Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 24

BY: SUN STAFF - 20.3 2017

Krsna Takes Rukmini Away from Devi Shrine 
Basohli School, Punjab Hills, c. 1790

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


17th to 19th Centuries

Today we begin the last, and one of the most famous groups of Indian miniature art – the Pahari Schools. The Pahari region comprises the present state of Himachal Pradesh, some adjoining areas of the Punjab, Jammu in the Jammu/Kashmir State, and Garhwal in Uttar Pradesh. The area was divided into small states as each region came under the rule of the Rajput princes.

From the latter half of the 17th to nearly the middle of the 19th century, the Pahari region was one of India's greatest centers of art. The most prominent schools to emerge from the area were the Basohli, Guler, Kangra, and Kulu-Mandi. We begin today with a brief look at the Basohli School, which was the earliest centre of painting to emerge in the Pahari region.

Krishna and the Messenger, Tricking Radha 
Basohli School, c. 1660


From time immemorial, Jammu province was divided into small, independent states: Lakhanpur, Jasrota, Billawar, Ramnagar, Chinani, Baderwah, Kashtwar, Kirmachi, Akhnoor, Poonch and Basohli. Basohli always held an important place among these autonomous states. Situated to the northeast, about 130 kms from Jammu proper, lies the great center of art, Basohli.

The early Pahari paintings of the mid-17th century done in the Basohli style were characterised by a strong use of primary colours (red, mustard yellow and blue) and by striking faces that featured high foreheads and great, expressive eyes shaped like lotus petals. Apart from the clothing, which was typically influenced by Mughal paintings of the day, Basholi miniatures had their own strongly individual styles and themes.

The Pal rulers of Basohli were great supporters of the arts. Under the patronage of Raja Kripal Pal, an artist named Devidasa executed miniature illustrations for the Rasamanjari, in 1694 A.D. One other series of Rasamanjari miniatures is found in the same style, from the same period, but clearly painted by a different hand. These Rasamanjari miniatures are now scattered around the world, found in many Indian and foreign museums and private collections.

Radha and Krishna in Discussion 
Basohli Gita-govinda, c. 1730


The Basohli style of painting is easily identified by its vigorous and bold lines, and strong glowing colours. As the school matured, artists in neighbouring states were also influenced by the beautiful Basohli style, which continued until the middle of the 18th century.

Illustrations from a series of Gita-govinda, painted by the artist Manaku in 1730 A.D., gives us some indication of how the Basohli style developed. In the painting below by Manaku, we see in the Himalayan hills a style that we have traced back to the Persian influence in previous articles. (See "The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism"). This rather whimsical style of hills, sections of rock folding softly one against the other, is also seen in illustrations from the Harivamsa, a Sanskrit epic penned in 1590 A.D. This precedes the early Basohli School Rasamanjari by nearly 100 years, and Manaku's rendition of the Himalayan hills by 140 years.

Himalayan Scene 
Gita-govinda, by Manaku, c. 1730 
Basohli School, Guler, Himachal Pradesh



Excerpted and paraphrased from: 
Ministry of Culture, Government of India 
'The Transcendental Art of Basohli' - Excerpts from an article by Virendra Bangroo, IGNCA