We have come a long way learning about miniature pahari paintings of India. This beautiful art was executed in the hilly regions of India, in the sub-Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh and thus called as Pahari means “from the mountains“.

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The understanding of this heritage art is a matter of great study. They are quite elaborate in terms of patronage, time frame, painting style, artist approach, themes etc. wherein the broad term for these paintings came out as – KANGRA SCHOOL OF MINIATURE PAINTING.

This school came into existence with the fading of Basohli and Guler schools which finally mingled in Kangra style of paintings. The name “Kangra paintings” is named after a place in Himachal Pradesh, serving as the focal point for the art. This place brings out such a great content, richness and volume in the pahari paintings, that the Pahari painting school, altogether became synonym for Kangra paintings.

The broad term “Kangra School” is generally collectively used for pahari paintings flourished in Guler, Basohli, Chamba, Nurpur, Bilaspur and Kangra. Later on this style spread in Himalayan towns like Mandi, Kullu, Suket, Nalagarh and Tehri Garhwal. This majorly displays the style that was patronized by Rajput rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries.


The rise of Kangra paintings is considered at the time of GULER SCHOOL OF PAINTINGS which came to be known as early phase of Kangra Kalam. The origin of Kangra painting in the state of Guler happened during 18th century under Raja Dalip Singh who ruled 1695 to 1741 A.D.

Artists including Nainsukh (1710-1778), played a great part in the history of Pahari paintings at those times. The artists from Mughal courts migrated to Guler and Kangra gave birth to Guler-Kangra style imbibing Mughal influence in their paintings. The paintings in early Guler, Nurpur and Tira-Sujanpur gradually blossomed into the later Kangra style of paintings.

Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva within an OM, in a Mahabharata manuscript from 1795.  Illuminated with elaborate illustrations in late Mughal or Kangra style with lavish use of gold, detailed floral borders and infills between the frames of the miniatures.

However, Kangra miniature reached its pinnacle during the reign of Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch (r.1765-1823) of Kangra. He was an ardent devotee of Krishna and used to pay large commission or sometimes piece of land to the artists painting the subjects based on the life of Krishna popularly known as Krishna-lila. During his reign more than 40,000 Kangra miniature paintings were commissioned.

Sansar Chand (c.1765-1823),
an early patron of the Kangra style

Maharaja Sansar Chand’s fascination for Kangra paintings can be seen in his personal collection of these masterpieces which are now available for common public at the Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum, adjoining the Kangra Fort in Himachal Pradesh.



Kangra pictorial art is best known for its picturesque paintings celebrating the beautiful bond of human with nature. The style seems to be closely related with greenery, forest, flowering plants, leafless trees, shrubs, rivulets, brooks, clouds, waterfalls and sky. The details and finery in the foliage is made noticeable by using multiple shades of green.

Akbar and Tansen visit Swami Haridas in Vrindavan in Rajasthani miniature style


The Kangra artists were so good at using shades and hues of colors, providing a brilliant depth and shadows in the artwork. They used to create delicate hues for creating an illusion of distance in their painting. For instance, they used a light pink hue on the upper hills or empty backgrounds to indicate distance.

A regal figure ( modeled after Shiva) seated on a throne, amid lavish surroundings. The miniature follows the Pahari school of painting ( mainly Kangra, Guler and Garhwal). The colors are part-gouache, part-vegetable. Gum Arabic was used as a binder. The painting was burnished with agate to impart a smooth,jewel-like finish.


Kangra paintings showcase the feminine beauty or shringara rasa in an extremely graceful manner. Facial features, bold eyes, body postures, delicacy are all soft and refined. The Nayika of pahari miniature is mostly Radha, the most beautiful woman on earth characterized by feminine grace and Porcelain delicacy.

A lady is standing on a terrace enclosed by a red fence. Her raised right hand is holding a cup, while with her left hand she makes a lurig gesture towards a bird sitting on a branch in the tree. In front of her a birdcage is ready for use. .


Later Kangra paintings show backgrounds manifesting human figures and landscapes. They depict storms, thunderclouds and lightning. With the effect of hues, artists succeeds in presenting towns, village houses, forts, clouds or mountains at a distance. Animal and birds are placed wherever necessary.

The Rama setu being built by the monkeys and bears. Made in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh


The colors for pahari paintings are not transparent but opaque. They are eco-friendly colors obtained from plants, vegetables and mineral extracts. For example, Indigo extracted from plant, creates rich shades for royal garments and rolling clouds, and khdiya (for white ) use as a base on the cloth, malachite and lamp black is created by holding a burning wick under a metal surface.

Dove eyed Ragini playing vina reciting Todi of Raga Deepak, 1785-1790, Kangra

Prominently primary colors like yellow, red and blue were used which have retained their intensity, even after two hundred years. The color blendings were cool and fresh. The color from pigments turns out even brighter when applied on freshly polished handmade paper or cloth.


Kangra themes are full of life. They are an expression for values, sentiments and passion pictured with a lyrical approach full of rhythm and grace. These paintings are well known for refined lines, delicate brushwork, rich colors and sublime depiction of nature.

Rama’s Brothers Bharata and Shatrughna set out from Ayodhya to find Rama and Lakshmana in the forest to inform them of the death of their father Dasharatha

The intricacy of Mughal style featuring Hindu themes makes Kangra style a unique way of religious expressionism. The subjects seen in Kangra painting exhibit the traits of the society and lifestyle of that period.

  • Episodes from Mahabharata and Ramayana
  • Radha-Krishna or Shiva-Parvati
  • Krishna-lila in Kaliyamardhanam, Govardhanagiri Dari, Gopika Vastraharan
  • Nayak-nayika bheda
  • Vrindavan forest or river Yamuna.
  • Sun with zodiac signs
Surya surrounded by the signs of the Zodiac,Kangra School
  • Rajput chivalry, battle and court scenes
  • Six seasons or Modes of music
  • Literary works of RasikaPriya, Sat Sai and Rasamanjari, Geet Govinda
  • Portraits of contemporary rulers, their life and attributes.
  • Stories of Nala and Damayanti
  • Keshavdas’s Baramasa (the Twelve Months)

These themes are meticulously portrayed in Kangra paintings with such high levels of excellence that Kangra turned out to be the most important school of pahari miniature painting.

This Kangra painting by Mr. Vijay Sharma was painted for the famous lyricist Gulzar Sahib
and represents the song “mora gora ang layi le”

(Film : Bandini)


The Kangra artists were hereditary painters and carried the art in generations. There are few important families of artists who worked in Kangra and devoted their whole life in refinement of pahari paintings. The family of Nainsukh, his three sons – Ranjha, Gourhu and Nikka migrated from Guler to Kangra in 1780 AD under the reign of Raja Sansar Chand Katoch and delivered notable masterpieces of Kangra paintings.

Sultan Alau’d Din put to Flight, 1825 The Family of Nainsukh, Kangra style, Punjab Hills

Another family of artists known for their remarkable contribution to the Kangra School of painting is the family of Dhuman or Ghuman. His two sons named Purkhoo and Fattoo and grandsons Ruldu and Chandanu, the sons of Purkhu, are renowned for their works.

Other famous artists including Vasia, Padmu, Khushana, Kishan Lal, Basia and Doukhu are important artists of Kangra school which were under the employ of Raja Sansar Chand.

Navodaya (Newlywed Heroine), Kangra style, mid-19th century

In 1929, Pahari artists viz. Nandu, Hazari, Gulab Ram and Lakshman Das, put forth some great works on Kangra paintings. Lachman Das was the great grandson of Vasia.

These artists with extreme devotion towards their art did not even mention their names on the painting. They worked in the quiet of their cottages in the sylvan retreats of the Kangra valley. Sons and nephews were usually accepted to serve the master artists a helping hands by carefully grinding mineral colors, extracting vegetable pigments, making brushes etc, a work requiring skill and patience.


Kangra miniature is a classic combination presenting Rajput, Mughal and Punjabi folk styles in quite an aristocratic manner. From the court of Aurangzeb to the Rajputi patrons this art carries the uniqueness of the place where it was born and raised. The paintings are mirror for classic folktales and Kangra’s scenic beauty. The paintings can easily recognize by their hilly looks, like the green mountains covered with blue sky, drawing of trees found only on the hills, and decorative motifs and textures added.

This is a miniature painting of (Emperor of the Sikhs) Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s queen, Moran Sarkar. It is most probably from the Kangra school of miniature painting.

The designs, colors, ultra-delicate ornamentation, diverse life portrayals and figures absorbed in nature make this style a characteristic to Kangra school of miniature paintings. This makes them an integral part of art literature.

Rama and Sita and Lakshmana in the forest, 1780 Kangra school


There is no doubt that the rulers with fine sensibilities and good taste of art promoted Kangra paintings to such level of supremacy which is even after so many years lie unmatched. The school blossomed under the royal umbrella of perfectionism which parallely complemented the growth of classical music during the Bhakti period (13th-17th centuries in northern India). The overall compositions of Pahari paintings are still similar as the last few decades maintaining the authenticity of these paintings.

Shiva and Parvati (Shiva sends Parvati away),Himachal Pradesh Court: Kangra School

At present, the paintings are present in museums but there are few remaining masters in Kangra carrying out this amazing work of art at local level. The advent of photography made it easy to capture the surrounding beauty and thus these paintings suffered some sort of diminution. But the revival approach is made with the help of NGO’s and senior artists to revoke the zeal for this heritage among young artists and art lovers.

Kangra artists including Khushdil and Mukesh Dhiman, are serving as mentors and promoters for miniature paintings as they have access to spaces to create their work, interact with visitors and take on students. Efforts like these might secure the future for Pahari paintings.

Here is one such organization called, THE KANGRA ARTS PROMOTION SOCIETY (KAPS) working hard to ensure the existence of pahari paintings and to pass on this skill on to the future generations.

The Kangra Arts Promotion Society

KAPS is an NGO, currently located in temporary facilities made available by the Kangra Museum of Arts at Dharamsala. The organization is working for the promotion of pahari art which is at the verge of extinction today. This NGO runs a training school for young artists with creative skills and passion for pahari paintings. It also provides a timely workshop where genuine Kangra Paintings (like Mughal and Rajasthani) are made on traditional handmade paper using only traditional mineral and vegetable colours.

Kaps also provides a selling platform to the work exhibited by its artists. When required, artists are able to use the museum premises to showcase their work even for sale. Some of the paintings, mostly reproductions of well-loved museum pieces ranges from Rs 1,200 to almost Rs 1 lakh. Some of the more talented artists may create their own themes for pahari paintings.

The museum are open for sale of some famous replicas, reproductions and other miniature stuff and it also finds place at homes overseas. But it is the time to make place for this art in our own homes. This skill has groomed itself in several years, it is the art worth celebrating. Perhaps, the efforts of all of us creates a new skyline for the artists with passion for pahari paintings, making it bloom once again.

Painting of Narasimha, ca. 18th century, with Shiva as Sarabha,
Pahari/Kangra School,

IMAGE SOURCE : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images

LINK: http://kangraarts.org/



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