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Because of its unique geographical, historical and cultural background, Rajas-than has earned much fame. On one hand, there are the high peaks of the Aravalli Hills, valleys with green vegetation and the beauty of nature, while on the other hand are large expanses of desert.
In the annals of Indian history, this territory had ever belonged to brave men and dedicated women. Different tribes, their way of living, style of dress, and cultural charm are unique and colourful. In one direction are the impregnable forts of Ranthambor, Chittor and Jaisalmer, while in another are the ancient and artistic temples of Dilwara, Ranakpur, Mandore, Paranagar and Badoli.
In a third direction tall palaces and other buildings, symbols of feudal glory, exist. In still another are huts built according to folk art style and belonging to Bhil tribes, Meenas and Girasias. Public figures decked out in colourful costumes are another highlight of this state. Architecture, iconography, music, literature and paintings of this region possess significant characteristics. Rajasthan is undoubtedly a glorious land of artists.
In the domain of world painting India occupies a unique and honourable place. Buddhist and Jain art in the styles of Pal, Gujarat, Apbhransh-Rajasthani, Mughal and Pahari have ever kept intact the traditions of Indian painting since the 2nd century A.D. till the present day. In this series of paintings Rajasthani art, adopting the traditions of Ajanta has developed its own unique cultural perspective and history.
With regard to the nomenclature of Rajasthani painting, scholars hold varied opinion. Some call it Rajput painting and others Rajasthani painting. Ananda Coomaraswamy was the first scholar who scientifically classified Rajasthani painting in his book titled Rajput Painting in 1916.
According to him, the theme of Rajput painting relates to Rajputana and the hill states of Punjab. He divided it into two parts, Rajasthani concerning Rajputana and Pahari relating to the hill states of Jammu, Kangra, Garhwal, Basohli, Chamba. The administrators of these states, often belonging to the Rajput clan, had termed these paintings Rajput.
According to Coomaraswamy, Rajasthani painting spread widely from Bikaner to the border of Gujarat and from Jodhpur to Gwalior and Ujjain. Amber, Aurachha, Udaipur, Bikaner and Ujjain had earned the reputation of being centres of artistic activities. But contrary to this view, Raikrishan Dass opines:
Dr Swami had classified traditional Indian painting in two parts, the Rajput and Mughal styles, but there is no substance in identifying it as Rajput style. Even though the Rajputs were a ruling class, the cumulative effect of such a clan could not influence the style of art which had different centres in the whole country.
Basil Grey comments: "Rajputana has been a centre of diverse princely indigenous states, but the expansion of Rajasthani painting had taken place from Bundelkhand to Gujarat and states ruled by Pahari Rajputs, that is why the name Rajput painting seems plausible."' Vachaspati Garrola had recognised only Rajasthani painting under the auspices of the Rajput style of painting, which seems to be more ambiguous.
According to these arguments, all paintings of the Rajasthani school could be placed under the Rajput style. The region termed Rajputana under British rule has after independence been named Rajasthan with little variation. Before the advent of the British this whole state could have been known by a single name, but no substantial evidence could be produced to uphold this view. Only Col Tod named this region Rayathan or Rajasthan. But British officers often used to call it Rajputana. Hence we treat Rajasthani painting as that style which is an eternal heritage of this state. Many connoisseurs of art who had given this style various names like Raikrishan Dass, Ram Gopal Vijayavargia, Karl Khandalawala, Dr Moti Chandra, Kr. Sangram Singh and Ananda Coomaraswamy deserve special mention here.
Details regarding the place of birth of Rajasthani painting, and the time and history of circumstances concerning its development, are not yet known. By having compiled books pertaining to many styles of Rajasthani painting different scholars have unfolded the history of the 17th century and its aftermath, but their earlier history is riven with contradictions. Art expert Herman Goetz observes: "Hardly a year or half passes but new findings about Rajasthani painting thoroughly alter our old conceptions. Particularly, the latest knowledge about Mewar paintings has raised many question marks."
On the basis of earlier views Western scholars had recognised that the Rajasthani style flourished in various princely states after the downfall of the Mughal Empire. Some scholars however hold the view that it was merely an offshoot of Mughal painting, and prospered in the reign of Jehangir. On the strength of new researches undertaken and opinions formed years ago these views have been dismissed.
Hence these views, also expressed by Dr Coomaraswamy, do not appear appropriate even though historically they are highly significant!' With reference to the parameters regarding the antiquity of Rajasthani paintings, Dr Goetz presented his research papers, which throw light on its history.' Karl Khandalawala discussed in detail the origin and development of this painting.
Great scholars like Raikrishan Dass, Pramod Chandra, Sangram Singh, Satya Prakash, Anand Krishan, Hiren Mukherji and others also published scholarly articles from time to time which highlight details of the origin and growth of Rajasthani painting. On the basis of this research and many available ancient paintings it is now generally admitted that Rajasthani painting is a significant link with traditional Indian painting.
Tibetan historian Tara Nath (16th century) refers to an artist named Shri Rangdhar who lived in Maru Pradesh (Marwar) in the 7th century but paintings of this period are not available. The period from the 6th century to the 12th century was a great landmark in the history of Rajasthan. From the 8th to the 10th centuries this province was termed Gurjaratra, hence with the development of art and other vocations painting might have flourished here. Among available compilations, pictorial Kalpa-Sutra authored by Bhadrabhau Swami in V.S. 1216 is the oldest available artistic text of India."
In Rajasthan the first available pictorial text (on palm leaves) is Savag-Pailikahan Sutt Chuniii (Shravak Pratikraman Sutra Churni), compiled in the reign of Cubit Tej Singh at Ahar (Udaipur). Glimpses of his decorations are enshrined in intricate carvings in the temples of Nagda and Chittor." Another important text is Supasnah Chariyam (Suparshvanath Charitam) which was painted and compiled in the reign of Mokkhal at Devkulpatak (Dilwara) in V.S. 1480 (A.D. 1422-23).
In this text the influence of the Gujarat and Jain styles on Rajasthani paintings is discernible. In the continuity of this style KaIpa-Sutrii of 1426 deserves special mention. Its style of draping costumes is similar to that of the images of Vijaya Stambha of Maharana Kumbha. Around A.D. 1450 one copy of Geet-Gvvind and two of Bal-Gvpal-Stuti had been painted in Western India. This is the first pictorial text of Lord Krishna which comprises the first seeds of preliminary Rajasthani painting.
In 1451 Basant-Vilas painted in the Apbhransh style, whose famous background script was compiled by Acharya Ratnagiri in Ahmedabad, makes special mention of the origin of Rajasthani painting. In the history of Mewar, Maharana Kumbha (1433-1468) had been highly acclaimed for having patronised poetry, music and architecture. That such a great lover of the arts remained indifferent to painting is not plausible. But in the absence of proof no concrete conclusion could be inferred. Only a glimpse of frescoes could be visualised in the ruins of the fort of Kumbhalgarh and the palace of Chittorgarh of that period.
Up to the 15th century this style of painting flourished in Rajasthan. Using Jain and later Jain texts as the basis on which the painting was done, this may be termed the Jain style, Gujarat style, Western India style or Apbhransh style. Undoubtedly, the period from the 7th century to the 15th century saw an era of impressive growth of painting, iconography and architecture in Rajasthan developed from the synthesis of original art and the traditions of Ajanta-Ellora. From this point no distinction had ever been made between the Rajasthan and Gujarat styles. In the regions of Bangur and Chhappan, many artists from Gujarat had settled and were known as Sompuras. During the reign of Maharana Kumbha, the legendary artist Shilpi Mandan migrated here from Gujarat."
After analysing the abovementioned pictorial texts from the 12th century to the 15th century, it could be established that such paintings contained the seeds of the Rajasthani styles of painting. The basis of most of these paintings is Jain texts. In these paintings faces are savachashma, noses resembling that of Garuda, tall but stiff figures, highly embossed breasts, mechanical movements and poses, clouds, trees, mountains and rivers are depicted. Red and yellow colours have been used frequently.
It is difficult to tell where preliminary Rajasthani painting flourished in the 15th century, but on the basis of other pictorial texts it may be stated that the amended form of Rajasthani painting of that age had developed with some distinct features. Adi Puran, decorated with 417 paintings, was a text in the Gujarati style compiled in 1540. It was a beacon in the annals of Indian painting.
Although influenced by Apbhransh style, this text, symbolic of Rajasthani painting in respect of colour drawing, physical structure, depiction of nature, dress, expression of sentiment, enjoys a prestigious position. Avadhi poetry Mrigvati (decorated with 250 paintings) and pictorial lorchande belong to this category of text. In the pictorial texts of Sanghrani-Sutra (1583) and Uttaradliyan Sutra (1591), mention was made that a revised form of Rajasthani painting had been created.
In pictorial Chorpancha-Sika and Geet-Govind texts of that age, this school of painting was appreciably represented. Regarding Rajasthani paintings, two very significant texts are available. They are based on the Bhagwad.
The first in 1598 and the other" in 1610 had probably been painted somewhere in Rajasthan. In them developed the shape of Rajasthani painting with its special characteristics that had emerged. Rag-Ma1a24 pictures painted by Nasiruddin at Chavand, capital of Maharana Pratap, are the first available specimens of paintings solely created on the soil of Rajasthan. Traditions of the later period are noticed in the Mewar school.
On the basis of these facts I submit that the birthplace of Rajasthani painting was only Rajasthan, and Medapat (Mewar) was its centre of growth. In reality the Rajasthani style was a new development of the Apbhransh style. In other words, in place of the process of decline taking place in the 9th-10th centuries, a phase of development had begun in the 15th century. This revival might have taken place in Gujarat and southern Rajasthan (Mewar). Other leading scholars identify Mewar with the origin and growth of Rajasthani painting. Dr Goetz also firmly holds this opinion.
Those tracts come under the hill states of Mewar, Banswara and Eder in southern Rajasthan which were ruled by the Suryavanshi dynasty from ancient times. These rulers continued to carry the torch of Indian culture even after the disintegration of the 'Gupta Empire. Hence these rulers had absorbed the high traditions of Ajanta and Ellora up to the medieval age.
The beginning of the pure Rajasthani style has been fixed between the latter half of the 15th century and the early part of the 16th century, probably around 1500. The Rajasthani style emerged from the Apbliransh style in Gujarat and was influenced by the Kashmir style in the 15th century. Some such paintings have been found in which the impact of the Mughal style is nowhere discernible. The Bengali Ragini paintings of Bharat Kala Bha wan is one of them. The above view of Raikrishan Dass seems authentic today as at the time Rajasthani painting was taking shape Babar, grandfather of Akbar and founder of the Mughal Empire in India, was born in 1463. Mehmood Begra, Sultan of Gujarat, and Maharana Kumbha both earned great reputation as keen lovers of art. In the same period painting had attained its zenith in Kashmir in the reign of Jainul Abdin, when probably a cultural exchange between friendly states might have taken place.
Because of the emergence of the Rajasthani style in Gujarat and Mewar the dormant consciousness of Indian painting awakened. It was a new version of the Apbhransh style. From the point of expression of sentiments and depiction of drawings, even though the Rajput style had emerged in its unique perspective, in selection of theme it had faithfully followed the Apbhransh style. Very artistic paintings depicting Rag-Mala, Shringar, descriptions of Barah-Masa and Krishna-Lila were the contribution of the Rajput style, which had its origin in the Apbhransh style."
Some scholars recognise the Gujarati style as the mother of Rajasthani painting and its guiding spirit. Pramod Chandra says: "Gujarat was a principal centre where Rajasthani painting acquired its prominent status . . ." Shri Manju La! Ranchhor Dass Majumdar observes: "The Gujarat style gave birth to the Rajput style, that rare beauty visible in drawings of mountain, river, sea, fire, cloud, tree in the Rajput style originated from the Gujarat style."
In regard to the impact of Jam art, many scholars stress the view that it made a significant contribution to the growth of Hindu-Rajput art. Jain art was responsible for incorporating creeper foliage in Indian painting. Later, having surrendered the traditional heritance to the Rajput style, Jain art was lost in oblivion. Dr Yajdani comments: "Jain art does not represent the best art of its period." Hence it is argued that it might have surrendered its traditions to the Rajput style, but it would be a great blunder on our part to admit this view.
Rajasthani painting originated in the state of Rajasthan alone. Having been greatly influenced by other styles of painting, it flourished greatly in this state. In its growth the ancient history of the state and its geography played a major role. On the heroic soil of the Rajputs, evidence of their chivalrous deeds and the imprint of their civilization and culture in the shape of poetry, painting, and architecture are scattered here and there.
The origin and development of Rajasthani painting, like many other schools, did not take place in one area, nor was it cultivated by only a few artists. In all ancient towns and religious and cultural centres of Rajasthan painting blossomed and flourished. Royal courts, religious centres, rulers, feudal lords made a valuable contribution to the growth of Rajasthani painting, which reached its pinnacle of glory in the 17th-18th centuries after having enriched the styles and substyles of other erstwhile states, as a result of which its coordinated shape came into existence.
In regard to the classification of Rajasthani styles, scholars hold divergent views. Artists of different states who painted in their own styles conform to local condi-tions. The distinct characteristic of painting thus produced has been termed the style of that particular region. In this way, several styles came into prominence in Rajasthan, notably the Mewar, Marwar, Kishangarh, Bundi, Kota, Jaipur, and Alwar schools had achieved great ascendancy.
Dr Moti Chandra mainly recognises the Mewar, Bundi and Kishangarh schools. Scholars like Dr Goetz, Karl Khandalawala, Ram Gopal Vijayavargia, Kumar Sangram Singh added more styles and substyles pertaining to Marwar, Bikaner, Kota, Jaipur, Uniara and Devgarh etc. In 1969 I worked on the authenticity of Alwar style.
From the point of geographical and administrative conditions, Rajasthani painting may be studied after classifying it in four parts. In actual practice it has four principal schools in which many styles and substyles flourished and influenced each other:
(1) The Mewar school comprising Chavand, Udaipur, Devgarh, Nathdwara, Sawar styles and substvles.
(2) The Marwar school comprising Jodhpur, Bikaner, Kishangarh, Jaisalmer, Pali, Naugore, Ghanerao styles and substyles.
(3) The Hadoti school comprising Bundi, Kota, Jhalawar styles and substyles.
4) The Dhundar school comprising Amber, Jaipur, Shekhawati, Uniara, Alwar styles and substyles.
Having placed the styles and substyles of the whole of Rajasthan within the purview of the above schools, a detailed study of them could be undertaken. In the medieval age it was quite natural for the small and big states of Rajasthan and the neighbouring states to influence each other in the domain of culture.
Writer – Jay Singh Neeraj