Made by the Naqash community of Nirmal and Hyderabad in Telangana, Nirmal paintings are gold-flecked artworks created on lacquered boards of wood. Nirmal painting dates back to the fourteenth century and received generous patronage from the Kakatiya dynasty, the Mughal empire as well as the Nizam of Hyderabad. The paintings are known for their glossy sheen and naturalistic style, which draws from a range of influences including Ajanta cave art, and Mughal and Pahari miniature paintings.
A typical Nirmal painting usually features one or two figures rendered in great detail against a black background, along with local flora and fauna. Many of the scenes depicted draw from Hindu epics such as the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. Surviving examples of older Nirmal paintings show a strong influence of miniature painting, which is likely to have arrived in the region through the Mughals in the seventeenth century. Previously, when the region was under the rule of the Kakatiyas, the Ajanta cave paintings served as a source of inspiration.
The frame and board of Nirmal paintings were originally made from the wood of the Tella Poniki or white sander tree, but due to the dwindling population of this species, artisans have switched to Indian teak wood. The frame is made in a portrait orientation with dimensions of 8 x 11, 17 x 11 or 24 x 16 inches. After it is built and sanded smooth, the frame is given five to six coats of lappa paint to absorb any moisture from the wood and protect it from rotting in the future. The base for the painting is made from the same wood, given nine to ten coats of lappa and smoothed out before the planned image is traced on the surface using chalk. Traditionally, coloured stones collected from the banks of the Godavari river were used to make natural pigments for painting, but today these have been replaced by commercially available oil or acrylic paints. Traditionally, the pigments were ground down and applied with a squirrel hair brush. After the colours are applied, gold paint is added strategically to give the paintings their luminosity. The painting is then varnished and sealed with a clear spray.
The shine and surface treatment characteristic of Nirmal painting is also applied to other objects produced by Naqash artisans, namely figurines and furniture. The Nizam of Hyderabad is known to have commissioned a large number of furniture pieces from Nirmal artisans over the years, and many artisans were invited to set up workshops at Hyderabad in the 1950s.
In more recent years, however, both the demand and production of Nirmal crafts has seen a decline, with fewer artisans joining the practice due to the lack of financial stability. To remedy this, an artisan-run organisation known as the Nirmal Toys and Arts Industries Cooperative Society Ltd. was established under which each artisan makes a particular type of product. These products are sold either directly by the co-operative or through government-run stores. In 2009, Nirmal paintings and toys were granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag by the Indian government.
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