Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 11


Jhulan Pastime - Hindola-Raga
Pahari, Kangra, c. 1790

Dec 20, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.


Over the last few segments, we've been discussing the various schools of Ragamala painting, which include the Rajasthan/Rajput Ragamalas, the Pahari, Deccan and Mughal Ragamalas. The Rajput group has been described in some detail by Rashmi Condra, who authored an interesting comparative study looking at several examples of Raga Vasanta or 'Melody of Spring'. In particular, she compared 18th Century Kangra and Bundi style renditions of Vasant Raga, in which Lord Krsna is often featured either fluting, dancing, sporting with the gopis, or otherwise enjoying the season.

According to Condra, it was the Kangra School in the Punjab Hills which seemed to surpass the other schools of Ragamala illustration in excellence. The early Kangra paintings began during the reign of Ghamand Chand and reached a zenith under Sansar Chand. Of all the Rajput Schools, Kangra is certainly the best known, and its paintings are among the finest of the Pahari tradition.

Devgandhar Ragini, Bundi, 18th c.

The Kangra School distinguished itself by a vivid use of color and the insertion of slender human figures in a landscape made up of minute elements, tall and almost bare trees, small shrines and houses in the distance, and robust lines attenuated by a hint of shading.

In the same period, another school developed in a contrasting style, which also became very popular. This was the famed Bundi School of Rajput painting, from Rajasthan. There are many wonderful examples of Ragamala illustrations done in the Bundi style, which profoundly followed the style inaugurated over a half century before in Mewar. The first evidence of Bundi painting belongs to the reign of the Rajput ruler Chattar Sal, and the school reached its apex under the rule of the Hara family.

Devgandhar Ragini, Detail

In addition to fine iconography and composition in the Bundi paintings, they also have a unique style of representation of nature, with very organic, natural forms of trees, rocks, ponds, animals, etc. These nature elements were drawn freehand, rather than rendered in the more formal architectural and figurative forms done by related schools.

Bundi paintings are very recognizable by their lush backgrounds, which are rich in greens, oranges and earth tones. The Bundi School did adopt some Mughal stylistic features, sometimes adding a glossy pallor, dense foliage, and hair-like grassy and shadowy outlines, all of which contributed to the Bundi School's exotic excellence.

Asavari Ragini
Bundi, Rajasthan 18th c.

While the Kangra and Bundi School Ragamalas are a reflection of the Rajputs' love for Raga music, they are also a direct reflection of the sacred music itself. The sound vibration of Ragas is referred to as nadamaya rupa, and the corresponding visible images (e.g., the Ragamala paintings) are known as devatmaya rupa. Like mantra and its corresponding form, yantra, these Ragamala illustrations are intended to convey the highest meaning and vibration of the Ragas themselves.

While there are particular times of day, seasons of the year, moods, colors, Raga family members and deities associated with each individual Raga, the deities featured in Ragamala illustrations were often chosen based on the art patron's personal religious sentiments. For this reason, we find representations of Sri Krsna much more commonly than, for example, Lord Rama, Lord Shiva, or other Visnu incarnations.

Asavari Ragini
Bundi, Rajasthan 18th c.

Ragamala paintings are a commentary on modes… a sort of musical analysis or criticism interpreting the modes for those whose language is more visual than musical. The Vedic science of music, including the Ragamalas which are the personification of the Ragas, is at the highest level of performance music. Lord Krsna's pastimes are the epitome of all perfection, and thus His beautiful Form reflects every nuance of Truth and Beauty conveyed in the Ragas.


Sources: Excerpted and paraphrased from:
Includes excerpts, some paraphrased, from 'Ragamala Paintings & Rajput Art of India
(18th c.)' by Rashmi Arvind Condra, M.A., Mumbai


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