award winning miniature artist Mahaveer Swami lives. Through his paintings, the traditional Bikaner style of painting lives on. “This style is around 500 years old and centres mostly on mythology and history,” says Swami who belongs to the Bikaner laghu chitra gharana aka miniature arts gharana. Art has been the norm in Rajasthan, adding colour to the starkness of the desert. While the homes of the local people, especially those in the rural areas have been lined with large figures and nature-based motifs, it is the intricate and delicate artworks in palaces and homes of the rich that have been leaving people awestruck for centuries now.

Light strokes, sensitive expressions, translucent and subtle colouring, the USP of Bikaner style lies in fine detailing of the figures in natural colours. Most of Swami’s paintings have scenes related to the Ram durbar, Vishnu durbar, kalpavriksha and nature. But the one thing that stands out–the clouds with gods and these can be seen in Maharaja Ganga’s Singh residence, Laxmi Niwas palace, and in the old havelis too. In fact, Swami has very meticulously used them in his yoga series. They are so fine, visible only with a microscope.


Like other Rajasthani homes, Swami’s home too is lined with paintings and other artworks. Some are commissioned and some are for his exhibitions. There are animals such as the ibex, royal courts, goddesses, saints, flowers and more. But there is nothing ostentatious about the man who has received two prestigious awards by the President of India ‘Master Craftsman’ award in 1986 and the Sanskriti award in 1992. With over 100 shows to his credit, the artist has travelled the world exhibiting his art, pushing forward the cause of traditional miniatures, and learning many styles from his fellow artists. Art has taken him to USA, France, Korea, Japan, Australia and more countries. He even held a solo show in MOSA, Belgium. There have been many residency programmes with fellow artists across the globe. But it was not always like this.

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