Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 22

BY: SUN STAFF - 13.3 2017

Krsna Sporting with the Gopis Kishanghar, c. 1820

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

17th – 19th Centuries


"It was by sheer chance that is 1952 Prof. Eric Dickinson discovered the Kishangarh miniatures, wrapped in a dusty basta and dumped in an inconspicuous place in the fort of this small state capital. Instinctively Dickinson realized that he had hit the virtual eldorado of the most magnificent miniatures. The similarity of their style – elongated figures, lavish green landscape topped by a glorious horizon aglow in crimson hues of the setting sun evidenced a concentrated period of artistic production. These were the divine lovers – Radha and Krishna.

Dickinson wrote: "The world of everyday was blotted out as deeper and still more deep I was drawn into that strange exotic paradise of the followers of Vallabha, the devotees of the Radha-Krishna cult." Art lovers and connoisseurs acclaimed the unique charm of Kishangarh miniatures and their inimitable perfection.

During the brief span of twenty years between 1737-1757 the Kishangarh art was at its zenith. Crown prince Savant Singh (1699-1764) was the guiding force behind the strong devotional fervour at the court and a rejuvenation of painting suffuse with the spiritual yearning of a soul in quest of the Lord. His father Raj Singh was an enlightened ruler and patronized arts and music but only within limits of the royal etiquette.

Boating Pleasures Kishanghar, c. 1760

With Savant Singh, however, bhakti became an increasing obsession till he became completely indifferent to his princely status. He wrote devotional poetry under the name of Nagari Das. His hero was Krishna. Not that Savant Singh was not a brave Rajput. He had controlled a mad elephant at the tender age of 10. At 13 he had rallied his forces in support of the Mughal King Farrukhsiyar in Delhi. At 20 he single handedly killed a lion. But his heart was not in it.

This brave Rajput prince, with aesthetic and religious inclinations, fell in love with his step mother's slave girl, a gayana (singer) called Bani Thani known for her exquisite elegance and enchanting youth. She reciprocated his love. She also wrote verse. Savant Singh eulogized Radha in thinly veiled allusions to Bani Thani, celebrating "her queenly smile, lips red as poppy flowers growing, in the scorching sun of June's long stagnant afternoon." Their mutual attraction overcame the difference of 18 years between the poet-prince and his beloved

During the early stages of his fondness for Bani Thani, Savant Singh had drawn her face from memory as a rough sketch for his favourite painter Nihal Chand to paint. When completed, this face became the legendary face of the Kishangarh Radha, the quintessence of Indian woman-hood and grace, inaugurating a new style in Kishangarh miniatures. It is an elongated face with a high forehead, arched eye brows, half-open lotus eyes, sharp pointed nose, thin curved but extremely sensuous lips and a pointed chin over a long narrow neck. The grandeur of jewellery adds to the magnificence of a transparent odhni (head covering). The curl of the hair around the ear contributes mystique to the enthralling charm of the portrait. The modelling of the two hands – beautifully lacquered finger tips, left hand holding two lotus buds and the right hand holding the border of the dress for a perfect framing of the profile. The rows of pearls… the saucy nose ring, tikka and the splendid pearl and diamond pendant on the ear bespeak of the royal lineage. The long, dark flowing tresses provide the truly oriental touch of eternal feminine grace.

On the Terrace Kishanghar, c. 1780

This portrait of Radha vies for comparison with Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece 'Mona Lisa'. Doubtless Bani Thani was the living inspiration for this portrait, which is the most remarkable gem of the Kishangarh miniatures.

In due course the inevitable followed. Savant Singh withdrew himself completely from the affairs of the state and his whole life centered around love of the Lord, writing and singing bhajans, a whole-hearted pursuit of spiritual values.

The Kishangarh atelier [art studio] had functioned since the founding of the state in 1609 by Kishan Singh, a Jodhpur prince. It attained a certain identity of its own under Man Singh (1658-1709) and later Raj Singh (1706-1748), though mostly the subjects painted were hunting scenes, darbar and portraits – favourite themes of the royalty. The Mughal influence on miniatures was thwarted by the growing bhakti cult, which now emphasized the love of Radha and Krishna.

Krishna and Radha Cruising on Lake Gundalao (detail) Kishanghar, c. 1775

Savant Singh's introduction to the Mughal magnificence appeared in the new feature -- elongation of human figures and long flowing jama. Musavir Bhawani Das was a well known painter at the court in 1722, but Nihal Chand eclipsed all his contemporaries at Kishangarh. Occasionally one finds the names of later artists mentioned – Amar Chand and his son Megh Raj, Kalyan Das, Amru, Suraj Mal, Nanag Ram and Surat Ram. None, however, could match the perfection of Nihal Chand's work under Savant Singh's guidance done during the years 1737-1757.

Though Kishangarh patronized miniature painters for a hundred years after Savant Singh's death in 1764, the magic and transcendental fervour of these great years could never be recaptured. Nihal Chand's later work, illustrations to the Mughal text, Shahnama look laboured and jaded. The visionary gleam and glory had deserted the scene. The forces of decline had set in."



Kishangarh Miniatures - In Quest Of Divine Love by Dr. Alka Pande