Third of our four part series on Rajasthan’s miniature art
Hunting scenes are common in art. They are used to showcase the valour and courage of warrior kings and nobles, a way of inspiring trust in the people and showing off their power. While men are usually shown carrying out important actions, women are shown engaging in leisurely, pleasurable activities and often just waiting for their men to come back.
But this mid-18th century miniature showing queen Budhavati of Kota hunting tigers neatly flips the stereotype. This and many others gems are a part of the small yet significant Haroti school of miniatures in Rajasthan, rooted in the south-eastern part of the state.
The Haroti school includes the art created in Kota, Bundi, Indergarh and Uniara, with Bundi and Kota being the most prolific. Although not as politically powerful as the other major Rajput states of Marwar, Mewar and Amber, Haroti stands apart for its exceptional art both miniatures and murals.
Second of our four part series on Rajasthan’s miniature art
The miniature art in Bundi originated in the 17th century and reached its peak during the 18th century. The art from Bundi is exceptional for its depiction of flowing rivers, dramatic night skies, lush vegetation, vivid movement and a distinctive way of depicting water by light swirls against a dark background.
In the early phase of the art, one can see Rajasthani elements with a strong Mughal influence, with the men and women depicted in a typically Rajasthani style. However, the later paintings of Bundi show a great influence of the Deccan since the rulers of Bundi had significant exchanges with the region. The artists used mostly green, red, blue and yellow to highlight their delicate line work and great imagination. A recurring motif is the lotus pond, which is in the foreground with aquatic flora and fauna.
Some of the rulers who were significant patrons were Rao Chatarsal in the 17th century, Umed Singh in the 18th century and Bishen Singh in the 18th-19th century, and appear in numerous miniatures of their time. Not only was art in Bundi patronised by the kings but significant patronage also came from the nobles.
One can find striking illustrations of themes like the Krishna-Lila, Ragamala, Rasikapriya, Nayaka- Nayika Bheda, Baramasa, Zenana, hunting scenes and portraits from Bundi, some of the most beloved themes in Rajasthani art.
Art in Bundi had many phases in its growth and development, running the gamut from classical themes to portraits to scenes of great activity to scenes of great sensuousness.
Kota was created as an offshoot of Bundi in the mid-17th century, by Mughal emperor Jahangir, and was ruled by descendants of the Bundi kings. On the formation of the state, artists migrated from Bundi to Kota, thus bringing with them a strong influence of Bundi art. The rulers of Kota provided continuous support to art, keeping the Kota school prolific through the centuries.
Bhim Singh, one of the rulers in the early 18th century, converted to the Sri Vallabhacharya sect and adopted the Garuda as the official symbol of the state. The Garuda, a mythological bird-like creature, was subsequently depicted in umpteen paintings from Kota.
Hunting scenes from Kota are outstanding for their allusions to movement and activity. The art of Kota reached its golden age during the reign of Ram Singh II in the mid-19th century, and one can see numerous paintings depicting him in themes like court and hunting scenes. Some of these vigorous paintings depict royal tiger hunts in the thick and hilly jungles of the region.
The paintings from Kota are also rich in their depiction of emotions, rendering of beauty and charm; similitude, motifs, contrast and balances as well as the choice of background, colour schemes and themes. They are noteworthy for their depiction of the various dimensions of an object without losing its essence.
Kota artists used a wide range of colours but were particularly fond of soft tones, of green, yellow and blue. The artists depicted lush green vegetation with an assortment of flora and fauna; they depicted rocks in a highly stylised pink, probably a Persian influence coming via the Mughals. The depiction of animals particularly tigers and elephants is incomparable to any other school of art in Rajasthan.
Indergarh was a small state near Kota surrounded by the Aravalli hills. Established by Maharaja Inder Singh in the early 17th century, it is known for its fort and historic Jain temples. Although a relatively small state, art flourished here and the influence of the art of Kota was immense. The kings were significant patrons of art. Particularly exceptional are the miniatures depicting hunting scenes and war processions. Indergarh is known for its depiction of action and vigour with bright colours.
This painting depicting Raja Sunman Singh in a procession going to celebrate Holi is brilliantly composed, with the galloping horse, beautifully decorated floral banner and soldiers and nobles with large moustaches and sideburns in typical Kota attire. The background is perfectly rendered in deep green with the orange, brown and red against it. Although only a few, paintings from Indergarh show great mastery and skill.
Uniara was a small Rajput state in present-day Tonk district, with the fort of Ranthambore to its east. It became a subsidiary state of the Kachwaha rulers of Jaipur in the 18th century and was ruled by the Naruka dynasty. Four rulers of Uniara – Sangram Singh, Ajit Singh, Sardar Singh and Bishan Singh – were significant patrons of art and one sees great works of art from their time.
The state was not particularly prolific but one does see many significant albums being painted here. Folios from these albums can be found in museums and private collections across India as well as abroad. Some of the significant themes presented are the Dasavatara, Barahmasa, Hitopadesha, Ramayana, Bhagwata Purana and the Ragamala.
Although the state was politically close to Jaipur, the artistic style was influenced by that of Kota and Bundi. Some of the most significant artists of the school, Dhima, Mir Bux and Kashi, were employed under Sardar Singh and created a style assimilating elements from Jaipur and Bundi. Uniara’s paintings stand out due to their fine draftsmanship, rich flora and fauna and use of bright colours.
The kings and nobles of Haroti are long gone and gone are the feuds and battles that drove them, but they have left behind something far more significant and timeless in their patronage of art.