FOLK HERITAGE

CHAMBA SCHOOL OF PAINTING

PAHARI MINIATURE PAINTING – PART III

Indian miniature Pahari paintings are a broad subject to discuss. After Basohli and Guler, here comes the Chamba school of pahari miniature painting. This art has so much to express and has got such a captivating history to explore that makes it even more interesting for an art fanatic like me to get a deeper essence of the subject which is yet unknown to commoners.

We have discussed about the journey of pahari paintings from Basohli school to Guler and their significant transformation. The next important school to discuss is that of “Chamba”. The place is noted for its snow fledged fringes of outer Himalayas and scenic beauty.

Descent of the Ganges Northern India, Himachal Pradesh, Pahari Kingdom of Chamba 

The excellent paintings developed at Chamba were by the painters or miniature artist migrated from Guler to Chamba in 18th century. Raja Udai Singh (1748-68) and Raja Jai Singh patronised this school of painting after the death of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707.

CHAMBA ART AND ITS ARTISTS

Chamba is mentioned for its miniature Pahari paintings, where artists from BASOHLI SCHOOL OF PAINTINGS migrated to Chamba. During the reign of Raja Charhat Singh (1808-1844), folk art-craft was highly promoted and local artists were encouraged to follow their ancestral art. Here they not only focused on paintings but also worked on other art and craft, miniatures and murals with characteristic Mughal influence.

Distinguished artists of Chamba who have painted in this art form include painters like Harkhu and Chhaju, Laharu, Durga and Miyan Dara Singh. They are considered as the pioneers of Guler-Chamba miniature paintings.

Raja Chattar Singh smoking Hookah,
Himachal Pradesh, Chamba region
Shiva seated on a Throne in a landscape, Chamba region

ARTIST LAHARU – While addressing Chamba miniature paintings, famous artist Laharu is worth mentioning. He migrated from Gujarat Manikanth family of painters to Chamba during the reign of Raja Umed Singh (1748–64). His work focuses primarily on the male and female facial features/expressions with ignored background, which always seems in a stage set-like appearance. His renowned works includes the “Bhagawata Purana” set painted in 1758 for “Mian Samsher Singh” (the younger brother and Wazir of Umed Singh) and the murals at the Devi Kothi temple. Laharu gave Chamba school of painting a new zenith which continues to inspire miniature painters till date. The present generation of Laharu’s family remains active as freelance artists in Chamba and continuing the legacy.

INSPIRATION FOR CHAMBA “RUMAL”

Chamba is also famous for Painting on cloth. This craft is famously known as Chamba rumal or Chamba handkerchief, that is the painting done on cloth with the needle.  It is a traditional handicraft with detailed embroidery patterns in bright and pleasing colour schemes. This art flourished during 18-19th century in the princely state of Chamba under the patronage of Chamba rulers.

Pahari paintings and Chamba rumals are linked in the subject of embroidery where Muslin cloth is embroidered with figures and floral motifs inspired from pahari miniature paintings.

The themes show inspiration from miniature paintings embodying the strong Vaishnava belief in the pahari regions showcasing themes from the great epics -The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. Krishna surrounded by his gopis and Radha, godhuli (the hour of cow dust, with Krishna and his cow-herd friends bringing home the cows), everyday scenes from court and royal hunts, depictions of chaupad (popular dice game), wedding processions can be found on the rumals.

STYLE OF PAINTING

Other than Mughal influence, Chamba paintings exhibit strong Deccan and Gujarati artistic touch in its paintings. Chamba paintings are known for:

  • Glorified appearances of female figures in paintings
  • Delicate and balanced colouring
  • Fine precision
  • An unusual refinement of lines
  • A sensitive treatment of landscape
  • Common colours- red, yellow and blue
  • Plain or decorative fine borders
  • Carefully brushed jewellery details
  • Neat architectural detailing with contrasting colours
  • Displaying nature — trees, leaves, flowers, shrubs, birds and hills.
Utka Nayika,  Chamba region, Cleveland Museum of Art

These features makes Chamba paintings worth mentioning on the glorious pages in the history of Indian Painting.

King Dasharatha cremates Shravana and his aged Parents; Ascribed to Laharu of Chamba

POPULAR THEMES IN CHAMBA SCHOOL

The paintings generally displays Hindu religious themes, particularly :

  • Radha Krishna
  • Shiva-Parvati
  • Rama Darbar
  • Yashoda and Krishna
  • Gopis, love scenes
  • Deer, birds and women
  • Daya Saptashati
  • Krishna – Sudama,
  • Paintings of Usha- Aniruddha
  • Rukmini-Mangal
  • Sudama Charit
  • Hamir-Hatha

These were popular subjects to display on the canvas in most of the Chamba paintings.

Usha comes to Aniruddha during his evening meal//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Romantic ambiance of the monsoon season in Chamba has also been painted by the artists of Pahari miniature art, in various moods and styles in Basohli colours. They are displayed in the museums at Chamba and also at Shimla and Dharamsala.

HOW IT’S MADE

In order to achieve a flawless piece of art, the tools and instruments required must be chosen with utmost care and consideration. The canvas, brushes and colors together makes up a perfect miniature painting when carefully hand-picked :

*CANVAS:

As a canvas, handmade papers made from bamboo or cotton were used. They are known as Sialkoti papers. Sialkot is actually a place, now in Pakistan, where such papers were then produced in large quantities.

Firstly the lines were drawn and then the paper was coated with white color. The surface of the paper was rubbed with smooth stone so as to create a polished canvas for pahari paintings. Such handmade sheets promoted deep absorption of colors producing bright hues and tints in paintings.

A Warrior Mounting a Held Horse,
Saindhava Ragaputra of Shri, Chamba

*BRUSHES:

In order to achieve extraordinary finery, Miniature artists in the past used to prepare their brushes with huge precision. However it’s unfortunate to mention that those brushes were made of ear hair of mongoose, goat/ buck and calf.

For further details and outlines, brushes made of squirrel’s hair were used which are so fine that each hair can be seen separately. The material used for brushes are still much the same, but they are now available in the market. This should be highly discouraged that animals and birds were being killed for such style of painting. With more developed machines and techniques now these brushes are most likely to be replaced with artificial brushes.

*PAINTS:

Paints or colors involved in pahari painting were all natural and eco-friendly. They were of following types:

 Krishna chastises the Washerman; Ascribed to Laharu of Chamba

AS A CULTURAL REFLECTION

The chamba paintings provides a key link to the history of those times. It is considered as an authentic historical account indicating the ancient art and culture of Himachal Pradesh. Chamba paintings act as a bridge between Guler- Kangra paintings imbibing the same fondness for decorative details, smooth brushwork and delicacy of line that was observed in the works of Manku and Nainsukh from the Guler school of painting.

The art, paintings and murals in Chamba displays a great influence from the adjoining Kashmir region. These miniatures works are reflection of the local Himalayan culture and religion.

Rama's Court, Folio from a Ramayana (Adventures of Rama) LACMA AC1999.127.36//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The Chamba school of painting is found remarkable due to the great effort of Chamba rulers who were great admirers of arts and culture. Their zeal for art and encouragement towards skilled painters, kept alive the beautiful oriental art of pahari paintings.

Today, the Museum houses provides the visitors an outstanding collections of Guler-Kangra style Paintings. Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba is named after the illustrious King Raja Bhuri, who had contributed his family compilation of paintings to the museum. 

IMAGE SOURCE: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

RELATED : BASOHLI SCHOOL OF PAINTINGS and GULER SCHOOL OF PAINTINGS

Share your thoughts with us. We would love to hear from our lovely readers. What do you think about Pahari paintings ?

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