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Pahari school of paintings - An art of Himalayan range

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 2:46 AM
The style of painting which flourished in Basohli, Jammu, Garhwal, Chamba, Kangra, Guler and Mandi in the hilly areas in the northwest has been termed the Pahari school. The art of miniature painting in the Punjab hills known as Pahari painting was influenced to some extent by the Mughal painting of Aurangzeb’s period. Rajput paintings in the region of the Punjab Hill states of North India, in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and few areas in erstwhile Pakistan are known as Pahari paintings. Scholars have categorized Pahari paintings on the basis of geography and family style. These paintings developed and flourished during the period of 17th to 19th century under the patronage of Rajput kings. Indian Pahari paintings have been made mostly in miniature forms. 

Developed in the 18th century, this style is an eternal legacy of the Rajasthani style. With the eclipse of Mughal art some artists from the Mughal court were sheltered by Rajput royalty. Under the impact of environment the paintings they produced acquired the name of new Pahari school. Pahari painting, like the earlier Rajasthani style, adopted the same parameters for drawings of sentiment and artistic portrayal. On the basis of expressing different moods of Radha-Krishna many paintings were drawn in the Pahari style. 

Paintings executed on the basis of texts like Bhagwad-Purana, Geet-Govind, Sursagar, Rasikpriya, Bihari-Satsai, nayika-bheda and rag-ragini are the main heritage of the Kangra and Basohli styles. In the Basohli style, like the Mewar style, indicative colors and folk art predominate. In the Pahari school of paintings, expression of sentiment, rhythm in line and color and diversity of subject matter are unique in the Kangra style. From the point of view of development of art, the contribution of Raja Sansar Chand (1775-1783) was invaluable. In respect of steadiness of brush, selecting colors, pleasing figures of males and females, drawing of nature in seven colors, diversity in animals and birds and expression of sentiment, the Kangra style is much renowned. Application of seven colors and beauty prevalent in Bundi and Kishangarh styles is particularly noticeable in the Kangra style. This similarity in the Pahari and Rajasthani schools are two strains of the traditions of Indian paintings. 

Pahari paintings have been widely influenced by the Rajput paintings, because of the family relations of the Pahari rulers with royal court at Rajasthan. Pahari Paintings are different from other types of Indian folk paintings because they use shading extensively. This gives them a sense of depth which most other folk paintings lack. One of the most extensive and exquisite collections of Pahari miniatures may be found in the Bhuri Singh Musuem in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh.

The art of miniature painting in the Punjab hills known as Pahari punting was influenced to some extent by the Mughal painting of Aurangzeb's periods as well as paintings from Nepal, probably via Kashmir, particularly in its stylized tree forms. Pahari paintings had its beginning under the ruler Kripal Pal of Basohli (1678-1731), a literary minded ruler who was also a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. This school has many styles and sub-styles as these paintings developed at various centers such as Basohli, Guler, Chamba, Tehri, Garhwal, Nurpur, Mankot, Mandi, Kullu, Bilaspur etc. under the patronage of their respective rulers. 

Lord Krishna’s legend was a very popular subject for the Pahari painters. Episodes and scenes from lord Krishna's life were illustrated against the background of beautiful Pahari backgrounds. Besides themes taken from mythological legends and epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, the Krishna Lila and the Gita-Govinda, some very interesting paintings of Devi were also painted. Nayaka-Nayika (heroes-heroines) themes, portraits, huntings scenes, toilet scenes and festivals such as Holi, love stories namely Madhu Malti and Nala - Damyanti were also frequently illustrated. 

Both male and female costumes in Pahari paintings were influenced by the fashions adopted at the Mughal court from time to time. Nevertheless, there were also distinctive Pahari costumes, particularly those worn by females and they are quite visible in these paintings. The Basohli School is the oldest one amongst Pahari Schools in the hill area. There is no evidence of any Pahari painting earlier than the reign of Kripal Pal. The distinctive style of Basohli with its primitive vitality emerged in the last quarter of the 18th century under Raja Kripal Pal. It is characterized by vivid and bold colors. Faces in the early Basohli paintings are oval in shape with receding foreheads and large expressive eyes like lotus petals.

The landscape is stylized and trees are often depicted in circular form. The composition is simple but unique and attractive. Sometimes, a section and figures of the architecture are placed separately into a square frame indicating a true understanding of space sense. The Basohli Style spread over the neighboring states remained in vogue till the middle of the 18th century. A popular theme in Basohli painting particularly during the reign of Kripal Pal was the Rasamanjari written by the poet Bhanu Datta. Bhanu Datta was a Maithili Brahmin, who lived in the 16th century in an area called Tirhut in Bihar. A Basohli Rasamanjari series dated 1693 is a landmark. It was illustrated by Devidas, a local painter of Basholi belonging to the Tarkhan community, which produced many skilled artisans. Amongst other styles of Pahari painting, those of Guler and Kangra, are marked by far more naturalistic treatment of figures and landscapes than seen in Basohli paintings. The figures which are well-modelled and naturalistic are painted in soft and harmonious colors. Whereas paintings of Garhwal school, developed from the Kangra style, show an extensive use of leafless trees, the Kullu Style has folk elements with squarish and somewhat ungainly figures. 


The Nurpur paintings are characterized by tall women who have long limbs particularly below the waist and are always elegantly attired. The Chamba Style is similar to that of Guler paintings as several artists of this school came from Guler. In Mandi School, we again find some folk elements particularly in the work done during the reign of Raja Shamsher Singh. While Bilaspur also had a style of its own, which extended to Sirmur, the work at Jammu was dominated by the masterly and expressive draughtsmanship of the Nainsukh whose patron was Raja Balwant Singh of Jammu, who is portrayed extensively in Nainsukh paintings in all walks of life. Nainsukh was the master-artist of Jammu school just as his elder brother Manak was of Guler school. Both were sons of Pandit Sen of Guler. 

The family of Pandit Sen is known for a number of well-known artists who worked in various Pahari states developing their own styles. After the death of Govardhan Chand of Guler in 1773, Manak, his two sons Kaushala and Paltu and his nephew Godhu worked at the court of his successor Prakash Chand till circa A.D. 1785. Prakash Chand, a great lover of arts had spent so lavishly by that time that he became a bankrupt. Thereafter, Manak with his sons and nephew joined the court of Raja Sansar Chand, paramount ruler of the hills, and painted there five sets of paintings during 1785 and 1795. They are: the famous Bhagavat Purana, beautiful Ramayana series, a Satsai series painted as we know by Paltu, a Ragamala now in the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi and a Baramasa in the possession of the descendants of Sansar Chand (Lambagaon family). The style of these sets as the work of Manak, his sons and nephew is remarkable and these sets are amongst the greatest achievements of Pahari paintings

The processes and techniques followed by the artists were almost uniform, simple and indigenous. Handmade paper was mainly used as the base of the paintings. Thin sheets of paper, were joined together to get the requisite thickness, on which the outline was drawn in the light reddish brown or grey-black color. A thin transparent white coating was applied to the paper. Thereafter, a final drawing was made over the white coating and then the colors were filled in. The pigments were obtained from minerals and vegetables which were suspended in water with gum, for the latter acted as a binding medium. Squirrel and camel hair were used in brushes. Quite often, the painting was burnished, with glass or agate or stone from the river Beat called 'Golla' to obtain the quality of brightness.

The Pahari rulers often visited the courts of the Mughal rulers. They were influenced by their traditions and tastes and this Mughal influence is visible in their paintings. For instance, the translucent clothing of the women and men depicted in the paintings is a Mughlai feature. The paintings are also marked by features characteristic of Rajasthani and Malwa paintings.All paintings are courtesy of Art of  Legend India.
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