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Rajasthani painting occupies its own historical place in Indian painting. From the time of its origin it emerged and flourished and has been part of the continuing traditional wave of painting in India since ancient times. Parameters regarding early and later developments of painting from time to time could be detected in it. It is a different matter that it unhesitatingly assimilated the impact of other Indian as well as foreign styles in this period.
Rajasthani painting developed in various styles of the Mewar, Marwar, Hadoti and Dhundar schools, and their substyles from the 16th century to the 19th is definitely a major branch of Indian painting. Greatly influenced by other schools and styles, the identity of Rajasthani painting could easily be ascertained. It possesses the following main characteristics.
1. Depiction of Folklife: Rajasthani painting developed in a tradition of frescoes strictly confined to folklife. In early paintings simplicity and ease and abundance of sentiment relating to folklife in selecting colour schemes and themes have been noted. Art flourished in the cultural milieu of the royal court, and this painting was dissociated from the folk element. Developed at religious and cultural centres, this style of painting was closely associated with public life and popular themes.
2. Abundance of Pravants: Rajasthani painting is full of romance. A sentimental approach had been extensively adopted in this style. The sweet Radha-Krishna theme has been used extensively and is deeply rooted in it. A rare combination of Bhakti and shringar has been depicted in a lively manner in Rajasthani painting.
3. Variety of Themes: The subject matter of Rajasthani painting is vast. It flourished on the background of many themes like the various lilas of Radha-Krishna, stories relating to the Mahabharat and Bhagwad, nayak-nayika-bheda, rag-ragini, barah-masa, description of seasons, court life, festivals, hunting, draw-ings of raja-rani, folklore. Illustration of poetry is a unique characteristic of this style.
4. Colour-Scheme: Arrangement of colour in Rajasthani painting is specially significant. Red, yellow, white and green are the principal colours of this style. With combinations of these colours artists made paintings in technicolour. Application of sharp bright shining colours possess their own form and style.
5. Raiput Culture: Lively depiction of Rajput culture and civilisation and the circumstances of that age is often visible in Rajasthani painting. Their skill as builders of forts and temples, have/is, royal courts has been minutely shown in Rajasthani painting. Traditional and devotional ages have also been extensively painted in a lively style.
6. Nature's Perspective: The vast perspective of nature has been painted in many colours. There are ponds full of lotus flowers. Rays of serpentine lightning in a sky covered with dense black clouds, forests, gardens, trees, shrubs, flowering plants, leaves, fields full of birds, deer, peacock, lion, elephant, these are special features of Rajasthani painting.
For the sake of comparison, two schools of northern painting could be placed on a level with Rajasthani painting. These are the Mughal and Pahari schools. One conclusion to be drawn from a comparative study is that the Rajasthani style, though influenced by these styles, still maintained its originality.
Origin and development of these schools took place simultaneously. Because of political and other influences mutual artistic exchange is quite natural, but both these styles retain their original characters. The Mughal style is based on the Iranian school and the Rajasthani on an indigenous style.
Regarding subject matter, the Mughal style was dominated by the pomp and show of the royal court and of feudal lords, the Rajasthani on the other hand by the simplicity of folklife. The Mughal style had a realistic approach while the Rajasthani style adopted a highly imaginative posture.
The Mughal style emerged from miniatures while the Rajasthani style grew from frescoes. While one was dominated by the grandeur of the royal court, the other was filled with religious sentiment, devotion and shringar. In one drawing of the court, wars and royal festivals was extensively depicted, in the other there was lively depicting of a simple rural lifestyle, romantic poetical imagination, religious sentiment and enactments of various moods of Radha-Krishna. One contained a graphic account of Persian poetry and Mughal history, while the other depicted nature in depth on the basis of texts from Hindi-Sanskrit poetry.
In Rajasthani painting colour schemes and style of decoration are entirely different from those of the Mughal style. While the colour scheme of one was austere, the other acquired a lively character. Rajasthani painting assimilated the Puranic tradition of ideal Hindu life, deeds of Rajput chivalry and culture while the other style was predominantly Mughal in character. One used Indian symbols like the lotus, swan and peacock while the other was dominated by trees of saru, falcons and camels.
A comparative examination of these styles reveals the diversity of sentiment in them. From the middle of the 16th century, because of the political and social impact of the Mughals, the seeds of Mughal culture spread in Rajasthan. By the beginning of the 17th century the whole of Rajasthan came under the influence of the Mughals. They established their cultural suzerainty over the whole of Rajasthan, and at the same time were tremendously influenced by the Rajputs themselves. Matrimonial alliances between Mughals and Rajputs resulted in mutual exchanges in the arts, and this is clearly visible in these styles.
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. 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 Rad ha-Krishna many paintings were drawn in the Pahari style. Paintings executed on the basis of texts like Bhagwad-Puran, 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 colours and folk art predominate. In the Pahari school of painting, expression of sentiment, rhythm in line and colour 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 colours, pleasing figures of males and females, drawing of nature in seven colours, diversity in animals and birds and expression of sentiment, the Kangra style is much renowned. Application of seven colours 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 painting.
The Rajasthani school of painting and other earlier and later styles of Indian painting influenced each other to such an extent that it becomes an uphill task to dissociate them.
The great significance of Rajasthani artists adopting the rich traditions of Indian painting, of which the most artistic is the Ajanta style, cannot be denied. Originating at Medpat (Mewar) and greatly influenced by earlier styles and substyles and adopting later styles, Rajasthani painting greatly enriched Indian art.
Owing to the folk-artistic impact of the Mewar style, total drawing of integrated seven colours in the Bundi and Kishangarh styles, the Mughal influence on the Jaipur and Alwar styles, whatever draft of Rajasthani painting emerges before us, has been commented on by Dr Coomaraswamy like this: "It is a highly fine form of Indian painting and deserves its unique position among all great styles of the world." Different enactments of moods of Rad ha-Krishna form the basis of drawings of this style. Based on Hindi, Sanskrit and Rajasthani poetry, this style of painting turned medieval culture and civilisation and sentimental aspects of Hindi poetry dedicated to Lord Krishna into reality.
Rajasthani painting is the lively reflection of the literature of Hindu society. Rajasthani artists applied colours magically. Their unique method of description lends pleasing comfort to the eyes. Their paintings possess an eternal source of romance.
Pictorial texts and miniatures created by them could not only be applied in studying the sentimental and artistic aspects of medieval literature, but could also be utilised in viewing the true form of the whole culture of that age. Hence Rajasthani painting occupies a unique and very significant place in the history of Indian culture in the Mughal and post-Mughal periods.
Writer – Jai Singh Neeraj