Indian Miniature Paintings get their beautiful structure and composition from the type and quality of materials used in its composition. These miniatures require not only excellent craftsmanship but also quality paper, colors and brushes. The preparation of the miniature begins with the artist preparing a special handmade sheet called “Wasli”, Wasli is made by multiple layers of sheets stuck together. This sheet is coated with a special coating known as “‘kharia’”, basically “‘kharia’” is a naturally occurring white pigment and is available in various forms like chalk, limestone, marble, conch-shells etc. This coating of ‘‘kharia’’ ensures that paper becomes thick, flat and ready to be used for painting.  Traditionally mined in the Rajasthani region of India, it comes in two variants: kath (hard) and phul (soft).

The powder is grinded up to an extent till it gets a smooth, milky and thick consistency. It is then applied as a base to the sheet.
Once the sheet is ready, the artist further proceeds towards the preparation of pigments and colours for the preparation of the masterpiece miniature!

Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art
Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art
Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art-cinnabar stone Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art-cinnabar stone
Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art
Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art Handmade colors-stone colors-pigments-arabic gum-babool gum-miniature art-indian art

The colours used in a miniature painting are classified broadly as Mineral, Earth, Organic and Alchemical Pigments. These pigments involve different methods of preparation and come from different sources.

Classification Source Examples
Mineral Below Surface Mineral rocks and semi-precious stones extracted from under the surface deposits. Examples- ‘danafarang’, Malachite, Lazwardi etc.
Earth Surface These pigments are found from earth surface deposits. Examples- Ramraj, ‘geru’, etc.
Organic Life Pigments made from plants, animals/ insects are known as lake or dye colours and come in the category of organic colours. Example- Red Lac or lake lac and neel.
Alchemical Human Intervention Pigments that require a definite chemical process, for example, ‘sindur’, minium, hinglu, smalt, vermillion or synthetic cinnabar are made from human intervention.

Though there are a variety of options available, but the creation of a miniature still relies upon the use of stone and organic pigments, these colours are prepared using stones, grinding them into a powdery consistency and following different procedures to extract the correct and purest shade of the pigment.
Following are the procedures followed in the preparation of various colours used in a Miniature Painting:

WHITE PIGMENT: “kharia’’ (chalk white)
  • The colour “White” is the most basic and primary colour for the creation of an Indian Miniature, usually ‘kharia’ is used as the white pigment.
  • This pure paste is then dried under the sun.
  • Finally, the dried-up pigment is crushed on the palm with a blunt knife, any impurities are picked away at this point.
  • Having grinded the stone of ‘kharia’ with a mortar and pestle, the sound of the pestle is heard which is believed to determine the correct consistency. The powder is then passed through the muslin cloth to make it refined and soft.
  • A thick paste is created out and the excess impurities are sedimented and the pigment is siphoned away.

White pigment also has the variants, Safida (Zinc White) , Sankh (Conch Shell) , Multani Mitti (Kaolin), Kharia Mitti (Gypsum) etc. The major difference that one can notice is that zinc oxide based colours like Safida (Zinc White Oxide) carry a shiny appearance whereas the ‘kharia’ has a dullness in its appearance.

RED PIGMENT: ‘hinglu’ (mineral cinnabar)
  • Red pigments play the role of principal pigment since ancient times, the colour red is derived from mineral cinnabar, which is referred to as ‘hinglu’ in ordinary terms as it has a high mercury content, it gives out a bright red shade.
  • According to a legend, mercury is believed to be an elixir and should not be given to man, for these reasons, Lord Shiva adulterated almost every source of mercury on Earth and made it impure.
  • The ‘hinglu’ stone is crushed and grinded with a mortar and pestle and one can easily notice the red colour.
  • After grinding, excess water is removed by putting one end of a cloth in the pigment and patting the other end which leads the water out of the pigment.
  • The remaining pigment is then dried under the sun and once dried up, this is crushed passed through a sieve to remove any additional impurities.

The variants of red include Geru (Red Chalk), Sindur/ Minium (Red Lead), Mansila/ Realgar (Red Arsenic), Red Lac, Kumkum etc.
Red Lac is prepared with the process of boiling the insect ‘laccifer lacca’ by extracting the bark of tress on which they reside, this pigment however has lost its significance and is no longer in widespread usage. On the other hand, Sindur or Red Lead, is a bright red-orange shade, which earlier had to be prepared is now readily available in markets across India due to its religious symbolism in the Hindu Traditions.

Similarly, Kumkum which is a dark-bright red pigment is available in various parts of India since it is a vital part of Indian believes and mythology. ‘Kumkum’ is applied by Indian women to signify their relationship with their partners and is essential in some parts of India for married women to apply it on their scalp and forehead.

GREEN PIGMENT: ‘‘danafarang’’ (Malachite)
  • The colour “green” which basically is a secondary pigment is made through the combination of the blue and green colours.
  • Though, there still are certain stones and minerals that give the exact green shade without mixing, one such stone is ‘danafarang’.
  • Fine quality and bright shaded ‘danafarang’ stones are picked up and grinded in a mortar and pestle till the time the colour starts floating and is clear.
  • Once grounded, this paste is then kept in a mortar at a higher stool and a pipe connecting this to another pestle on the ground siphons the pigment into the mortar which eventually eliminates the impurities that get sedimented down into the mortar, this process is continued until the perfect pigment without any impurities is attained.

Selu (Emerald Green) and Harabhata (Verdigris) are two other variants of Green Pigment which are used to attain different shades for the colour.

BLUE PIGMENTS – lazwardi’ (lapiz lazuli) (ultramarine blue) & ‘neel’ (Indigo)
The dark blue ‘ultramarine’ pigment that is extracted from the mineral stone lapis lazuli. ‘Neel’, indigo; is an organic pigment, which is extracted from a plant called ‘Indigo Tinctoria’.
  • For this, the lapiz stone is first heated in a pan and then soaked in vinegar to remove the impurities.
  • This is continued for half an hour and then the stone is grinded.
  • Then in a large pan all ingredients (beeswax, lapis powder) are added and a solid lump is formed.
  • This lump which is in a ball shape is left overnight in alkaline water under balanced conditions and is gently kneaded.
  • This leaves the water coloured into the shade of blue and letting it rest for some time results in the pigment settling down into the bottom of the pan and the impurities float on top of it.
  • After evaporating the water from the pan, the pigment can be extracted. This is the purest ultramarine blue pigment known as ‘lapiz Lazwardi’.
  • The preparation involves removing the scum that floats up to the top of the indigo vat while dying. This scum, known as ‘florey’, is collected, dried and made into pigment.
  • The ‘florey’ collected is dried and solidified and is mixed with a lye solution to make the pigment.
  • The solidified pigment which usually is in a cake form is then rubbed to a stone to reactivate the colour.

Asmani (Smalt) is a variant of blue which is also in widespread use for the creation of Indian Miniatures.

BLACK AND BROWN PIGMENTS: ‘‘kajal’’ (lampblack) and ‘‘dhumsa’’ (Sepia)
  • Both ‘kajal’ and ‘dhumsa’ are readily available in the markets of India. Various Ayurvedic Shops across Rajasthan keep ‘dhumsa’ and ‘kajal’ in their stocks due to their beneficial properties.
  • But ‘‘kajal’’ , particularly, can  also be prepared using lampblack, burn wood, incense and varnish.
  • ‘kajal’, holds a symbolic position in the Indian Tradition wherein girls and women apply it in their eyes to redefine their beauty and enhance the overall look of their eyes.
  • ‘Soorma’ is another variant for the colour black which gives a shining, steel grey colour. In India, ‘soorma’ is believed to have the properties to strengthen the eyesight and is even used by people to protect their children from evil powers, for these purposes, it is applied to infants in their eyes.


YELLOW PIGMENTS: ‘harital’ (Orpiment), ‘ramraj’ (Ochre), ‘goguli’ (Indian Yellow), ‘peori’ (Chrome and Lemon Yellow), ‘haldi’ (Turmeric), ‘kesar’ (Saffron)
  • ‘harital’
  • ‘ramraj’
  • ‘goguli’
  • The use of ‘harital’ dates back into the past but post 16th century, it is rarely used by the artists. This is because of its corrosive tendency due to which it corrodes the gum Arabic and becomes whitish yellow in colour.
  • This pigment is naturally occurring and requires little grinding and washing. Tibetians advise that this pigment should not be over ground as it starts to lose its yellowness if overdone.
  • Ramraj (Yellow Ochre) is the base pigment for the colour ‘gold’ and is ideal for decoration and jewellery work.
  • This Yellow Ochre shade is a naturally occurring mineral pigment and is found as a soft stone that requires minimal grinding efforts and washing  after which it is mixed with gum Arabic to make the pigment ready for use.
  • Amongst all, goguli is the most interesting pigment used in miniature paintings. Matching the soft texture of the gold pigment, this pigment’s preparation is still a mystery.
  • It is believed that this pigment is made from the urine of a cow. The process begins with feeding the cow with mango leaves during the hot months of May-June and the colour is cooked in the stomach of the cow itself.
  • Some chemical reactions take place and the resultant urine is collected and then concentrated to attain the pure goguli pigment.
  • It is also believed that this pigment is a gift from the cows and itself represents Lord Krishna, thus by using this colour in their painting, they instil the very essence of Krishna into their pigment.
  • Goguli is said to be shine like gold in the dark, very much like radium and this light is even connected to the divine light of Krishna by some people. It is even used as a ‘Shringar’ for Shrinathji in Nathdwara and is considered holy.

Other yellow pigments like Peori (Lemon and Chrome Yellows) are alchemical and are made from chemical processes whereas some other like haldi (turmeric) and kesar (Saffron) are plant extracts.

METAL PIGMENT: ‘sona’ (Gold)
  • One of the most exclusive pigment is the ‘gold’ pigment which holds great significance in the creation of Indian Miniatures and is being used since the 15th century.
  • Both gold leaves and gold pigment are used in Miniature Paintings, a 10g biscuit of gold is sufficient to make exactly 160 leaves of gold.
  • The creation of the gold pigment involves dissolving gold metal leaves into gum Arabic and then firmly hand grinding these leaves with the side of the palms.
  • The ‘thali’ (plate) is filled with water and gold settles down, while the excess water is pored away, the rest is strained through a muslin cloth.
  • Eventually, the leaves dissolve into the gum and what one gets is the perfect, glittery and lustrous gold pigment.
  • Gum Arabic is then added to the thick and refined gold pigment to make it ready for usage.

In the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan, one can easily find the stones required for the preparation of these mineral and stone colors at Tripolia Bazaar of the pink city at certain Ayurveda Shops as many of these stones hold important place and significance and are a crucial part of the Indian customs.