Then in the fifteenth century two things revolutionized the practice of painting in northern India; these were the rise of a vernacular literature and the introduction of paper. This literature came into existence because, as has been shown by Sir George Grierson, the Sanskrit tradition had been broken with the destruction of the medieval Hindu kingdoms, and the people were seeking their own religion and means of expression. They found a teacher in Ramananda, who early in the fifteenth century left his monastery to preach a new simple religion which could be understood by the common man, His followers were known as 'the Liberated' because they had thrown off the rigid doctrines of the orthodox Pandits. Their influence spread all over northern India, carried by itinerant poets who recited to the people in their own vernacular, stories from the legends of the Hindu mythology (Puranic). By the sixteenth century the leaders of the movement were poets rather than reformers. But the root of their influence lay in the appeal of the personal deity whom they celebrated, whether it were Rama as in the new version by Tulsl Das (the Ramayana, begun in 1574) or of Krishna as in the songs of Chaitanya (d.c. 1527) or of the Rajput princess Miran Bai.
The story of Rama and Sita had centuries before been carried to every corner of the world to which Indian influence reached, and had been everywhere pictured in stone and line: but its true popularity only came to it in the vernacular. Tulsl Das was looked up to by the greatest men of the time even at the court of the Mughal emperors and his Ramayana was known to everyone. Many large series of paintings were made to illustrate it.
Beside the epic cycle of the heroism of Rama and the purity of Sita, there developed at the same time the symbolic love story of Krishna and Radha as representing God and the soul: or the active and passive elements. The many songs on this theme were on everyone's lips until their persons were accepted as the patterns of the ideal hero and heroine. Consequently in northern India in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it is not generally the stories of Krishna's pranks as a child (afterwards so favourite a theme with the Pahari artists), as much as his love for Radha, anatomized in a medieval way which found expression in so many pictures and so many poems. For they run parallel: the picture no more illustrates the verse than the verse describes the picture: both express the sentiment (rasa) of the moment chosen. Such subjects were systematized, especially by the poet Kesava Das of Orchha in Bundelkhand, in his Rasikapriya (finished in 1591). A nearly contemporary manuscript with illustrations has survived till today. The author's patron was Raja Indarjit Singh, the Bundela ruler of Orchha, and it has been suggested that the manuscript was copied in Bundelkhand, but of this there is no evidence; for Kesava Das had a high reputation all over northern India.
The miniatures in this manuscript, forty-four of which are known, mostly now preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, have the cool colouring and preference for full profile which are typical of the Mughal school at the beginning of Jahangir's reign (1605-27), but retain the simple compositions on a single plane which are characteristic of the western Indian medieval school principally known to us through the considerable body of Jain manuscript illustrations from Gujarat.
Several scholars in India and the West have made considerable study of this Gujarati school and have published enough examples to give a good idea of its character, range and development from the early palm leaves of the first half of the twelfth century to its extinction in the Mughal period. It showed from the beginning a linear wiriness and vigour which was developed with great virtuosity, fine draughtsmanship which was combined rather strangely with bold massing of vibrant colours, red, blue and gold, and with highly decorative designs in clothes ill and other textiles. AH this colour and pattern came, like the paper, from Persia by the sea trade on which the merchants and ship builders of Gujarat grew rich. This school was at its height about the middle of the fifteenth century but it survived so strongly into the Mughal period that Akbar found the best of the artists recruited to his library staff to be Gujaratis. Special economic conditions rather than any religious movement account for the relatively large number of late medieval illuminated manuscripts from Gujarat, namely, the existence of a wealthy middle class as patrons and the constant intercourse by trade with Persia through the ports of Broach, supplying examples of Persian manuscripts. Although the manuscripts were still made in the oblong shape of the palm leaf and vestiges of the three holes through which binding cords passed remained in decorative red spots, the colouring was much influenced by the connection with Persia.