When Akbar took over the Mughal throne in 1556, he was still a 14-year-old boy. The young emperor apparently had such a fascination for intricately illustrated stories that he recruited about a hundred Indian artists to join the imperial atelier. Together with a group of Iranian artists inherited from his father Humayun, the expanded atelier under Akbar’s close supervision mastered the delicate art of the Mughal miniatures.
Centuries later, the fine lines and shapely forms of Mughal miniature paintings are being found in a new avatar: Adult colouring books.
Last week, for instance, Good Earth, a chain of upmarket lifestyle stores based in Mumbai, launched an adult colouring book that borrows heavily on Mughal motifs.
“I have a personal and instinctive leaning towards the Mughal style which represents the finest amalgam of Persian, central Asian and indigenous Indian style,” Anita Lal, founder and creative director at Good Earth, said in a statement.
“Hindu, Jain and Rajput artists received imperial patronage along with Persian and Turkish artists from the time of Akbar,” she added. “The result was the evolution of a syncretic style of refined aesthetic luxury that is considered the finest in the world.”
Resultantly, the 100 pages of Bagh-e-Bahar—Persian for “A garden in bloom”—is replete with intricate floral decorations, bulbous domes, the occasional courtiers and even an elephant or two. Interspersed are quotes from the 13th-century Persian poet and scholar Rumi.
Such a well-crafted product is perhaps also a signal of the coming of adult colouring books in India, a global publishing trend that partly helped lift the sales of print books by 2% last year. On Amazon, adult colour books were among the bestsellers in 2015, and Google searches for the stuff has spiked lately.
In all, it has become quite a phenomenon in the US, as Thu-Huong Ha wrote in Quartz last month:
In a very short time, colouring has proven surprisingly addictive for America’s stressed, anxious, and overworked. Therapeutic without being therapy, meditative without being meditation, creative without being creation, artsy without being art, the supposedly soothing activity has also become a big business—in 2015 alone, US sales of colouring books shot up from 1 to 12 million units.
Back in India, demand seems to have shot up since early 2016. In the southern city of Bengaluru, collections of adult colouring books have started swelling in bookstores.
“I sell anywhere between 40-50 books in a good week,” said Krishna, who owns Bengaluru’s Bookworm bookstore.
Publishers of these books—which include Bloomsbury India, Hachette India, and Penguin—turned up at his bookstore some six months ago, hawking colouring books as an antidote to stress, Krishna added.
In the last few months, 27-year-old Shruti Thiagarajan, too, has had a reintroduction to colouring books.
An engineer based in Bengaluru, she picked up a few books after a couple of random Google searches. ”As a kid I always liked to colour,” said Thiagarajan, who confesses that even though she isn’t too artistically inclined, the books helped her relax.
“The patterns are pretty intricate,” she added, “It keeps you focused too, so it helps divert your attention from your stress.”