Kangra Paintings: Rise and Fall

It is said that art speaks where words are unable to explain. Indian Art is no exception to this statement. Just like Indian culture, the art scene in India is rich and diverse. It rangesfrom sculptures to pottery, paintings to textiles and folk music to internationally acclaimed traditional music. Indian Art depicts the rich cultural heritage of the country.This blog aims at celebrating the cultural heritage by exploring the legacy of Kangra paintings.

The origin of delicate and beautifully detailed miniature painting forms can be traced back to the 10th century. One such form of miniature painting is Kangra painting, which belongs to the Pahari School of paintings. Kangra painting was encouraged and supported by the Rajput rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries. The origin of Kangra paintings can be traced back to Guler in early 18th century when painters who were trained in Mughal painting style sought refuge at the court of Raja Dalip Singh. Earlier, this form of art was mainly prevalent in was Guler, Basohli, Chamb, Nurpur, Bilaspur and Kangra; but with passage of time and patronage, artists from nearby areas started practicing it and it reached areas like Mandi, Suket, Kulu, Arki, Nalagarh and Tehri Garwal.

The artists who had sought shelter from the King took inspiration from picturesque locales of the Guler state. They painted detailed paintings of landscape, streams and springs. These were some of the images that were frequently painted on these miniatures. The paintings were in harmony with nature. The use of lustrous colors that were extracted from minerals and vegetables brought the paintings to life. 

In Mid-18th century, the Pahari paintings witnessed an amalgamation of two cultures: Hindu and Muslim. Nainkush a key practitioner of Pahari painting became the central figure in the development Pahari painting. He started incorporating elements of Mughal painting in his work. 

Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch supported and promoted Pahari paintings during his reign. He remained a devotee of Lord Krishna throughout his life. He asked artists to depict life and eternal love of Radha-Krishna through their paintings. The artists incorporated the theme of “Shringar-ras” in their paintings. Love and devotion were themes that were explored.Artists took inspirations from Bhagvad Purana and Jaydev’s Gita Govindam.Images of Radha and Krishna were seen as embodiment of soul and God. Thus, Radha’s devotion to Krishna was depicted as soul’s commitment to God. Though the depiction of Radha-Krishna’s love and devotion and Krishna’s life were predominant, artists also explored other themes inspired by nayaks (heroes) and nayikas (heroines). They took inspirations from Bhagavad Purana and depicted incidents from the early life of Lord Krishna. The Brindavan forest and Yamuna became the landscape. They took inspirations from picturesque locales of the valley and painted vivid landscapes. They paid attention to minutest details and employed the technique of using different hues same color to add depth to subject. Trees, vines, flowers and brooks were recurring images. The other popular themes that were explored in miniature paintings were the stories of Nal and Damayanti and stories from Keshavdas’s Baramasa.

Other than the theme of love and devotion, Kangra paintings can be easily recognized by its distinctive features which involve depiction of nature, feminine charm, nocturnal scenes, storms, lighting and color choice.

 It is rightly said, “You rise, you fall and then you rise again.” Kangra paintings too followed the same pattern. It saw its zenith in 18th century. It continued flourishing till late in 19th century, but with loss of royal patronage, it lost its sheen. Nowadays, government and NGOs are working towards the revival of this art. They are encouraging and training emerging artists in this form of original Indian Art. Their endeavors are successful to some extent. We see this form of art in various establishments like costumes, handicrafts, pottery, furnishings, jewelries etc. but we seldom recognize it. It is mostly because Kangra paintings have not been advertised and boasted of like its Persian and Mughal style inspired miniature paintings. Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum, which is next to Kangra Fort in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, is trying to create awareness about this form of art. It preserves some of the master pieces of Kangra paintings. Art avid should visit this museum for a life enthralling experience.There, they can closely see and observe the intricacies of delicately detailed masterpieces and be proud of our rich cultural heritage.
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