Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 25


Radha offering Krsna a Bowl of Curds
Basohli school, Punjab Hills, late 18th c.

Mar 18, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.

17th to 19th Centuries


In our last segment on the Pahari School of paintings, being the first installment on the Basholi School, we featured several 17th and 18th Century examples of beautiful Vaisnava themed Basohli miniatures. These four pieces represent a very recognizable style produced by the Basohli artists. Today we offer a contrasting collection, also featuring Krsna-lila scenes, but depicted in a very different style.

The Gopas Play Blindman's Buff
Manaku, Basohli School, c. 1755

Comparing the two sets of miniatures, we can see a marked change in facial types. The first group of paintings are more finely drawn, with a sleekness and precision not found in the latter collection. The second group, shown today, features somewhat heavier drawings in a more relaxed and naturalistic mood. The faces are much more rounded, the lines simultaneously heavier and softer, in part due to the more pastel and earth tone colors used. The eyes are now smaller and less distinct, and the clothing and ornaments more casual.

Radha and Krsna Seated in a Grove with Gopis and Gopas
Basohli School, Kulu, c. 1790

Some art historians suggest that the difference in paintings represents a Mughal influence in the group of paintings shown here, although the point was made in our last segment that an early Persian influence is obvious in the former group as well, for example, in the Gita-govinda Himalayan scene.

The image below of Sri Krsna lifting Govardhan Hill gives us a good point of comparison in Basohli styles. The differences in the lines of faces are obvious, being drawn in a more refined line below compared to the softer, more natural curves of the paintings above. The difference is also evident in the faces of the cows.

Krsna and the Cowherds
Basohli School, Kulu, c. 1790

Referring to this change of expression, evident in an extant Bhagavata set from the Kangra Valley, author Chandramani Singh writes:

"It is a pleasant set in its colouring but at the same time shows signs of decadence in style – heavy faces, squat human figures and long narrow eyes indicate that the artist was following a tradition devoid of fresh ideas. Colours were still bright, with mixed colours like mauve and orange preferred. The Basohli style's mainstream was drying up but some characteristics of this style were followed by the Guler-Kangra style later on."

"The loosening of the style progressed as the decades rolled on, and after 1730, the great period of Basohli style was over and no important painting were done.

Another factor which must have worked against the decorative traditional style of painting like Basohli was the advent of the naturalistic treatment of Manak-Nainsukh style [e.g., the miniatures pictured on this page], a decided influence of the later Mughal style. The change of taste dealt a death-blow to decorative art."

Krsna Lifting Govardhan
Basohli School, 18th c.


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