First of our four part series on Rajasthan’s miniature art
Miniature paintings from Rajasthan are some of the most exquisite art forms India has. This form of painting developed across this region in medieval times and, although generically referred to as ‘Rajput miniatures’, this style of painting shows great diversity depending on geography and time period.
Rajasthan was a hotbed of political and military activity in medieval times, and as a result, dozens of states emerged, most of them establishing artistic ateliers in their courts. A wide range of subjects was depicted in these paintings, from portraits, court scenes, hunts and festivals to religious paintings depicting gods and goddesses and depictions of significant texts and epics in illustrated manuscripts.
Some of these schools were extremely prolific and artistically significant, while others were not as developed. Their skill and prominence were dictated by the resources available to the artists as well as the level of interest the rulers had in art and the patronage they provided.
Based on geography alone, miniatures are classified into four broad groups – Mewar, Marwar, Hadoti and Dhundar. We will explore the art that emerged in the Mewar region, one of the most prolific regions of artistic activity. Paintings from Mewar, Deogarh, Pratapgarh and Nathdwara are classified under the Mewar group.
Mewar art originated in the Aravalli Hills of South-Eastern Rajasthan, in the Kingdom of Mewar and its associated states. The art which emerged here is characterized by emotional appeal and bright colours. A comparatively large number of paintings were created in Mewar vis-à-vis any other Rajasthani school.
The first school in this group emerged in the Kingdom of Mewar, mostly centred on the capital, Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh and later Udaipur. The rulers of Mewar patronised art across centuries, starting with Maharana Kumbha, Pratap and later Jagat Singh I.
The Mewar schools have been influenced by multiple schools across time. In the early miniatures, you can see the influence of the Gujarat Jain miniature paintings. In the 17th century, after Mewar had signed the peace treaty with the Mughals at the time of Maharana Amar Singh I r. 1597 – 1620 CE, elements of Mughal art can be seen along with the indigenous idiom.
The Balagopal Stuti from the mid-15th century is an early example of Mewar art. The depiction of themes associated with Krishna would continue to be a significant theme in the various schools of Mewar art across the centuries.
Some other significant early examples are a few mid-16th century Geet-Govind folios, the Dhola Maru series of 1592 and the Chawand Ragamala from 1605.
The later rulers continued the tradition of depicting epics and poems from mythology in addition to court scenes and portraits. Sangram Singh II’s period in the early 18th century is considered the golden age of art as it is during this period that many of the major poems and epics were painted.
Deogarh is a small town 125 km from Udaipur, where a distinct style of miniature painting emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries under its Rajput rulers. Rawat Gokuldas was one of the most significant patrons of the Deogarh style of art.
The art of Deogarh reflects a strong Mewar influence, with the prominent use of yellow and green as well as bold and elegant lines. One can see themes like portraits, hunting scenes, darbar and court ceremonies as well tales of Radha-Krishna in the art of this region.
Deogarh has produced some prominent artists whose work is still significant today. In its early phase, artists Bagta and Chokha were at the forefront, and in the later phase Baijnath, the son of Chokha, occupied a prominent place. One can see the influence of the Nathdwara and Jaipur styles in the work of Baijnath. The art from Deogarh is especially distinct because the artists have mirrored their natural surroundings in their paintings.
The cornerstone of the Pratapgarh kingdom was laid by a cousin of Rana Kumbha, Kshemkarna, in southern Mewar. His son and grandson formally established a kingdom with its capital at Deoliya in the 15th-16th century. Later, their descendant, Rawat Pratap Singh, established the town of Pratapgarh in the 17th century, where the Pratapgarh School of art flourished.
The art in this principality was initially supported by Pratap Singh and later by his son. Pratap Singh himself was a follower of Vaishnavism and a devotee of Krishna. Thus, paintings with Krishna as the subject form a prominent part of this school of art.
In fact, one of the most significant series from this school is the illustrations of Bhaudatta’s Rasa-Manjari with Krishna as its hero. The series was commissioned by Pratap Singh and completed during the reign of his grandson, Prithvi Singh, by the painters of the royal court.
The Nathdwara School is one of the most well-known artistic schools in the country due to the spiritual significance of the Srinathji shrine and the associated art of Pichwai. Besides the Pichwais, which are painted on cloth and are large in scale, a tradition of miniature paintings on handmade paper also emerged in Nathdwara.
The art of Nathdwara is deeply associated with the seat of Srinathji at Nathdwara, which helped in spreading Vaishnavism in the region. Thus, themes associated with Krishna are prominent in these paintings. The artistic style of Nathdwara paintings is an amalgamation of the styles of Braj and Mewar.
The paintings of Nathdwara are well-balanced and use deep colours like blue extensively. The image of Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan is one of the most significant images of Nathdwara art.
In this school, depictions of human figures usually follow a set pattern – the women are elderly, the men robust and heavily built, and Krishna’s playmates are sportive and emotional. The Pushtimarg (path of grace) paintings became extremely popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, making Nathdwara paintings a continuing living tradition.
The states of Mewar may have vanished but they have left us with a rich and significant artistic collection. The art from Mewar is vibrant and expressive and many of the artistic traditions established hundreds of years ago are still thriving.