Born in 1922 in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh, Raza moved to Mumbai where he graduated from the Sir J.J. School of Art in 1943 and became a founding member of the Progressive Artists' Group in 1947. In 1947-48, India gained independence, an event that gave these artists exceptional energy and a sense of great freedom.
Raza studied for two years at the Alliance française in Mumbai, and in 1950 was awarded a scholarship by the French government to study in France. From 1950 to 1953, he was a student at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He was awarded the Prix de la Critique in 1956. He has taken part in numerous solo and group exhibitions in France and abroad, including the Venice, São Paulo and Menton Biennales, and the New Delhi Triennial. In 1959 he married French artist Janine Mongillat.
He returned to India in 1959, 1968, 1976, 1978 and then every year from 1984, when the turning point in his work began. From 1947 to 2004, he presented his paintings in over fifty solo exhibitions in India, Europe and America, and received numerous awards. Retrospectives of his work have been held in New Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Bhopal, Cannes and, most recently, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In 1981, he was awarded the honorary title of Padma Shri by the President of the Republic of India.
"I believe that painting is not produced by man, by the painter, but that in the act of painting, there are higher forces that participate, that operate. Without them, there can be no great art. I learned the technique of painting, my apprenticeship lasted over twenty-five years, but there are still days when nothing comes. We have to slow down our intellectual functions to allow the inner light to blossom. We then reach a kind of second state in which reasoning becomes pointless, forms being as if dictated by heaven. I'm convinced that the best paintings are made in this state. Painting doesn't come from the intellect, it comes from the deep layers of life and an elevation in intuitive perception." S.H. Raza and Olivier Germain-Thomas, Mandalas, p. 21.