Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 30

BY: SUN STAFF

Vasudeva Carrying Krishna over the Yamuna River
Mandi, mid-18th c.


Apr 09, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) — The last in a serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in the field of Miniature Paintings.


THE PAHARI SCHOOLS
17th to 19th Centuries

KANGRA SCHOOL

Today we complete our series on Indian Miniatures with a brief survey of the last of the Pahari schools – the Kullu-Mandi School. Kullu, once known as kul-anti-peetha, or "the end of the habitable world", is located on the banks of the Beas River in the Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh.

Kullu has long been a centre of Vaishnavism. In the 17th century, Raja Jagat Singh installed a Deity here of Lord Raghunath (Rama), which he brought from Ayodhya. To demonstrate his devotion, he placed the Deity on his own throne, as the presiding Deity of the Kullu Valley.

Mandi, also in Himachal Pradesh, was previously known as Mandav Nagar. Located north of Shimla in the northwest Himalayas, Mandi produced a unique folk art style of painting. The style is marked by a bold, naturalist style of drawing and the use of dark, somewhat dull colors. The flat slate blue background of the Shiva painting below is typical of Mandi paintings of the period.


Shiva and Devi
Mandi, c. 1750


Although the Kangra influence can be seen in Mandi paintings, the latter school is more influenced by indigenous style than the Kullu School is. Kullu paintings tend to be more finely drawn, with a palate of colors and styles reminiscent of Basohli and Guler paintings.

The early Mandi School paintings have a decidedly Mughal style, but rendered in more of a local folk style. When Emperor Aurangzeb withdrew his patronage from the arts some of the scattered artists ended up in Himachal Pradesh, where they brought the Mughal style to local artists.

The Mandi painters produced many illustrations for Vaishnava texts like Bhagavata Purana, Mahabharata and Ramayana. They were also fond of painting the pastimes of Sri Krishna, who is known in Mandi as Madho Rai.


Vali and Sugriva Fighting
Folio from Dispersed Shangri Ramayana, c. 1710


The style of paintings produced at Kullu are much like the landscape itself – clean of line and lit by cool, supernatural Himalayan colors. The refined style, which leans towards the decorative, is similar to the Basohli miniatures. In fact, Basohli artists are thought to have been sent to Kullu to help depict the pastimes of Lard Rama Raghunatha in Ramayana folio collections. Lord Rama was the family Deity who many Kullu rajas had invested their royal powers in.

A world-famous collection of miniatures was produced at Kullu, illustrating the Ramayana. Known today as the Shangari (Shangri) Ramayana, the dispersed leaves from these extensive folios are now found in collections around the world. Shangri was the place where one of the ruling families of Kullu took refuge after the state fell to intruders, and it was under their patronage that the artworks were produced.

One of these famous Kullu Ramayana folios is comprised of a set of 270 paintings that illustrate Lord Rama's pastimes. They are in the collection of Raja Raghbir Singh of Shangari. While the collection is comprised of paintings by various artists, the majority appear to have been artists working out of Sultanpur, the capital of Kullu.


Folio from Dispersed Shangri Ramayana, c. 1710


These remarkable albums of Kullu Ramayana paintings provide a wonderful contrast to the folk style of miniatures produced in neighboring Mandi. In many ways, the Kullu-Mandi School is a reflection of the diversity found in nearly all the art schools discussed in this series. On one hand, we find that each regional school has its own indigenous naturalist style, but was also influenced by outside stylistic and cultural influences which resulted in the production of miniatures done in a more sophisticated, and often more decorative style. Both ends of this spectrum are manifest in Vaishnava themed works produced by essentially all the Indian schools of miniature paintings. All of them provide a nectarian record of the transcendental pastimes of Sri Sri Radha Krsna and the Lord's various incarnations, associates and lilas.


REFERENCES:

Ministry of Culture, Government of India
Social, Cultural, and Economic History of Himachal Pradesh by Manjit Singh Ahluwalia


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