FOLK HERITAGE

BASOHLI SCHOOL OF PAINTINGS

PAHARI MINIATURE PAINTING – PART I

PAHARI PAINTING is an Indian style of painting which simply means paintings from the mountainous regions. The word pahari means from the mountains in Hindi. These paintings were originated in Himalayan regions and are mostly done in miniature form.

The broad term pahari painting includes paintings from Basohli, Mankot,  Nurpur, Chamba,  Kangra,  Guler,  Mandi, and Garhwal. The prominent use of primary colors like yellow, red, blue and delicate detailing and red borders makes them special.

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

There are many schools of pahari paintings. One of them is Basohli, which is considered the first school of Pahari paintings.

HISTORY OF MINIATURE PAINTINGS IN INDIA

Miniature paintings are an ancient style of art known to Indians since 9th century depicted on leaf manuscripts. Examples include Buddhist Pala period palm leaf manuscript and Jaina palm leaf manuscript.

With the advent of paper in 12th century in India, the paintings tooks more elaborate form on larger canvas. However, they were the Mughals who played a great part in developing and flourishing the art of miniature painting in Himalayan terrans and throughout India.

Mughal emperor, Humayun, during his exile in Persia came across the art of miniature paintings and on his return in 1555 CE he introduced the art of persian miniature paintings in India. Mughals gave a new outlook to illustrated manuscripts, album miniatures, portraits, celebratory or genre scenes and various other paintings and spread this art to various parts of India. Mughal influence promoted naturalistic landscapes in miniature paintings.

This picture belongs to a large Ragamala series produced in a Bilaspur workshop, this painting is rendered generally in the Basohli style of the second half of the 17th century, with a bright and monochromatic background, usually a mustard yellow as here, against which the figures are defined with bold clarity. The velvety green and red baldachin and the durrie-covered floor area, however, rendered in perspective and show Mughal influences, which were relatively strong in Bilaspur in the late 17th century.

On the contrary, the artists from Rajput courts evolved different intricacies in the pahari paintings and unlike Mughals they used bold contrasting colors depicting epic tales from Ramayan and Mahabharat.

old Pahari style painting of Bhagavan Ram & Hanuman was painted in 1725 AD

ABOUT BASOHLI PAINTING STYLE

Interestingly Basohli is the earliest known miniature paintings in the Himalayan hills. It is named after the town Basohli (Basoli) formerly Vishwasthali located in the foothills of Shivalik mountains in Kathua district in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The earliest paintings in this style have been dated to the time of Raja Kirpal (1678–93). It was during his reign these paintings were at peak.

This style or rather school of painting is the principal centre of the style, existed around 1690s as Basohli Schools, possibly of pre-Mughal origin, which underwent a transition phase giving rise to pre-kangra (1740 to 1775) and finally evolved into the new Kangra style of miniature painting with strong Mughal influence.

These paintings were rather simple and largely based upon the landscapes, natural beauty of surrounding hills, Hindu deities and simple poetic themes of Rasamanjari and Gita Govinda. Their decline leads to arrival of Kangra and other schools of pahari paintings, which we’ll discuss in later posts…

Pradyumna and Mayavati Fly to Dvaraka, from the “Large Basohli Bhagavata Purana”,
India, Pahari, Basholi, 18th century

PECULIAR FEATURES OF BASOHLI PAINTINGS

Basohli paintings are marked with specific features which makes them different from other schools of paintings :

  • Vigorous, bold and imaginative artistic style
  • Oblong format is favoured
  • Perfect geometrical patterns
  • Use of characteristic red borders and bold lines
  • Unconventional style of painting
  • Predominant colors– ochre yellow, brown, and green grounds
  • Peculiar facial formula, dominated by the large bulging eyes
  • Basohli faces have receding forehead ,high nose and lotus like eyes
  • Depiction of jewelry by thick, raised drops of white paint, with particles of green beetles’ wings used to represent emeralds.
 Krishna and the Messenger, Tricking Radha Basohli School, c. 1660

SYMBOLIC USE OF COLORS

In Basohli paintings, the colors are used symbolically. Each color was specified to certain element and that was maintained throughout in every painting. The contrast use of the primary colours red, blue and yellow is delightful. These colors created magical appeal and makes Basohli paintings, a remarkable work of art.

  • Yellow is used for spring and sunshine and mango blossoms.
  • Blue is the color of Lord Krishna and of the dark clouds.
  • Red is the colour of love which suits to the passionate themes, a subject of Basohli paintings.
  • Gold paint is used for embroidery and in ornaments
  • Silver in dress windows and pillars.
  • Pearls of the necklace are depicted by the raised paints.
Akrura’s Mystic Vision of Krishna/Vishnu and Balarama/Adishesha
Page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana (10:39)
Made in Basohli, Jammu and Kashmir, India

POPULAR THEMES AND DEPICTIONS

Other than landscapes, Basohli paintings central inspiration is vaishnavism. The themes have been taken from the epics and the puranas and the poetic themes of Ras-manjari and Geeta Govinda in most simple ways. These works were depicted with typical red borders and symbolic use of colors for creating passionate themes. The ornaments and the drapery are skillfully painted to enhance the feminine beauty.

Portraits of local rulers, Hindu deities, Hindu mythological figures, Radha-Krishna, Madhava-Malati love themes and themes from the Bhagavata Purana also find a place in Basohli chitrakala. The Basohli paintings produced splendid DEVI series picturizing different forms or Rupa of supreme goddess.

ILLUSTRATION FROM BHAGWAT PURANA

Hiranyaksha use maya on varaha by manaku from Bhagavata purana series

ILLUSTRATIONS FROM GITA GOVINDA

Painting Radha and Krishna; Gita Govinda illustration,
Radha’s messenger describes Krishna standing with gopis, opaque watercolour, gold and beetle-wings on paper, Basohli, ca. 1730-1735 Manaku (1695-1764)
Radha and Krishna in Discussion, (An illustration from Gita Govinda)
Gouache on paper (ca.1730).

DEPICTING HINDU DEITIES

Goddess Bhadrakali,
worshipped by the three major gods of Hinduism, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
India. c 1660–70.
The Holy Family, Shiva, Parvati, with their sons Ganesha and Karttikeya, National Museum, New Delhi. Mankot-Basohli, Pahari, circa A.D. 1750,

ILLUSTRATIONS FROM RASAMANJARI

In themes like Rasamanjari, a famous series on Bhanu Datta’s poem, heavy clouds are shown in layers with snake like lines in gold. Light rain is shown by pearl like strads and heavy rains by straight white lines. The trees in the Basohli paintings are also symbol, love sick heroines are always shown under the drooping branches of willows or ripe mangoes symbolizing the charm of women.

 Radha and Krishna in Rasamanjari by Bhanudatta, Basohli, c1670.
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper, with applied beetle wing fragments for ornaments.
Shiva and Parvati Playing Chaupar: Folio from a Rasamanjari Series 

The cattle are always been an integral part of the Basohli paintings. In the Basohli paintings the cattle are characterized by lean feeble body with large ear twisted horns and wild eyes of the breed which can be found in Jammu.

MAKING OF BASOHLI PAINTINGS

The typical canvas for a Basohli painting is an ivory sheet. The brushes are special and made out of squirrel hair and feathers of Kalmunha bird. The colors used are eco-friendly which are laboriously derived from dried-up leaves, flowers, beetle wings and khadiya earth. SEE( PLANT BASED PIGMENTS AND DYES )

For ornamental purposes, artists use 24-carat gold and pure silver. It is said that precision required to produce a miniature portrait is so high, that one can notice strands of hair on a subject’s head with the aid of a magnifying glass!

BASOHLI PAINTERS: When talking about Basohli school of painting, artist Devidasa must be mentioned. He is well known for his paintings featuring romantic bond of Radha- Krishna, paintings of his Kings in their royal attire particularly in white garments. He is also known for beautiful depiction of the famous Rasamanjari text, under the royal patronage of Raja Kirpal Singh.

CURRENT SCENARIO FOR BASOHLI PAINTINGS

Basohli chitra Kala or Basohli paintings are globally recognized and their place and importance in the world is matchless.

Different historians have given explanations regarding the origin of Chitrakala in Basohli. The first mention about Basohli Chitrakala is contained in the archaeological survey of India for the year 1918-19 which states “a series of old paintings of Basohli school were purchased, and the curator concludes that Basohli school is of pre Mughal origin”.

Kalki Avatar, the Future Incarnation of Vishnu, India (Basohli, Jammu)

They are the centre of attraction for tourists as they visit the museums and art galleries displaying the real or replicas of Basohli paintings. The collections of this kala are exhibited in the famous art galleries like Bhuri Singh Museum of Chamba, National Museum Delhi, Amar palace Jammu, Rashtrapati Bhavan Delhi, Central Museum Lahore, Albert museum of London Boston Museum of America and Loodrya gallery of France.

FUTURE OF BASOHLI PAINTINGS

Though the ancient Basohli paintings are modified and evolved into Kangra paintings, but still the replicas and other original works are available for sale and auction. The museums which displays Basohli collection are also open to sell some collectives to the Indian and foreign tourists.

Basohli Painting and miniature paintings needs revival and making it a commercial opportunity can be a new and flourishing career for the growing number of skilled unemployed youth in the state with no or negligible initial investment.

Basohli painting of Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava.

The career in the Basohli Paintings and Basohli art is worth considering as the growing market for handicraft and heritage art makes up a profitable market for such jobs. In case of artists it is the seller/ artist who tags its prize and the buyer has to buy it. Present day easy marketing and online selling platforms makes it easy for an artist to promote and sell such beautiful heritage art all over India and abroad.

The task of the revival of the Basohli art of painting is neither costly nor impossible. The government should encourage the youth to make their carrier in Basohli chitra Kala and earn as much as they can. The career in Basohli painting can help contain unemployment to a larger extent. This in turn helps to restore and flourishment of an amazing age old folk heritage of India.

Hope you find the post interesting. Share your feedback in comment section below.

IMAGE CREDIT: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

INSPIRATION:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basholi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pahari_painting

RELATED : GULER SCHOOL OF PAINTINGS

Basohli painting of Goddess Bhadrakali

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