Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 21

BY: SUN STAFF - 6.3 2017

Raja Savant Singh and Bani Thani portrayed as Krishna and Radha
Nihal Chand, c. 1760

A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.

17th – 19th Centuries


The last of the Central India and Rajasthan art centers we'll focus on is the Kishangarh (Kishengarh) School, which emerged in the second quarter of the 18th Century in Rajasthan. The village of Kishangarh, located in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, about 18 miles northwest of Ajmer, is home to the Kishangarh School, considered a sub-set of the Rajasthani School of painting.

The Kishangarh style was developed under the patronage of Raja Savant Singh (1748-1757 A.D.), who was inclined towards Bhakti yoga. He wrote devotional poetry in praise of Sri Krsna, writing under the pseudonym, Nagari Das.

The most prolific artist of the period was the master painter Nihal Chand, who was patronized by Raja Savant Singh. Chand painted wonderful illustrations to accompany his master's lyrical compositions on Krsna. His work is very recognizable for its finely drawn figures and exaggerated almond eyes that tilt upwards at the corner.

Bani Thani 
Kishangarh School

One of the most famous of all Kishangarh paintings is the piece entitled 'Bani Thani'. The poet-king Raja Savant Singh had eyes only for this girl, Bani Thani, who was a singer and poet in his court. Singh was drawn to her eyes, and of course, to the fact that she was also a poetess.

As was the custom of the day, rulers like Singh had their court artists portray them as a character in the pastime scenes of Sri Sri Radha Krsna. (The conditioned souls always desire to be Krsna, whether lowly peasants or great kings.) The image above is a miniature painted by the court artist Nihal Chand – a rendition of Radha and Krsna, except in this case, the figures are Raja Savant Singh and his Bani Thani, strolling in the palace garden.

One could easily mistake this painting for a scene from Krishna-lila, and in fact, portraits of Bani Thani (which were proliferated over the years) are often mistaken for Srimati Radharani. Not surprising, since the artist's style developed, in part, by his merging of Vaisnava themes with his patron's sentimental notions.

Radha and Krsna 
By Nihal Chand, Kishanghar School, c. 1750 

Unfortunately, very few Kishangarh miniatures have survived, and they are now much sought after by art collectors. A great many of the extant Kishangarh miniatures portray Radha and Krsna, Radharani being depicted with a long elegant neck, exotic eyes with drooping eyelids, thin lips and pointed chin. These Krsna paintings set the tone for the other sophisticated works from the Kishangarh School.

The Kishangarh style of painting continued into the 19th Century. Around 1820, a series of illustration for Gita-govinda were produced.

Krsna Plays Holi with the Gopis
Nihal Chand, Kishanghar School, c. 1755



Excerpted and paraphrased from: 
Ministry of Culture, Government of India