Pahari Paintings

Indian Miniature Paintings
Indian miniature painting started off as an illustration of sacred texts written on long narrow strips of palm leaves bound together in form of bundle. Due to size of the palm leaf that was usually one foot long and less than 3 inches wide, the area available for painting the illustrations was limited. The illustrations therefore are miniature in size and hence came to be known as “Miniature Painting”. These manuscripts were meant to be held in one’s hands and viewed from a close distance.

Around 14th Century C.E. Paper began to provide an alternative to palm leaves as a writing support for manuscript in India. For some time during the initial transition from palm leaves to paper the format of the text and illustration remained the same as that of palm leaf manuscripts.
And later during the sultanate period the dimensions of the paper folio was increased to approximately 9 inches long and 6 inches wide. There were a certain changes in the style and subject matter too.
Various styles of miniature paintings developed in different regions of India mainly under the patronage of the local rulers, nobleman, and religious institutions. Styles such as Western Indian, Mewar, Bundi, Kota, Malwa, Bikaner, Kishangarh, Thikana, Deccani, Pahari, etc evolved and contributed to the already colourful and illustrious culture of India. Most of these painting styles derive their names from the region or place where they developed, except for a few such as the Mughal and Sultanate styles, which get their names from their patron dynasties.
Every local style has its own regional characteristic and some regions still  carry on the rich tradition of miniature painting in parts of India.
Origin and Extent of Pahari paintings:
The word “Pahari” literally means a “mountain” in Hindi. Hence “Pahari paintings”,  as the words suggest, are typical to the Himalayan regionsof North India. Pahari painting is an umbrella term used for one style of India painting originating from the Hill kingdoms of the North India. This painting style originated in the 17th-19th centuries stretching from Jammu to Garhwal in the Himalayan states of India and was a style of miniature paintings and book illustrations.
This style of painting originated from theMughal style of paintings. Because of the family relations of the Pahari Rajas with royal court at Rajasthan, this style is also widely influenced by the Rajput paintings and was also patronized by them. Pahari painting styles are distinctive of nature and beautiful faces. The Pahari artists painted religious subjects as well as secular themes.
The style of these paintings is made up of two contrasting schools:

  • The bold intenseBasoli
  • The delicate and lyrical

Basohli School of Paintings:

The town of Basohli is situated on the bank of the Ravi River in Himachal. Basohli Paintings evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries as a distinctive style of painting which fused the stories Hindu mythology with Mughal miniature techniques, and the folk art of the local hills. It started during the reign of Sangram Pal (1635-1673). The painting style derives its name from the place of its origin—the hill town of Basohli in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
This style has a splendid Devi series which is a magnificent series of the manifestations of the Supreme Goddess.
This style is also known for the depiction of the Rasamanjari or Bouquet of Delight (a long love poem written in 15th century by Bhanudatta of Tirhut Bihar) which was painted by artist Devidasa, under the patronage of Raja Kirpal Pal.[1]
Gita Govinda of 1730 and also the Ragamala are believed to have Basohli origins. Krishna and Radha or Mahadeva and Uma play the parts of hero and heroine in most of these paintings.

  • Marked by striking blazing colors, red borders, bold lines and rich symbols.
  • The faces of the figures painted are characterized by the receding foreheads and large expressive eyes, shaped like lotus petals.
  • The painting themselves are mostly painted in the primary colors of Red, Blue and Yellow.
  • Geometrical patterns, bright colors and glossy enamel characterize Basohli paintings.
  • A distinctive feature is the use of the shiny beetle wings to depict emeralds in the jewelry.

Guler Kangra School Paintings:
The Guler Kangra style from Himachal developed somewhere around the 1800s. It became more prevalent after the fading of the Basohli Style of painting and became so extensive and produced paintings of such a magnitude that Pahari Style of paintings came to be known more commonly as Kangra paintings only!
This style of paintings flourished and reached its zenith under the Royal patronage of the Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch.
Ragamala painting, Raga Sarang, Kangra school.
The origins of this style of painting can be traced to when the family of the kashmiri painter trained in Muslim technique took refuse in the court of Raja Dalip Singh. This gave rise to a style of painting what is known as or called as the “Early phase of the Kangra Kalam”.[2]
Instead of painting flattering portraits of their masters and love scenes, the artistes adopted themes of eternal love between Radha and Krishna. The paintings were naturalistic and employed cool, fresh colors. The colors were extracted from minerals, vegetables and possessed enamel-like luster. The greenery of the landscape, brooks, springs were the recurrent images on the miniatures.
It was a more naturalized version of painting, with visible difference in the treatment of eyes and modeling of the face. Landscapes were also commonly used as themes. Along with that, this style also accentuated the elegance and grace of the Indian women. Kangra paintings are known for their lyrical draughtsmanship, pheasant colours, picturesque landscape and lovely men and women. There are other smaller styles which gradually evolved on these two main schools.
Bilaspur style of Paintings:
Bilaspur, a town of Himachal region witnessed the growth of the Pahari paintings around the mid-17th century. Apart from the illustrations of the Bhagavata Purana, Ramayana and Ragamala series in the 18th century, artists also made paintings on rumal (coverlets) for rituals and ceremonies.
Bilaspur is situated in Himachal Pradesh in Satluj valley. The town of Bilaspur was founded in 1663. The state later became a princely state of British India, and was under the authority of the British province of Punjab. It saw the rise of the painting in the mid 17th century and became a centre of painting.
The faces are more naturalistic and belong to a particular style or tradition that would continue to the last in this school. The treatment of landscape is more idealized and rich and introduces a number of decorative trees and shrubs. It is curious to find that its slate gray trunks are heavily muddled and stylized. The swaying branches of the shrubs create a very romantic setting.
These paintings have a porcelain quality. They are warm in expression. Every detail is made luminously decorative. Lush vegetation is shown with knotted tree trunks. Bilaspur painters show a preference for gold that is frequently used here; even the gray patches on Cows are picked out with gold.
The Bilaspur Kalam is different from the rest of the Pahari schools of paintings, in more than one way. The women folk painted in the pictures are quite buxom in comparison to the delicate female figures and have robust bodies, heavy faces and short necks.
Lord Krishna’s flute magic, Bilaspuri Pahari painting.
Chamba style of Paintings
Chamba paintings are quite similar in appearance to Mughal style of paintings, with strong influences of Deccan and Gujarat style also.
Like most hill capitals, Chamba has a large ground. The most outstanding buildings are the palaces of the Raja. Of these the Rang Mahal (Painted Palace), which looks like a feudal castle is the most interesting. It was built by Raja Umed Singh in the mid 18th century. There is one room whose walls are painted with murals depicting episodes from the Ramayana and the Bhagavata Purana in bright red and blue.
Raj Singh (1714-1794) was one of the most renowned rulers of Chamba, and the rise of painting in the Guler-Chamba style was due to his patronage.
The Chamba paintings are very authentic and informative social documents of the history of those times. The Chamba paintings also derived inspiration from natural surroundings and are remarkable in their composition. This style is similar to that of Guler paintings as numerous artists of this school came from Guler.[3]
The Chamba rulers were great patrons of arts and culture, and the Museum houses outstanding collections of Guler-Kangra style Paintings. Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba is named after the illustrious King Raja Bhuri, who had contributed his family’s paintings compilations to the museum.
The paintings of Chamba encompass of both miniatures and murals. The themes used in this painting style were religious, such as legends of Radha Krishna, lord Shiva-Parvati, Yashoda and Krishna etc. Romantic ambiences of the rainy season in Chamba have also been painted in various moods and styles, in Basholi colors by the artists of Pahari miniature art.
Chamba style of miniature painting.
Guler Jasrota style of  Paintings
Jasrota paintings are mainly found in Jammu and Kashmir and revolve around court scenes, events from the life of the kings, allegorical scenes, etc. Jammu or Jasrota paintings of the late 18th and early 19th century bear a striking similarity to the Kangra style. Shangri Ramayana of the late 17th and early 18th century was produced in Jammu itself.
One of the most famous artists of this style is Nainsukh, the master painter. He was a patronaged artist of Raja Balwant of Jasrota and he depicted Raja Balwant Singh in his day-to-day activities.  Rarely in the history of Indian paintings does one come across a painter who so devotedly recorded the activities of his partron as Nainsukh for Raja Balwant Singh. In fact he has immortalized the otherwise little known king through his portraits which reveals different aesthetic sensibility. His wok shows remarkable penchant for coloured drawings on a natural paper background. He was a master of lines and his figures come alive, in full flesh, with just a few deftly drawn lines.[4]
He also employs a Persian technique in his drawings known as the “Neem Kalam”, which keeps the background of the painting colourless and renders only the main characters of the paintings, but only with light pastel colours.
Painting by Nainsukh of Guler.
As the Pahari miniatures evolved around and in the hill areas of the Himalayas and took many shades and adopted the local and the regional colour in every small aspect, many styles of these paintings emerged. The techniques used in them vary in a very little amount though the over all effect of them is mesmerizing. Some of these other painting styles are as follows;
Kulu Paintings
The paintings of Kulu style include a Bhagavata Purana, two Madhumalati manuscripts, etc.
Mandi Paintings
Mandi, situated in Himachal, witnessed the evolution of a new style under Raja Sidh Sen (1684-1727). During that time, the portraits depicted the ruler as a massive figure with overstated huge heads, hands and feet. Other works were characterized by geometric compositions and delicate naturalistic details.
Mankot Paintings
Mankot paintings of Jammu and Kashmir bear a resemblance to the Basohli type, with vivid colors and bold subjects. In the mid-17th century, portraitures became a common theme. With time, the emphasis shifted to naturalism and subdued colors.
Painting of Bramha the creator, Mankot.
Nurpur Paintings
Nurpur paintings of Himachal Pradesh usually employ bright colors and flat backgrounds. However, in the later periods, the dazzling colors were replaced by muted ones.
Garhwal Paintings
Garhwal Paintings originated in Himachal and were first dominated by the Mughal style. Later, it started reflecting the cruder version of Kangra traditions. The paintings in Garhwal style, an offshoot of Kangra School, generally depict the leafless trees.[5]
With the emergence of Bhakti movement, new themes for Indian Pahari paintings came into practice. The Shaiva-Shakta themes were supplemented by argot poetry and folk songs of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. At the same time, the themes of the paintings revolved around love and devotion also. There was also illustration of great epics, puranas, etc. The depiction of Devi Mahatmya manuscript painted at Kangra, in 1552, is a very acclaimed example of the Pahari style of painting in India.
The Dying Art of Pahari Miniatures
The Pahari schools of miniature painting survived till the end of the 19th century. Most of these miniature paintings still look as fresh as they did a couple of centuries ago. Their lustre has not vanished. The reason for this is the use of earth colours.
Anyone who glances at these miniature paintings will notice that some of them, mostly the Basohli Kalam, are framed with plain borders, while others are richly ornamented with delicate flowers and creeper patterns. The paintings, which are enclosed within rectangular or oval frames, look almost bejeweled.
Such is the romantic charm of the world created by Pahari painters that it will linger on and on, even in the mind of a layperson.
The art of miniature paintings which brought name and fame for the state and the country from all over the world is dying due to the apathetic attitude of the government. It is still not too late to start a school of paintings employing local artists, who have technical know-how, skills, techniques, indigenous colors and handmade papers.
Miniature paintings are not only about colours, lines and styles. The artists recorded each important event and details of daily life, so when you look at these paintings you will see scenes of court life and activities of rulers and noble men, hunting scene, battles and wonderful study of birds, animals, flora and fauna, portraits of the emperor and his courtiers. These paintings record the minutest details that the artists observed around them. So by just looking at a pahadi depiction in a painting you can tell the class or ranking of a person or by the design of the garments, its print you can tell the region where the painting came from etc. Hence paintings are very important source to know the history, socio-cultural and political life of a particular region or period. You can also se various architectural details and also various religious ideologies.

  1. On the Origns of Pahari paintings: VishwaChanderOhri.
  2. My views on Pahari paintings: PrabalPramanik.
  3. Centers of Pahari paintings: Chandramani Singh.
  4. Pahari miniature paintings: the origin and the great masters, Sanjay Lakhanpal.
  5. Google books and e-libraries.

[1]Basohli paintings of the Rasamanjiri, M.S. RANDHAWA, S.D BHAMBRI
[2]Pahari School of Paintings: An art of Himalayan Range.
[3]Centers of Pahari Paintings, CHANDRAMANI SINGH.
[4]Masters of Indian Painting 1100-1900 (Two Volumes)
Eds M. C. Beach, Eberhard Fischer and B. N. Goswamy.
ArtibusAsiae Publishers, Zurich.
[5]Pahari miniature paintings: the origin and the great masters, Sanjay Lakhanpal.

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