Miniature Paintings in India are a product of the Mughal rule and have a Persian influence. With the coming of the Mughals, the Persian miniature painters also came and settled. The various biographies and chronicles of the Monarchs required illustrations and narration of events. So an atelier was set up during Akbar’s reign and Indian artists trained under the Persian masters’ Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdus Samad. A number of religious and folk tales were also translated, including the Ramayana and Mahabharat, during this period. With the fall of the Mughal Dynasty and patronage, these artists migrated to the various Himalayan Kingdoms and developed a number of different Schools. Basohli Miniatures is one such important School of Painting in the Jammu region of India.
Artist Sohan Singh Billawria is a miniature artist of national repute. Sohan was born in Basohli town on the banks of river Ravi in Kathua District, State of Jammu and Kashmir, India. Basohli is a famous center for miniature paintings known as Basohli Paintings. Sohan is the face of these paintings. Though the colours are expensive and difficult to obtain, he works only with traditional material. Preparing each colour and refining it is time-consuming and a lot of hard work. No wonder most of the current artists have shifted to the use of commercial colours readily available off the counter. The procedure of painting is also much more laborious than acrylic or oils.
Unlike most traditional artists who follow their forefathers and learn traditional art, Sohan is a product of Chandigarh College of Art. He has a Master’s of Fine Art from Chandigarh University. Though he paints contemporary themes, his passion is the traditional miniatures. When he talks of his art practice you can feel his dedication to his muse. When he talks about his work his vocabulary is full of words like enjoyment, patience, love, and detailing. There is no hurry or worry to finish. It is just a labor of love. In the traditional style, besides painting traditional themes, he also makes contemporary ones. It is to his credit that he is able to use the language and material of the traditional style while being able to create contemporary paintings. It was interesting to know that while the other students went home for holidays he would spend that time learning the art of Miniature Painting with the Gurus who took him under their wings.
He has participated in many Art Camps, Workshops, and Exhibitions at the State and National levels. Recipient of the State Award and the National Award for miniature paintings, his works are a part of many private and corporate collections. Right now he is working on a series of the famous Nal Damyanti series. He feels that the education system should include some kind of art form in schools for our youngsters so that they can realize what goes into the making, and are able to appreciate our traditional arts and crafts.
Some of his work