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Introduction to Mewar School

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 12:50 AM
Intimate loveFrom 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 Guild 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.

Historical Background

When did the Mewar school of Indian painting come into existence? Connoisseurs of art have speculated on this point as great centres 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.

Haram SceneKing Rana Kumbha (1443-1468) 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. Rana Sanga (1509-1520) spent his life waging wars against the Mughal ruler Babar.

A great centre of the arts, Chittor had been devastated in constant wars, and Udai Singh (1537-1572) made Udaipur his capital because of its strategic location. Maharana Pratap (1572-1597) never accepted the suzerainty of the Mughals and established Chavand, situated in a mountainous region, as his capital. Chittor, Chavand and Udaipur earned a great reputation as centres of early Mewari painting.

Amar Singh (1597-1620) partially accepted the suzerainty of the Mughals, and for this reason the impact of Mughal art on Mewar painting was significant, particularly in the reigns of Karan Singh and Jagat Singh (1628-1652). Raj Singh (1652-1680), having rejected the suzerainty of Aurangzeb, installed a statue of Shri Nathji in Nathdwara and thus exhibited his deep devotion to the Vaishnav sect. The Pushti sect began to influence Mewari art. Raj Singh, a keen lover of art, was a Pushti margi, hence in his reign the arts flourished. Jai Singh (1680-1696) and Amar Singh (1698-1710) provided a further impetus to Mewar art.

Asawri RaginiFrom these facts, the role of Mewar in developing Rajasthani art from its very beginning is abundantly clear. On the basis of researches, the first example of the Mewar style is the pictorial text titled Shravak Pratikraman Churni, which was painted in Adhar (Ahar-Udaipur) in 1260 in the reign of Guhil Tej Singh.2 Its decoration resembles the intricate artistic workmanship of temples dedicated to Mokul in Nagda, Udaipur and Chittor.

The distinct features of this style include savachashma, a nose resembling an eagle's, eyes similar to parvalli-fank, long figures and plentiful use of red-yellow colours. Examples of it are referred to in Supasnah Chariyam, a pictorial text compiled and painted at Devkulapatak (Dilwara) in the reign of Mokul around 1422-23 In that text, the imprint of the Jain and Gujarati schools, along with the above-named features of Rajashani painting, is clearly visible. In this style Kalpa-Sutra (1426) deserves special mention. The style of its drapery resembles that of the images of Vijay-Stambh of Kumbha.

For many centuries this pervaded most of the painting in Western India in general and Mewar in particular. The forts of Maharana Kumbha (Kumbhalgarh) and Kumbha Palace (Chittorgarh) possess frescoes which depict the salient features of paintings of that age. Only faint glimpses of these frescoes are now visible. In the 16th century, Chavand, the capital of Maharana Pratap, earned the reputation of being a great centre of art. In 1605, Rag-Mala was painted at Chavand with the impact of folk art and the imprint of the Mewar style.' Nayak-nayika had a series painted in 1640 definitely in the Mewar style, and it also should the partial influence of the Mughal style of the Jehangir period.

RaginiPainting 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-Puran was the main subject of painting. In the text of Bhagwad-Puran painted by Sahabadi (1648) and preserved in the Bhandarkar Institute, Pune, the Maharaja of Jodhpur Museum and the National Museum, fine examples of the Mewar style are available.

In this period of composing poems with the Krishna-Lila legend as basis, paintings were created on a large scale symbolic of the cult of Krishna-Bhakti in Mewar. Pictorial texts concerning Sursagar, Rasikpriya, Rag-Mala, Ramayan are available in the Mewar style. Scenes of the Ramayan painted in 1651 and preserved in the State Museum, Udaipur, and paintings created by the artist Hon bar in 1649 and preserved in the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay, are also available. Many pictures painted on the basis of stanzas of Sursagar are still available in the custody of Gopi Krishna Kanodia, Calcutta, and in the private collections of Sangram Singh, Ram Gopal Vijayavargia, Jaipur and National Museum, New Delhi.

The period of Maharana Jagat Singh (1628-52) was the Golden Age of the development of Mss painting and other arts. The paintings based on the Rain Charit and Krishna Chant are a valuable art-heritage even now. Sahi Badeen and other talented painters gave a new life to Mewari art.

Kunti sleepingMaharana Raj Singh (1652-1681) also maintained the tradition of his father. During his period, paintings based on a number of Sanskrit-writings, books of Bliakti and Ritikaleen periods were made in abundance. The paintings of Shukar Kshatra Mahatinnya made by the famous painter Sahi Badeen in 1655 and Bhramar Geet Stir in 1659, a few leaves of which are preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi, hint at the evolution of Mewar style. A few pages of Geet Govind set painted during this period, preserved in Govt. Museum, Udaipur, are exceedingly artistic.

During the reign of Maharana Jai Singh (1680-1698) the Mewar painting-tradi-tion developed with a new vigour. One hundred twenty-two miniature paintings of Sursagar preserved in the Govt. Museum, Udaipur, are the achievements of this period. In these, Surdas has been painted in various gestures such as holding cymbals (Majira) in his hands, engaged in Kirtan, or posed with folded hands. The Ultarkand of the Ramayan and hundreds of Mahabharat pictures were painted during this period. Maharana Amar Singh II (1698-1710) also gave a fillip to Mewar painting tradition in which the drawing of a number of sketches occupies an important place.

Madhu Madhvi RaginiIn the reign of Maharana Sangram Singh (1710-1734) also this tradition went on quite ceaselessly. The continuing tradition of Geet-Govind painting is linked with the 'Set' (bearing the name of Roop Ji Bhatt Samvat 1771 A.D. 1714) available at Govt. Museum, Udaipur. The important set of Bihari Sat Sai with Jagannath Kavi Raj's Colophon (1719) is preserved at Saraswati Bhandar, Udaipur: In addition to these, a number of group-paintings were also made. These paintings present life-like depiction of feudal life.

Even in the last phase of the eighteenth century, the Mewari painting kept on displaying feudal grandeur exemplified in the paintings of Jiwa, Nanga, Shahji, Miya, Shiva etc. preserved in Palace Museum, Udaipur and the private museum of Kumar Sangram Singh.

At Nathdwara, the installation of 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 painting.

Nathdwara Substyle

Love in forestA 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 Shri Nathji.8 With the combination of the already established art of Mewar and artists of Nathdwara, the Nathdwara style of painting emerged. Many paintings concerning various lilas of Shri Nathji were created on paper or cloth, and they are still available in various national and international museums as well as many private collections.

Behind the figures of Shri Nathji, large screens of cloth are affixed to enhance their decorative aspect. These are known as picchavais, and they are the original contribution of the Nathdwara style. Picchapais are often created to symbolise any of these concerning festivals and lilas of Shri Nathji. Even today, the tradition of Nathdwara continues. 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. In the period of Tilkya t Goverdhan Lallji, painting of this style attained a pinnacle of glory. The main patrons of it were those thousands of pilgrims and devotees of Shri Na thji who continued to purchase paintings for the purpose of decoration.

Todi RaginiIn the 18th century, owing to the abundance of themes relating to the Was of Krishna in painting, subjects like Mata Yasoda, Nandlal, cowherds were particularly painted. Because of the impact of Balkrishna a sense of maturity appeared in the figures of females, the physical profile and glimpses of sentiments of affection are particularly noticeable. Among male subjects physically stout Nandlal and other Balgopal figures call for special mention.

Cows, colts, boys, forest creepers are special components painted in the Na th-dwara style. Because of the overall impact of folk art, simplicity of subjects, rhythm and combination of colours with distinct features had emerged in earlier paintings. About 200 years ago Shri Ram Chandra Baba, who came to Nathdwara from Jaipur, introduced new elements in sketching trees in paintings of that style. The artist Bhagwa ti had exhibited his skill in drawing minute details. The work of leading artists like Narayan, Cha tu rbhuj, Ramlinga, Udai Ram also deserves special reference.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, with the development of commercial art in the Nathdwara style, irregular colours and the growing impact of photography resulted in the systematic downgrading of the art of this region. But the tradition of painting in this style is still alive.

Devgarh Substyle

Sohni Swims to meet her lover mahinwalThe Mewar School has been the chief and basic school of Rajasthani painting, and as such it has also influenced its nearby Thikanas in terms of drawing. The style of painting that developed there has imbibed not only its original culture, but it also remarkably manifests the stamp of natural environment, and the styles in vogue around. From this viewpoint the paintings of Devgarh, Sawar, and Shahpura Thikanas deserve a special note. These can be grouped under Mewar substyle.

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. In 1728, the princess of Devgarh was married to Maharana Madho Singh of Jaipur, and as such due to matrimonial, blood and cultural relations; and also owing to the assimilation of the traits of Mewar, Marwar and Jaipur art, the paintings prepared by the painters of this region have their own individual identity. This style has acquired distinctiveness on account of the use of thick and well-balanced lines, abundance of green and yellow colours unlike Mewar, the folk painting of Marwar-like figures of men and women, natural desert landscape, hunting, community feast (goth), harems, royal grandeur, adornment, and carriages etc. On this basis it can be placed under Mewar substyle.

Prithviraj ChauhanDevgarh paintings are preserved in various museums and private collections, chief among which are National Museum, New Delhi, Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay, Kumar Sangram Singh Museum, Jaipur, Kawasji, Shri Suhali, Boman Behran, Bombay etc. Besides, important Devgarh material is available at the per-sonal collection of Rawal Nahar Singh of Devgarh. The wall-paintings at Kapardwar of Devgarh, Ajara Ki Ovari, Moti Mahal, give us an idea of the tradition of painting here.

Among the Devgarh painters, Bagata (1769-1820) and Kanwala I (1775-1810) were two distinguished artists. Kanwala II (1800-1850), Chaukha and Baij Nath (1770-1830) following in the footsteps of their above illustrious predecessors, en-riched the Devgarh substyle by their valuable contribution. Dr Shridhar Andhare highlighted this style for the first time.

Salient Features

Maharaja Jai SinghMewar painting possesses unique features which greatly influenced the different styles of Rajasthani painting." A synthesis of Jain and Gujarati styles is evident in the earliest Mewar painting. Besides the simplicity of folk art, the irregularity of line was a unique characteristic. But from the middle of the 17th century the independent growth of this style became famous for its own inherent qualities.

Stout masculine figures, faces covered with mustaches, wide eyes, open lips, small neck, long turban, waist tied with dupatta and body decorated with general ornaments are some distinctive features of the Mewar style. Paintings of females depict eyes resembling those of a fish, a straight long nose, double chins, short stature, body covered with ghagara-luggri and kartchuki and Rajasthani ornaments.

Careful drawing of nature is visible in the Mewar School. Among birds, chakor, hails, peacock, and among animals horse, elephant, deer, lion were frequently painted. The impact of the Malwa school is visible in the paintings of nature. In Mewar paintings, where colours maintain their own simplicity, most paintings have been drawn upon red, yellow and green surfaces. An artistic display of folk colours is a unique tradition of Mewar paintings.

Writer – Jay Singh Neeraj  


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