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Rajput Paintings – The splendour of Rajashtan art

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 4:09 AM
Art is the unique example of expressing a cultured way of life. The experience of joy relating to the visible or invisible physical or astral body or sentiments being in real form, appear before human beings in expressive forms. That expression is termed as art. The word ‘kala’ is derived from Sanskrit. It has been used in Sanskrit literature in numerous interpretations, in which the 16th part of a principal object, “a part of time”, the expected intelligence in performing any task deserves special mention. Before the advent of Bharat muni, kala had been applied in almost all other acts of intelligence except poetry and was a special world for such work of the intellect. Any successful business regarding life had ever been placed in the category of art. 

Rajput painting, also known as Rajasthani Painting, is a style of Indian paintings developed and flourished during the 18th century in the royal courts of Rajasthan. Rajasthan has played a significant role in the growth of Indian art. Like other fine arts, paintings flourished widely in this region and established a distinct form called Rajasthani Paintings. Because of its charming, folk artistic and feudalistic perspectives, many styles of paintings developed here, among them the Mewar, Bundi and kishangarh schools acquired world wide acclaim. Rajasthani paintings are an integral part of ancient Indian paintings. From the point of view of artistic and geographical development, Rajasthani Paintings are classified in four sections- the Mewar School, the Marwar School, the Hadoti School and the Dhundar School. Among these four schools numerous styles and sub styles have flourished. Details regarding the place of birth of Rajasthani painting, and the time and history of circumstances concerning its development, are not yet known. 

Rajput painting originated in the royal states of Rajasthan, somewhere around the late 16th and early 17th century. The Mughals ruled almost all the princely states of Rajasthan at that time and because of this, most of the schools of Rajput Painting in India reflect strong Mughal influence. Each of the Rajput kingdoms evolved a distinctive style. Rajput paintings depict a number of themes, events of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, lord Krishna' life etc. 

Schools of Rajput Painting
Starting from the 16th century, when the Rajput Painting originated, numerous schools emerged, including:
   Mewar School of paintings
   Hadoti School of paintings
   Kishangarh School of paintings
   Dhundar School of paintings

Mewar School of paintings
From the point of view of historical traditions in Rajasthani painting the Mewar School occupies first place. The artistic heritage of Medpat, the land of Guhil rulers, was a perennial source of inspiration for ancient and other schools of art. Paintings of Mewar earned wide publicity among other styles and substyles, and paintings of the Udaipur, Nathdwara and Devgarh styles are immortal legacies of this school. The preliminary and original form of Rajasthani painting, which had emerged from a synthesis, is visible in the Mewar school. Some artists and Guhil rulers of Vallabhipur came to Mewar and applied the Ajanta traditions with tremendous success. This tradition, after having assimilated local features, maintained its original identity and was known as the Mewar School of painting

When did the Mewar school of Indian painting come into existence? Connoisseurs of art have speculated on this point as great centers of art like Chavand and Chittor had time and again been devastated in numerous onslaughts by enemies. Hence even today the history of Mewar is shrouded in ignorance. King Rana Kumbha was a keen student of architecture, literature, music and the other arts. That this ruler was indifferent to painting is a view that does not seem acceptable, but the history of painting in the 15th century remains in oblivion. 

Many pictorial texts painted in the Mewar style in the middle of the 17th century and in the reign of Maharana Jagat Singh (1628-52) are available. Because of the growth of the Vallabha sect in Rajasthan, the Radha-Krishna Lila was the main contribution of the Mewar style. Hence Bhagwad-Purana was the main subject of Mewar paintings. In the text of Bhagwad-Purana painted by Sahabadi (1648) fine examples of the Mewar style are available.

Nathdwara Substyle
At Nathdwara, the installation of Lord Shri Nathji gave rise to fresh dimensions in art. During the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the Mewar painting, imbibing the Brij and Mughal influences, continued to manifest its rise and fall through epic-painting, wall-painting and miniature paintings. A distinct Mewar style of painting is termed Nathdwara substyle. To avoid the oppression of Aurangzeb, the image of Shri Nathji installed at Govardhan was brought to Rajasthan and installed at Nathdwara in 1670. Along with Acharya Gopi Nathji, many artists endowed with great religious fervour came here and created many beautiful paintings of Lord Shri Nathji. Depiction of natural scenery from the 18th century to this date is a distinct feature of the Nathdwara style. The Nathdwara style continued to achieve artistic beauty.

Devgarh Substyle
The Mewar School has been the chief and the basic school of Rajasthani paintings, and such it has also influenced its nearby Thikanas in the term of drawing. Located near the Marwar border, Devgarh Thikana was established by Rawat Dwarkadas Chudawat in 1680 during the reign of Maharana Jaisingh (1680-1698). Despite its adherence to the Mewar painting tradition, the Devgarh painting-style displays naturally the impact of Marwar. This style has acquired distinctiveness on account of the use of thick and well-balanced lines, abundance of green and yellow colors. 

Among the Devgarh painters, Bagata (1769-1820) and Kanwala (1771-1810) were two distinguished artists. Kanwala II (1800-1850), Chaukha and Baij Nath (1770-1830) following in the footsteps of their above illustrious predecessors, enriched the Devgarh substyle by their valuable contribution.

Marwar School of paintings
Each Rajasthani school of painting has its distinct and unique style whilst representing the hills, colors and palaces of Rajasthan. After the Mewar School, the grandeur of the Marwar School of painting is well expressed in the Jodhpur style, the Bikaner style and the world famed Kishangarh style as well as in the sub styles of Jaisalmer, Naugore, Sirohi and Ajmer. The Marwar School of painting was a prominent style of miniature painting, during 16th century in Rajasthan. This style of painting usually dealt with the court life. In the Marwar Paintings, festivals, ceremonies, elephant fights and hunting expeditions are generally portrayed. The themes also included scenes borrowed from Lord Krishna’s life. Other popular themes were ‘Raagmala’ and ‘Gita Govinda.’

Jodhpur Style
Jodhpur has a very strong folk tradition and here the figures are mainly robust warriors and dainty women. Paintings of the legendary lovers like Dhola-Maru on camelback, hunting scenes which included innumerable horses and elephants dominate the paintings of the Marwar region. Many paintings of the early 17th century belong to the Jodhpur style, and even though highly influenced by the Mewari style possess their original character. 

 The Jodhpur style is the principal style of the Marwar School, but even today a large number of paintings in this style are not available and whatever is available belongs to the early period of 19th century. Despite being influenced by the Mewar School, the Jodhpur style has its own striking feature and as a result its separate constitution comes to light. Males in this style are stoutly built and tall. Their curved mustaches, touching their throats and dress decorated with royal splendor are very impressive. 

Bikaner Style

The style of the paintings developed has more Mughal elements than other schools of Rajasthani paintings. Apart from the Mughal style, the paintings of Bikaner also reflect marked influence of Deccan paintings. Influenced by the surroundings, Bikaner style paintings have their own unique style the hills and valleys, deserts, places and forts, gardens, court scenes, religious processions and vignettes from the life of Lord Krishna are recurrent themes of these paintings. During the late 18th century paintings in Bikaner grew slightly conservative and embraced the flatness and abstractions of the typically Rajasthani style.

Early paintings in the Bikaner style may be traced to the pictorial Bhagwad Purana painted in the time of Rai Singh (1571-1591). He himself compiled the Rai Singh Mahotsav and Jyotish Ratnak texts. The impact of the Jain school is easily discernible in the early paintings of Bikaner. The Mughal paintings of this region distinctly depict this mutual influence. Maharana Rai Singh married Jasmade, daughter of Maharana Udai Singh (1537-1572). His second marriage took place in Jaisalmer in 1592, hence Bhagwad Puran in Bikaner style, Madhavanal Kamkalanda (1603) compiled and painted for Kunhar Raj of Jaisalmer, and Chor Panchashika (1540) compiled by Bilhan in the Mewar style and Rag-Mala (1605) painted by Nasir Di exhibit great similarity from the angles of techniques and selection of colors. 


Because of Bikaner state's close ties with the Mughal court all salient characteristics of the Mughal style are quite visible in early paintings of the Bikaner style. Many critics therefore term it a provincial Mughal style. But drawings of slim and attractive females with eyes resembling those of deer, the frequent application of blue, green and red colors, turbans of the style of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb along with the high turbans of Marwari fashion, camels, deer and the Bikaneri style of living and the impact of Rajput culture make us believe it is a distinct style.

Kishangarh Style
Kishangarh Painting emerged as a distinctive style in the middle of 18th century under the patronage of Maharaja Savant Singh. Kishangarh is the birth place of the Kishangarh style of paintings, which is known for the beautiful depiction of a courtesan known as Bani Thani. Bani Thani was probably a mistress of Maharaja Savant Singh and a singer and a poet. Bani Thani paintings were characterized by exaggerated features long necks, large almond-shaped eyes, long fingers and the use of subdued colors. Kishangarh style of paintings was basically a fusion of Mughal and regional style. The most common theme of this style consisted of the depiction of the love between lord Krishna and Radha. With the demise of Maharaja Savant Singh and his leading painters, this school lost its glory and started breaking down. 

Kishangarh style of painting occupies a significant position in relation to Rajasthani paintings. Kishangarh state was founded by the eighth son of Raja Udai Singh of the Rathore dynasty of Jodhpur state in 1609. Closely connected with Jodhpur state and the Mughal court, the rulers of that state were conversant with the royal culture and sophisticated way of living. In the developed state of the Marwar School the Kishangarh style had acquired its unique and glorious position in the realm of Rajasthani painting after having ascended to the pinnacle of glory in the time of Maharaja Savant Singh. Bhavani Das was a renowned painter who developed a style that bloomed during the reign of Maharaja Savant Singh (1748-1764 AD). 

The Kishangarh style has its own combination of colors. To express tender sentiments of Radha-Krishna artists often used light colors. The principal colors were white, rose, cream and deep red. The Kishangarh style possesses some distinct features which maintain its unique identity. Drawings of limbs of males and females, colorful paintings of nature, illustrations of themes connected with the Radha-Krishna cult are some distinct features of this style. Male figures are tall, of attractive physique with blue aura-like bunch as of hair, elevated turbans, with strings of pearls in white or blue, symmetrically developed forehead, thin lips and wide and attractive eyes stretched to the ears like khanjan birds are some unique features of the Kishangarh style. Female figures are fair in complexion, and their wide eyes are adorned with kohl. The natural perspective of Kishangarh and Roopangarh was endowed with lakes, mountains, gardens and various birds. 

By and by the eternal quality of the Kishangarh style began to lose its distinct character. Its deterioration began to be visible in paintings in the reign of Prithvi Singh (1840-1880). After this period, the Kishangarh style was lost in oblivion.

Hadoti School of Paintings
The role and influence of the rulers of the Chauhan dynasty were confined to the regions of Bundi, Kota and Jhalawar. Hence this area has been termed the Hadoti region. This area was a treasury of art. The oldest specimens of prehistoric rock paintings in Rajasthan are in the caves on the banks of the ChambaI river near Kota. Its temple architecture and iconography were famous from ancient times. Many artistic temples located at Kansua, Badoli and Ramgarh testify to this fact. The Hadoti paintings are often regarded as one of the highest quality of paintings in the Rajput style.

Bundi Style Paintings
The style of painting that flourished when Bundi was ruled by Hada Rajputs is broadly known as the Bundi style. The natural beauty of this place comprising mountains covered with luxuriant vegetation, lakes, streams and dense forests greatly influenced artists. 

No definite dates are available regarding the origin of the Bundi style, but in the middle of the 18th century facts about its historical background were known. In the beginning of the 17th century this style, a sub-branch of the Mewar School influenced by the Mughal style and endowed with original qualities, flourished under the patronage of art-loving kings. The Bundi style, based upon traditional poetry and endowed with rich colors and attractive forms, and physical structures reached its zenith. In the middle of the 18th century the style took a new turn in the period of Raja Umaid Singh (1748-1771), in which the manifold diversities of nature and the physical beauty of nayak-nayika, the firmness of brush and charm of conception are easily visible. This style was greatly influenced by the MughaI style.

In the early Bundi style the shape of the limbs of nayak-nayika and the arrangement of colors resemble those of the Mewar School. Paintings of the 17th century were greatly influenced by the southern style in representing female faces, foliage of trees, starry skies. In the Bundi style tall human figures with slim and graceful bodies are striking qualities. Women have deep red lips, small noses, round faces and small chins.
One of the earliest examples of the Bundi Paintings is the Chunar Ragamala painted in 1561. The painting showed marked influence of the Mughal style. The development of the Bundi School in the early 17th century is unclear but isolated examples of creative brilliance reveal the ongoing development of Bundi style. Rag-ragini, nayika-bhed, Barah-masa, Krishna-Lila, royal court, festivals, wars are the major themes of the Bundi style. Because of the predominance of the Vallabha sect pictures of Krishna-Lila were mainly painted.

Kota style paintings
The Kota style is considered a sub branch of Bundi style. The Kota style paintings, some of which are drawn on the walls of Kota's palaces, depict nature in all her glory. The Kota painters also drew hunting scenes and beautiful women. These paintings look very natural in their appearance.

During the reign of Jagat Singh (1658-84) portraitures were made that employed vibrant colors and bold lines. Under the reign of Arjun Singh (1720-23), a style emerged where a male was depicted with a long hooked nose. In the 18th century, Kota became popular for its superb hunting scenes, Ragamalas and portraits that often bore high documentary value. In the 19th century during the reign of Ram Singh II (1827-66), the Kota paintings underwent revival. He commissioned number of paintings depicting scenes of worship, hunting, durbar and processions. 

The Kota style has some characteristics of the Bundi style, but also its own distinct features. Stout bodies, shining faces, bulging eyes are special features of the Kota style. Application of green, red and golden colors in Kota style painting is very pleasing to see. Animals painted in this style include deer, tiger, lion and pig.

Dhundar school of Paintings
In ancient times, the regions in and around Jaipur were known as Dhundar. Most parts of Alwar, Jaipur, and Shekhawati are still called Dhundar Pradesh. Under the banner of Dhundar Pradesh, we may study the Amber, Jaipur, Alwar and Shekhawati styles. The Dhundar style of paintings had continued its pace of development through various new forms from time to time. The Dhundar School of paintings was much renowned for its exclusive folk art paintings. This painting style was developed by the Hada Rajput rulers in the Bundi and Kota regions. The miniature paintings of these two centers were excellent creations and they portray fine-looking women with round faces, large eyes, long neck and pointed nose. The haunting activities of the erstwhile Raja's and Maharaja's are depicted in these paintings.

Amber style paintings
The Amber style is the rich heritage of the Rajas (kings) of the Kachchava and Kush dynasties. In the 10th-1lth centuries they had a large kingdom around Gwalior. Ancient specimens of the Amber style of painting are not available. The oldest available pieces of this style are frescoes drawn around 1600-1614 upon cenotaphs in Amber. Besides the cenotaphs of Amber, frescoes in the Amber style may be noticed in the so- called Mughal garden of Bairath, in which themes like raag-ragini, Krishna-Lila, nayika-bhed, elephant riding, horse riding and camel riding were painted. 

The paintings of Amber style show strong Mughal influence. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries numerous works of art were produced that depicted episodes from the life of lord Krishna. The Amber style possesses its own characteristics, in which the structure of bodies of both male and female has been much influenced by Rajasthani folk art. Because of their kinship with the Mughals, mutual cultural exchange was natural. Hence the impact of ornamented dresses belonging to the periods of Akbar and Jahangir is visible. Poor quality of line is seen in the Apbhransh style. The Amber style has its own constitution quite visible in the some pictorial texts.

Jaipur Style paintings
Rajasthan is famous for its paintings, art and folk dances. Jaipur, because of its architectural charm, pleasant combination of colors and specially laid out plan, is called the Pink City of India. Jaipur and surrounding regions of Alwar and Tonk are famous for the Jaipur style paintings that have a substantial Mughal element. The Jaipur style has inherited the Amber style as a cultural legacy. This School came into light in 18th century A.D. and had a great effect of Mugal School. Sawai Jai Singh ruled in Jaipur from 1613-1743, he was a great lover of art. 

In the time of Sawai Jai Singh’s son, Ishwari Singh, Sahib Ram emerged as a talented artist. He painted a portrait of Raja Ishwari Singh with the help of Chandras, which has been recognized as of high quality. Another popular artist of his period was Lall Chittara, who had painted many pictures depicting animals and birds in struggles. In the reign of Sawai Madho Singh I (1751-1767), Sahib Ram earned the reputation of being the seasoned artist. He painted large sized portraits with Ramji Dass and Govindji, two more artists’ while Lall Chittara continued to paint various royal sports. In the paintings of this age the Mughal influence began to wane and pure Rajput style showed signs of replacing it. 

The Jaipur style was not confined to the royal court but flourished and developed at the adjoining centers belonging to feudal lords related to the Jaipur family. From time to time pictures had been painted at Iserda, Siwar, Jhillaya, Chommu, Malpura and Samod. Fresco tradition is the main feature of the Jaipur style. Artists in the Jaipur style applied deep reds in the drawings margins on paintings. White, red, yellow were extensively utilized. In the paintings of the Jaipur style men and women appear in proportion. Male figures have clean and attractive faces. Wealthy men are depicted wearing turban, kurta, pyjama, belt and shoes in such paintings. 

Female figures are depicted with large eyes, bunch of long hair, stout physique and pleasant mood. Like other Rajasthani styles, in this style too female figures adorned with various ornaments like necklaces, anklets, bangles, earrings etc.were shown. Lord Krishna and Radha, Rajput princes, fierce camel fights, Pomp and ceremony of the Mughal court, the Bhagwat Purana, the Ramayana and the Mahabharat are some of the favorite themes of Jaipur style paintings.

Shekhawati Style Paintings
The havelis of Shekhawati are known the world over for their wall paintings. The themes of these frescoes depict gods, kings, flowers and scenes from daily life. Shekhawati is the only place in India where the walls have always been used as a canvas. There is not a single town in Shekhawati where havelis and temples have not been decorated with paintings. 

The mansions built by the rich men of the region feature exquisite paintings that decorate their walls, doors and interiors. Shekhawati paintings have gained popularity over the years and can be found in antique shops all over India. The Shekhawati paintings depict a vast range of traditional and modern themes. The technique of Fresco painting in Shekhawati was neither primitive nor unique to the area. Instead it resembles closely the Italian Fresco technique developed around the 14th century. In Shekhawati, the fresco painters were called Chiteras and belonged to the caste of Kumhars (Potters). 

The salient features of the Shekhawati Style are as follows-
1. Drawings of elephants and horses and guards were made in bold relief in the brackets of havelis. Drawings of gods and goddesses were painted in sharp outlines on the main gates.
2. The exterior and interior walls of many havelis (mansions) are covered with pictures showing the impact of the Company style. Railway trains, motor vehicles, bicycles, sewing machines, aero planes, sofa sets and other articles belonging to the Victorian age may be seen. The impact of British rule brought great changes in manner of eating, style of dressing, way of living, which have been well depicted in these paintings.

Alwar style Paintings
Alwar is referred as the gateway of colorful and historical Rajasthan. The city of Alwar is regarded as “The Tiger Gate of Rajasthan”. The city is believed to have been founded by a family member of Kachhawa originating from Amber. Like other styles, the origin of this style is presumed to have taken place after the establishment of Alwar state. Rao Raja Pratap Singh (1756-1790), by his valor, intelligence and political ability, created an independent kingdom after conquering parts of Bharatpur and Jaipur. In 1770, after having laid out Rajgarh on a new pattern, he built a strong fortress there and made it his capital. About this time two artists named Dhalu Ram and Shiv Kumar migrated to Alwar from Jaipur. They presented some of their artistic work to the maharaja. Shiv Kumar is believed to have-returned to Jaipur but Dhalu Ram was appointed in charge of the state museum. Dhalu Ram was skilled in drawing frescoes. 

The beautiful frescoes in the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of glass) of Rajgarh fort were probably painted under his supervision. The frescoes of this palace show a variety of themes, including paintings relating to Lord Krishna-Charit, Lord Ram-Chrit, nayikas, the royal courts etc. 

Drawings of yawning nayikas removing a thorn, nayikas and maidservants engaged in beautification are very pleasant and lovely. Scenes of the royal courts of Maharaja Pratap Singh and Bhaktawar Singh are painted on the walls. Blending of colors in various designs of foliage and the rhythm of the drawings are very remarkable. In the Sheesh Mahal of Rajgarh fort, the effect of the almond color of the Ajanta style is very evident. Light green, blue and gold used in these paintings are impressive. The Sheesh Mahal was constructed around the period of Rao Raja Bhaktawar Singh (1790-1814), son of Rao Raja Pratap Singh. 

The traditions of paintings frescoes also flourished in the temples and cenotaphs in Rajasthan. Examination of the frescoes of the Alwar style shows that the style of paintings developed there had flowed in dual waves, one in engraving frescoes and other into pictorial texts and miniatures. The Alwar style attained diversity in regard to themes. Krishna Lila, Ram Lila, religious conversation with saints in natural surrounding, raag-raginis had been extensively painted. In early paintings, till the period of Bhaktawar Singh, all the salient features of Rajasthani painting are clearly noted in the Alwar style. Drawings of white clouds, clear sky, forests and gardens full of bird and animals, mountains, rivers were painted with according to the natural perspective of Alwar.all paintings are courtesy of Art of Legend India

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