The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 56

BY: SUN STAFF - 30.4 2019

Kama Disturbs Krsna 
Gita-govinda, Mewar School, c. 1650

A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

In previous segments we have talked about the intersection of Mughal and Vaishnava themes in Indian art, with brief mention of the Rajput School of painting. In much the same way that the Rajput general, Raja Man Singh stood as a staunch devotee of Krishna amidst his Islamic associates in the Mughal court, some Rajput paintings are like flag-bearers of Vaisnavism in fields of art and architecture that were dominated by Mughal themes.

Most art historians today describe Rajput paintings in terms of the Mughal influence they demonstrate, and very often it is these Mughal themes that the critics find pleasing and important. As devotees, we are doing the opposite – searching for the Vaisnava themes that are present, albeit often subdued, in paintings from the Rajput and other schools in the northwestern region of India dominated by the Mughal presence.

The first Rajput house to accept Mughal sovereignty was the Kachhwahas, who built the great fort at Amber. Not surprisingly, the Kachwaha court artists immediately demonstrated the Rajputs' deference to their new rulers by incorporating Mughal elements in their paintings. The Mughal themes were carried through all the subsequent schools under the broad class of Rajput Schools of painting, including the Bikaner, Bundi-Kota Kalam, Jaipur, Kishengarh, Marwar, and Mewar Schools.

Krsna and Gopis 
Bundi-Kota School

In 1615 A.D., the last of the Rajput houses to surrender to Mughal rule were the Sisodias of Mewar, but their loyalty was only superficial and they were almost unaffected by the Mughal influence. They are said to have remained true to their Rajput heritage, but of course, all things associated with the Rajputs had been affected by the Mughals for hundreds of years by this time, and even the Sisodia clan's art was imbued by Mughal style and ornament.

In the court arts of Mewar, the influence of the Sisodia school as well as the Vaisnava mood of the Pushti Margs are prevalent. The amalgamation of Rajput, Mughal and Vaisnava elements in Mewar art is now becoming a topic of serious study by academia. One professor, Jennifer Joffee, has written on the subject, "Rajput, Mughal, Vaishnava: Cultural Synthesis in the Court Arts of 17th- and 18th-Century Mewar", stating:

"…the imperially-sponsored art and architecture of 17th- and 18th-century Mewar reflect a rich and sophisticated amalgamation of various Rajput, Mughal, and Vaishnava elements that reveal a unique cultural synthesis. Furthermore, I contend that this cultural synthesis was, in part, deliberately created to bolster Mewar's image in the eyes of other Rajput houses that had long been thriving under Mughal rule and to reassert the Sisodias' self-proclaimed position as the foremost Rajput dynasty."

Shri Raga from Chawand Ragamala 
Nasiruddin, Sisodia School


The Sisodias were an ancient Kshatriya clan who claimed to be direct descendants of Lord Rama. Their history is described in the Udaipur government's website:

"They came from the borders of Kashmir and by the second Century B.C. they had moved south to what is now Gujarat, founding, as they went, several cities along the coast, one of which was called Vallabhai.

The chronicles of the bards tell us that in the sixth century Vallabhai was sacked by strangers from the west. The Queen of Vallabhai, Pushpavati, who was on a pilgrimage offering prayers for her unborn child, heard of the destruction of Vallabhai and the death of her husband while traveling through the Aravalli hills in the north. Despairing, she took refuge in a cave, and there gave birth to a son whom she called Guhil, or "cave born." Then, entrust her child to a maidservant, the queen ordered a funeral pyre lit, and walked into it to join her dead husband's soul. Guhil, or Guhadatta, was befriended by the Bhils, tribal aborigines who had lived in the Aravalli hills since well before 2000 B.C. Amongst the Bhils, Guhadatta grew in power, and became a chieftain. His progeny came to be known as Guhilols.

In the seventh century the Guhil moved north, and down to the plains of Mewar, changing their name to Sisodia, after a village they encountered on the way. The descendants of Guhadatia were the great Ranas, Rawals and Maharanas of Mewar, builders of forts and palaces, whose exploits in peace and war are unmatched in valor and chivalry. By the time of India's independence, the royal line of Mewar had ruled for 75 generations, 1,400 years; the oldest of Rajasthan's ancient dynasties."

Given the prominent legacy ascribed to the Sisodias, it is not surprising that an organized effort would be made to synthesize Rajput, Vaisnava and Mugal elements in art and architecture under the Sisodia banner. Sri Krsna, through His incarnation as Lord Ramacandra, again pushed through to the forefront, inspiring countless depictions of Krsna lila in exquisite Mewar paintings which, despite the Mughal footprint, will be loved by devotees for ages to come.

Krsna and Gopis 
Kishangarh School