Rajasthan is a land of many colorful contrasts, from the fertile eastern part near the river Chambal and the rich land of Malva to the desert of western Rajasthan. The paintings of Rajasthan, reflect this love for colors. The paintings express stunning colors and powerful lines, similar to the strength and vigor of the inhabitants of that land. The paintings are basically of two distinctive types: courtly and literary (and devotional is included). Paintings of the courtly type include numerous portraits of kings and rulers, engaged in pastimes like hunting or discharging courtly duties. The other type is more like illustrations of poetry or literary works such as Amaru-Sakta, Sur-Sagara, Rasa-manjari, Rasa-priya texts, and the others, illustrations for revealed scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavat Purana, Devi Mahatmya, etc. As most of the literary works mentioned deal with divine subjects, those paintings mostly show Krishna and His associates in multitude of pastimes and attitudes. Besides those two styles, paintings of everyday life scenes can be found as well.
Rajasthan is one of the earliest centers for the Krishna-Vasudeva cult. One of the oldest Bhagavata records comes from Hathibada, half a mile east of the village Nagari in Udaipura state. The earlier inscription found belongs to the second century B.C. It records the erection of an enclosing wall with the stone carvings of Sankarshana and Vasudevabhyam. In the rang-mahal in Bikaner were found two terracotta, one representing the Govardhana lila (Krishna lifting Govardhana hill) and the other the dana-lila (Krishna taking toll tax). (annual report, Archaeological survey of india).
As to the evidence of the worship of Vishnu during the Gupta period, mention maybe made of two Visnu images found in Pisangan, District of Ajmer and Katara. The huge statues of Balarama and His consort Revati from Rupbasa (Bharatpura state)
The popularity of Krishna and Vishnu worship increased in Rajasthan with the passage of time as is evident in literary sources.
Krishna stories became so popular during the medieval period that scenes from His life depiction finds their place in many Shiva temples, such as those at Kiradu, Kekinda, Bhandadevra, Sikar, Harshanath, Arthuna, Jagesvara and several other places.
From an earlier Hathibada inscription on a stonewall dating of the 7th century, it is revealed that Hathibada continued to be an important Vaishnava site. It speaks of the erection of a stone enclosure for the worship of Sankarshana and Vasudeva within the Narayana compound, and speaks beyond a doubt that the Bhagavats accepted Vasudeva and Narayan cult by the second century.
The fact that the state of Rajasthan was an early home of Bhagavatism (Krishnaism) is evident also from a recently discovered inscription of the second century B.C. from Amvalesvar, Chittor district, which mentions a Bhagavat king who ruled over Apara and built a stone pillar.
The popularity of Krishna and Visnu worship increased in Rajasthan with the passage of time as is evident from the study of inscriptions, literature and other sources.
A fragment of bas-relief in the Kotishwar temple of kama shows the goshtha-lila of Krishna. (G.N. Sharma, op.cit., p.116).
The early medieval temples of Ossian (Jodhpur) contain many krishna-lila scenes, including the Kaliya-mardana, Dhenuka-vadha, Govardhana-dharana, Keshi-vadha, etc… Vasudeva carrying Krishna on his head, Krishna and Yashoda, etc…
Because of vandalism, and other causes of destruction, very few medieval Vishnu temples still exist now in Rajasthan.
There is ample evidence to show that Vaishnavism acquired great popularity throughout Rajasthan during the sixteenth century onward, and many temples for Vishnu and Krishna worship were erected during this period. With the help of Maharana Raj Singh the image of Srinathji was brought from Mathura in order to save it from the destructive activities of Aurangzeb. It was installed in Nathadvara, 25 miles northeast of Udaipur.
Similarly the Deity of Dvarakadhisha was set up in Kankoli. The kings of Jaipur also showed allegiance to Vaishnavism. The famous deity of Govindadeva (worshiped by Rupa Goswami in Mathura) was brought to Amber. Later on it was taken to Jaipur and installed in Chandra Mahal (Jaipur Palace). The later princes of Rajasthan continued their support to Vaishnavism. The paintings of Rajasthan throw considerable light on the popularity of Krishna worship in that place. The schools of Jaipur, Mewar, Bundi and Kishnagarth, etc. were largely inspired by the Krishna theme. The Kirti-stambha of Chittorgarth, build by Rana Kumbha, in A.D. 1448, contains scenes from Krishna’s life, especially the Govardhana-Lila.
A great wave of Krishna worship seems to have swept all over Rajasthan during this period, as is well illustrated in the songs of Mirabai, who was a Rajasthani princess, but Dvaraka was the main center of her activities.
In conclusion, one should take into account the wall paintings in various Rajasthan palaces depicting Krishna themes, such as Udaipur, Kotah, Bundi, Jaipur, Tonk and several other places.
From 1200 A.D. to 1500 A.D, Rajasthan paintings are showing a reawakening with many patrons for the arts. We do not have much record of earlier periods. Unfortunately, murals, frescos, and paintings, do not survive the passing of time like sculptures and bas-reliefs. Stone works were found as early as the second century B.C., but paintings exposed to the sunlight and other natural factors will not survive so many centuries. The earliest paintings found therefore are dating from the thirteenth century and are small illustrations or illuminations of the Jain Tirthankaras (Jain saints) and episodes from the Kalpa-sutra (Jain text containing the biographies of the Jain Tirthankaras) painted on palm leaves, mostly known as Western Indian miniatures. Those leaves were carefully preserved and occasionally exhibited during special festival days. Those paintings were created to inspire religious devotion and not as works of art and remained fixed in form. The conventionalism finally gave way when paper was introduced, instead of the narrow and inconveniently shaped palm leaf. Paper provided a larger area, even so the artist stuck to an horizontal format, it provided more room for ambitious compositions and the illuminations were often ornamented with elaborate borders. The earliest examples of those paintings on paper were painted around 1420 A.D. at Devakulavatika near Udaipur during the reign of Mokala of the Sisodiya clan (Rajputs who ruled the kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan.) It is a manuscript of note, since 37 miniatures are painted in full page for the first time. The later part of the fifteen and beginning of the sixteenth centuries experience a lavish renewal of illuminations painted with precious materials such as gold, silver, and precious stones, with red and blue backgrounds. The first noteworthy ruler to become a patron of the arts was Rana Kumbha of Mewar, (A rana is a crown prince) who loved music as well and who protected artists and musicians alike.
After that period, one of the most important kings in bringing a renewal to the arts in Rajasthan in the medieval times was King Akbar. Also called Akbar the Great (14 October 1542 – 27 October 1605). He was the third Mughal Emperor. Akbar's reign significantly influenced art and culture in the country. He was a great patron of architecture as well. And he took a great interest in painting, and had the walls of his palaces adorned with murals. Besides encouraging the development of the Mughal School, he also patronized the European style of painting, a revolutionary attitude for his time.
Emperor Akbar wanted to protect his empire overlooking the trade routes by befriending the proud Rajputs. His empire extended between the Mughal Capital and the Western coast. Raja Bar Mal of Amber was the first important Rajput chief who entered into a matrimonial relationship with Akbar in 1562; he gave his daughter in marriage to the king; that was the system for the times. Gradually other chiefs of Bikaner and Jaisalmer followed suite in 1570, as well as the famous Raja Udai Singh of Jodhpur Rajasthan in 1581.
The Mughal connection brought about interesting and important changes in Rajput paintings. These changes were evident in dress designs, architectural details, art motifs, landscape patterns and even the choice of subject matter. However, the changes were not uniform. The Bikaner school shows more Mughal elements than by example the Bundi and Amber schools. As time passed, however, and as soon as the imperial authority slackened, the Rajputs rulers gained in power and their culture became less dependent on the Mughal norm. At this stage, roughly around the first half of the seventeen century, those definite Schools of Rajasthani style of painting starting to take shape.
The work of the Mughal School in this early formative stage was largely confined to the illustration of books on a wide variety of subjects. These were executed largely by groups of painters, including a colorist, who did most of the actual painting, and specialists in portraiture and in the mixing of colors. The chief of the group was the designer, generally an artist of top quality, who formulated the composition and sketched in the rough outline. A thin wash of white, through which the initial drawing was visible, was then applied and the colors filled in. The colorist's work proceeded slowly, the color being applied in several thin layers and frequently rubbed down with an agate stone used to burnish the painting, a process that resulted in a glowing, enamel-like finish. The colors used were mostly mineral but sometimes consisted of vegetable dyes; and the brushes, many of them exceedingly fine, were made from squirrel's tail or camel hair. It is interesting to note that mineral dyes last much longer than vegetable dyes and as they age the paintings will appears more brilliant in some areas than others as a result, due to the uneven fading of some of the colors.
Actually at the outset the production of different centers such as Jodhpur, Amber and Mewar, many manuscripts for the Bhagavata Purana were illustrated during the last quarter of the sixteen-century. It shows a mixture of the local style with isolated Mughal elements. A few years later, (beginning of the seventeenth century), these isolated elements were successfully incorporated into the new style forming an integral part of Rajasthani art. Among the new schools of painting the most prominent was the one flourishing in the former state of Udaipur, the historic territory of Mewar. In the medieval times Mewar was well known for being a great center of artistic and cultural activities. Many ruling princes were great patrons of the arts. Even Rana Pratap who had to flee from Chittor and was sheltered by the principality of Chavand for his valorous refusal to yield to the powerful army of Akbar, gave refuge to artists and craftsmen. It was his son Amar Singh who got a remarkable set of raga-mala paintings produced in his time. Finally his descendant and successor Jagat Singh became a great patron of the arts and Mewar paintings reached its highest glory during his reign. The earliest dated examples of the Mewar School are characterized by a raga-mala series painted at Chawand in 1605. These simple paintings are filled with bright colors. The style became more elaborate in the first quarter of the 17th century when another raga-mala, painted at Udaipur in 1628 (formerly in the Khajanchi Collection, Bikaner; now dispersed in various collections), showed some casual acquaintance with the Mughal manner. This phase, lasting until around 1660, was one of the most important for the development of painting all over Rajasthan.
A brilliant set of nine raga-mala paintings by the artist Sahibdinwas produced around 1628. Raga-mala paintings are a series of illustrative paintings based on raga-mala or the “Garland of Ragas”, depicting various musical notes called ragas. It is a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is made. They stand as a classical example of a synthesis of art, poetry and classical music of medieval india. The same painter illustrated the Bhagavata Purana in 1648. In 1649 the artist Manohar illustrated the Ramayana. These paintings now preserved in the Dehli national museum, testify of high aesthetic achievement by the painters of Mewar. Other works followed these masterpieces such as the Nayaka Nayika series, the Gita-govinda and Rasika-priya but they were executed with much less complex compositions. The Mewar style of that period can be summarized as follows: Use of dazzling colors against patches of blue and red or green, the appearance of stylized trees, birds and flowers, and Mughal type hills as well as a mix of Mughal and Rajasthani costumes on conventional male and female figures. The paintings followed the Mughal pattern but never allowed it to override the typical Mewari features in techniques, treatment and symbolism. For the most part the Mewar paintings during the first half of the seventeen-century are very attractive and charming for their bold colors and forms of beauty.
The Rajasthani style appears to have come into being in the 16th century, about the same time the Mughal school was evolving under the patronage of Akbar; but, rather than a sharp break from the traditions, it represented a direct and natural evolution. Throughout the early phase, almost up to the end of the 17th century, it retained its essentially hierarchic and abstract character, as opposed to the naturalistic tendencies cultivated by the Mughal School. The subject matter of this style is essentially Hindu and not Islamic, devoted mainly to the illustration of literature and religious subjects as well as legends, and above all the life of Krishna; particularly favored were depictions of Krishna’s early life as the cowherd boy of Vraja, and the love of Vraja's maidens for Him, as celebrated in the Bhagavata Purana, the Gita-govinda of Jayadeva, and the Braj Bhasa verses written by Surdas and other poets. Portraits, seldom found in the early phase, became increasingly common in the 18th century – as did court scenes, scenes of sporting and hunting events, and other scenes concerned with the courtly life of the great chiefs and rajputs of Rajasthan.
Raja Jagat Singh (1652–1680) was celebrated for his courage in offering sanctuary to the deity of Srinathji at Nathdwara, the enigmatic black-faced figure of Krishna, who is shown holding up Govardhana. It became the principal seat of the Vallabhacharya Vaishnavas. Due to scarcity of material to work with, it appears that this style of painting was cheapened and slowly gave way to a dull conventional color scheme. But the school remained highly productive and a high number of paintings were produced in various centers of Rajasthan. Large number of depictions of Srinathji and His worship were produced. Other areas came under the influence of the Mewar style such as Sirohi, Devgarth, Pratapgarth and many others. Those centers were minor but they took the Mewar style as their ideal. Over the centuries these artists produced some wonderful miniatures well into the nineteenth century.
The Various Schools of Painting in Rajasthan
The Rajasthani style developed various distinct schools, most of them centering in the several states of Rajasthan, namely Mewar, Bundi, Kotah, Marwar, Bikaner, Kishangarh, and Jaipur (Amber).
The Mewar School
The Mewar School is among the most important. Ambitious and extensive illustrations of the Bhagavata, the Ramayana, the poems of Surdas, and the Gita-govinda were completed, all full of strength and vitality. The name of Sahibdin is intimately connected with this phase; another well-known painter is Manohar. The intensity and richness associated with their atelier began to fade toward the close of the 17th century, and a wave of Mughal influence began to affect the school in the opening years of the 18th century. Portraits, court scenes, and events in the everyday world of the ruling classes are increasingly found. Although the emotional fervor of the 17th century was never again attained, this work is often of considerable charm. The 19th century continued to create work in the tradition of the 18th, one of the most important centers being Nathdwara (Rajasthan), the seat of the Vallabha sect. Large numbers of pictures, produced here for the pilgrim trade, were spread over all parts of Rajasthan, northern India, Gujarat, and the Deccan.
The Bundi School
A School as important as that of Mewar developed at Bundi and later at Kotah, which was formed by a partition of the parent state and ruled by a junior branch of the Bundi family. Their earliest examples are epitomized by a raga-mala series of extraordinarily rich quality, probably dating from the end of the 16th century. From the very beginning the Bundi style seemed to have found Mughal painting an inspiring source, but its workmanship was as distinctively Rajasthani as the work of Mewar. The artists of this school always displayed a pronounced preference for lively movement, which is unique in all of Rajasthan. Toward the second half of the 17th century, work at Bundi came unmistakably under the influence of Mewar; many miniatures, including several series illustrating the Rasika-priya, indicate that this was a period of prolific activity. The sister state of Kotah also appears to have become an important center of painting at this time, developing a great fondness for hunting and sport scenes, all filled with great vigor and surging strength. This kind of work continued well into the 19th century, and if the workmanship was not always of the highest quality, the style maintained its integrity against the rapidly increasing Western influence right up to the end.
The Malwa School: In contrast to the Bundi School, miniatures generally painted in Malwa were quite antiquated, with mannerisms inherited from the 16th century and retained until the end of the 17th. The earliest work is an illustrated version of the Rasika-priya (1634), followed by a series illustrating a Sanskrit poem called the Amaru Shataka (1652). There are also illustrations of raga-malas, the Bhagavata-Purana, and other Hindu devotional and literary works. The compositions of all of these pictures is uncompromisingly flat, the space divided into registers and panels, each filled with a patch of color and occupied by figures that convey the action. This conservative style disappeared after the close of the 17th century. The course of Malwa painting in the 18th century and later is not known.
Marwar school: A raga-mala series dated 1623 reveals that painting in this state shared features common to other schools of Rajasthan. Miniatures of the second half of the 17th century are distinguished by some splendid portraits that owe much to the Mughal School. A very large amount of work was done in the 19th century, all of which is highly stylized but strong in color and often of great charm.
Bikaner school: Of all Rajasthani schools, the Bikaner style, from its very establishment in the mid-17th century, shows the greatest indebtedness to the Mughal style. This is due to the presence in the Bikaner atelier of artists who had previously worked in the Mughal manner at Delhi. They and their descendants continued to paint in a style that could only be classed as a provincial Mughal manner had it not been for the quick absorption of influences from the Rajasthani environment and a sympathy for the religious and literary themes favored by the royal patrons. Delicacy of line and color are consistent characteristics of Bikaner painting even when, toward the end of the 18th century, it assumed stylistic features associated with the more orthodox schools of Rajasthan.
The Kishangarh School, which came into being much later than the other Schools, toward the mid-18th century, was also indebted to the contemporary Mughal style but combined a rich technique with deeply moving religious fervor. Its inspiring patron in the formative phase was Savant Singh, more of a devotee and a poet than a king. The style established by him, characterized by pronounced mystical leanings and a distinctive facial type, continued to the middle of the 19th century, though at a clearly lower level of achievement.
Jaipur (Amber) School: The rulers of the state were closely allied to the Mughal dynasty, but paintings of the late 16th and early 17th centuries possessed all of the elements of the Rajasthani style. Little is known about the school until the opening years of the 18th century, when stiff, formal examples appear in the reign of Savai Jai Singh. The finest works, dating from the reign of Pratap Singh, are sumptuous in effect and include some splendid portraits and some large paintings of the sports of Krishna. Although the entire 19th century was extremely productive, the work was rather undistinguished and increasingly affected by Western influences. Of the Rajasthani styles of this period, the Jaipur School was the most popular, examples having been found all over northern India.
Though the political influence of the princes was restricted, the royal courts remained vital to the production of art through the nineteenth century. They were important venues for the continuation of artistic traditions as well as conduits for European influences in both art and architecture. At the beginning of this period, the Mughal court continued to produce elaborate histories; particularly popular were copies of the Babur-nama and the Padshah-nama, which documented the reigns of legendary emperors Babur and Shah Jahan. While completed in the style of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century originals, some paintings depicted the now universal famous monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Early nineteenth-century works from surrounding courts also continued in earlier styles.
But the Mughals were no longer the driving force behind Indian art, and some princes were more interested in other forms of painting. The nawabs of Oudh were particularly active in this regard; Shuja ud-Dawla (r. 1754–75) hosted Britisher Tilly Kettle at Faizabad for a year, and Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar (r. 1814–27) hired the Scot Robert Hume as his court painter. Raja Rajendra Malik of Bengal furnished his Marble Palace with copies of Renaissance works and originals by contemporary neoclassical painters, and had family portraits executed by European artists. Thus this period marked the introduction of easel painting and oil paints to India. First brought into the courts by Kettle, Hume, and other European artists, this type of painting was later taught at schools. Academies opened in the 1850s in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, and then in 1875 in Lahore. With the advent of such formal training for artists, they came to be regarded as professionals rather than mere artisans.
About 30 British portrait painters trained in oil paintings and 28 miniaturists travelled to India between 1770 and 1825 in search of commissions. Amongst the earliest European artists who visited India were John Zoffany, William Hodges, Tilly Kettle, William and Thomas Daniell, Emily Eden and others. From around 1760 till the mid 19th century, these itinerant artist-travelers toured India working for local patrons making paintings and prints of monuments, landscapes as well as portraits. The artists worked in oils on canvas utilizing the western technique of academic realism with its emphasis on linear perspective. These European artists recorded the new colony in prints and paintings that explored the vast landscapes, the numerous historical edifices and monuments and the many communities that inhabited the land. They were called “the orientalists. Filtered through the ‘orientalist’ lens, these works imaged India as an exotic and mysterious land in paintings depicting the ghats of Benaras, dancing girls in princely courts, colorful caste costumes, portraits of local rulers and their courtiers, different native occupations and the local flora and fauna.
Toward the late 19th century traditional Indian painting was rapidly dying out, being replaced by feeble works in a variety of idioms, all strongly influenced by the Western culture, such as the post-impressionist, cubist and fauvist art of the beginning of the 20th century. The glories of Indian art were rediscovered during the early 20th century, represented by what is called the Bengal school. The school consciously tried to produce what it considered a truly Indian art inspired by the creations of the past. Its leading artist was Rabindranath Tagore and its theoretician was E.B. Havell, the principal of the Calcutta School of Art. Nostalgic in mood, the work was mainly overly romantic though often of considerable charm. The Bengal school did a great deal to reshape contemporary taste and to make Indian artists aware of their own heritage. Amrita Sher-Gil, who was inspired by the Postimpressionists, made Indian painters aware of new directions. Mid-20th-century Indian painting is very much a part of the international scene, the artists painting in a variety of idioms, often attempting to come to terms with their heritage and with the emergence of India as a modern culture. In Rajasthan however during the 20th century, we see the emergence of a couple of successfully traditional artists such as B. G. Sharma and his cousin Indra Sharma.
Bhanwarlal Girdharilal Sharma (1925–2008) was an award-winning painter from Rajasthan. He was born in Nathadwara, Rajasthan. He was famous for his miniature devotional paintings and his rejuvenation and popularization of classic Rajasthan art, including the Mughal, Kishangarh, and Kangra styles. He was taught to paint by his father and grandfather, who were also well-known artists. He later developed his own distinctive style, renowned for its elegance of composition, delicacy of detail, gem-like colors, and light-suffused images. The hallmark of his work is its unmistakable aura of deep devotion. His style, based on the Nathadwara tradition, contributed significantly to the culture and popularity of both traditional and contemporary Indian art. He was commissioned portraits of the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, and the former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.His work has been exhibited internationally in London, Germany, and the United States and has influenced and inspired many other artists. He was a winner of numerous awards, including the National Art Award for Master Craftsman given to him by Government of India in 1983. He was a cousin of Indra Sharma, who also exhibited in MOSA
Indra Sharma (1923-2006), like his cousin B.G. Sharma, emerged from the Nathadwara art tradition. Although he was born in Kurawad, Rajasthan, his early training in painting took place at Nathadwara under the direction of two masters, Shri Gopilal and Shri Khubilal. During this time he learned the basic skills of making paints and brushes.In 1943 he went to Karachi to repaint some pichhavais at a famous temple. While he was there he also painted some original compositions of his own. An early patron, Seth Gokuldas, brought him to Kolkata and Indra Sharma flourished under his sponsorship. Seth Gokuldas eventually sent him to the famous J.J. School of Art in Mumbai in 1946, where he studied for four years. Indra Sharma’s genius was in producing sublime images of saints and deities depicted in beautiful settings. His style was less traditional than B.G. Sharma in its conception and more under the influence of European art. The word for his style is called calendar art. He actually became famous throughout India through the mass distribution of his paintings via the medium of calendars and cards. His style nonetheless remained totally devotional.
Thanks to its geographical situation, the Indian subcontinent has been constantly fed by artistic traditions emanating from the west and the Middle East. The Indian artist has shown a remarkable capacity for accepting these foreign influences and assimilating and incorporating them to their own style. And just as India received influences, it transmitted its own art abroad particularly to Ceylon and the countries of Southeast Asia. The origin and development of the different Rajasthani Schools and the Mughal School (Actually Persian style) happened simultaneously. While the Mughal style was dominated by pomp and paintings of the royal courts, the Rajasthani style adopted a highly imaginative posture, filled with religious sentiments and devotion. The paintings were full of lively depictions of the various moods of Radha-Krishna and their associates. Also the Rajasthani paintings were much more colorful than the Mughal ones. Arrangements of colors were especially significant. The bright and shinny colors possessed their own form and style. The Rajasthani style of decorations was also very different from the Mughal one. Some of the symbols used in Rajasthan are the lotus, the swan and the peacock while the Mughal School used the camel, the Saru tree, and the falcon. From the 16th century to the 19th century Rajasthani Schools are definitively part of a major branch of indian painting. It possessed its own characteristic and masterpieces were produced.
(Sources: Wikipedia online and "The Life of Krishna in Indian Art" by P. Banerjee, published by the National Museum, New Delhi.)