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Chamba Paintings - Style of Hilly area Paintings

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 3:01 AM
Chamba is a city in Northwestern Himachal Pradesh State. It is an important centre of Pahari painting, which is situated in the Ravi Valley in the heart of the Himalaya Mountains. It derived its name from a princess and a tree with fragrant golden flowers champaka or chamba as it is known in the hills. It was a sacred tree of the Hindus and is grown in temple gardens. It was once the seat of an ancient Hindu kingdom, founded in the middle of the sixth century, which continued its rule unaffected by the vicissitudes that overtook the kingdoms in the plains of Northern India.

The town of Chamba derived its name from Champavati, a daughter of Raja Sahila Varman (920 A.D.). Champavati happened to see the plateau on which the town now stands. A flat piece of land in the hills is indeed a rarity, and the Raja's daughter took a fancy to the site and asked her father to build a town upon it. But this piece of land had been earlier gifted to Brahmins, who were unwilling to part with it. Ultimately a deal was struck and the Raja agreed to give them eight copper coins in perpetuity on the occasion of every marriage in the family. On this condition the land was given, and the town was built, and named Champa, after Champavati. 

Like most hill capitals, Chamba has a large ground. The most outstanding buildings are the palaces of the Raja. Of these the Rang Mahal (Painted Palace), which looks like a feudal castle is the most interesting. It was built by Raja Umed Singh in the mid 18th century. There is one room whose walls are painted with murals depicting episodes from the Ramayana and the Bhagavata Purana in bright red and blue. Raj Singh (1714-1794) was one of the most renowned rulers of Chamba, and the rise of painting in the Guler-Chamba style was due to his patronage.

There are a number of portraits of Raj Singh which indicate that he was a patron of art. After the demise of Raj Singh, patronage of painting was continued by his son and successor Jit Singh (1794-1808). His artists were Harkhu and Chhaju, sons of Nikka, who painted Nayika and Baramasa paintings of haunting beauty. Jit Singh died in 1808 and his successor was a minor son Charhat Singh (1808-1844). The paintings of Charhat Singh period are dull and crude. It is an art which is no longer felt, hence decadent. The line is shaky and lacks the confidence, which the artists of the previous generation displayed in their masterly works. It appears an ageing art. There was a brief revival of painting during the rule of Sri Singh (1844-1871) by an artist Tara Singh who painted a Ramayana series. Tara Singh died in 1871 and with him the old art of miniature painting came to an end at Chamba. 

Chamba paintings are quite similar in appearance to Mughal style of paintings, with strong influences of Deccan and Gujarat style also. The Chamba paintings are very authentic and informative social documents of the history of those times. The Chamba paintings also derived inspiration from natural surroundings and are remarkable in their composition. The Chamba style is similar to that of Guler paintings as numerous artists of this school came from Guler. 

The Chamba rulers were great patrons of arts and culture, and the Museum houses outstanding collections of Guler-Kangra style Paintings. Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba is named after the illustrious King Raja Bhuri, who had contributed his family compilation of paintings to the museum. 

The paintings of Chamba encompass both miniatures and murals. Chamba is famous for the miniature Pahari paintings. Raja Udai Singh and Raja Jai Singh patronized this school of painting. During the reign of Raja Charhat Singh, this school of art got a further boost from folk art as the common people adopted the form.

Mughal influence is also discerned in these paintings. The themes used in this style of paintings were religious, such as legends of Radha Krishna, lord Shiva-Parvati, Rama Darbar, Yashoda and Krishna etc. Romantic ambiences of the rainy season in Chamba have also been painted in various moods and styles, in Basholi colors by the artists of Pahari miniature art.All paintings are courtesy of Art of Legend India.

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