Pahari Paintings Of Himachal Pradesh

Pahari painting (literal meaning a painting from the mountainous regions, pahar means a mountain in Hindi) is an umbrella term used for a form of Indian painting, originating from Himalayan Hill kingdoms of North India, during 17th-19th century. Notably Basohli, Mankot, Nurpur, Chamba, Kangra, Guler,Mandi, and Garhwal, and was done mostly in miniature forms. Pahari paintings, as the name suggests, were paintings executed in the hilly regions of India, in the sub-Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. It is in the development and modification of Pahari paintings, that the Kangra School features. Under the patronage of Maharaja Sansar Chand (c.1765-1823), it became the most important center of Pahari painting. To see some of these master pieces one can visit the Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum, adjoining the Kangra Fort in Kangra Himachal. This museum has been founded by the erst-while Royal Family of Kangra.

Origin and area

The Pahari school developed and flourished during 17th-19th centuries stretching from Jammu to Almora and Garhwal, in the sub-Himalayan India, through Himachal Pradesh, and each creating stark variations within the genre, ranging from bold intense Basohli Painting, originating from Basohli in Jammu and Kashmir, to the delicate and lyrical Kangra paintings, which became synonymous to the style before other schools of paintings developed, which reached its pinnacle with paintings of Radha and Krishna, inspired by Jayadev's Gita Govinda. It gave birth to a new idiom in Indian painting, and grew out of the Mughal painting, though this was patronized mostly by the Rajput kings who ruled many parts of the region.

Various Schools of Pahari painting
Guler School
Kangra School
Basohli School
Chamba School
Garhwal School

This great art originated in a small hill state ‘Guler’ in the Lower Himalayas in the first half of the 18th century when a family of Kashmiri painters trained in Mughal painting Style sought shelter at the court of Raja Dalip Singh (r. 1695-1741) of Guler. The rise of Guler Paintings started in what is known as the Early phase of Kangra Kalam. The new arrivals mingled with the local artists and were greatly influenced by the atmosphere of the hills. Instead of painting flattering portraits of their masters and love scenes, the artistes adopted themes of eternal love between Radha and Krishna. The paintings were naturalistic and employed cool, fresh colors. The colors were extracted from minerals, vegetables and possessed enamel-like luster. Verdant greenery of the landscape, brooks, springs were the recurrent images on the miniatures. This style reached its zenith during the reign of Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch (r.1776-1824) who was a great patron of Kangra art. Being a liberal patron, the painters working at his atelier received large commissions while others accepted a permanent settlement in the form of lands. Maharaja Sansar Chand was an ardent devotee of Krishna and used to commission artists to paint subjects based on the loves and life of Krishna. The Guler-Kangra art is the art of drawing and the drawing is precise and fluid, lyrical and naturalistic. In these styles the faces are well modelled and shaded so judiciously that they possess almost porcelain-like delicacy.

Features of Kangra painting

One striking feature of Kangra paintings is the verdant greenery it depicts. The style is naturalistic, and great attention is paid to detail. The foliage depicted is vast and varied. This is made noticeable by using multiple shades of green. The Kangra paintings feature flowering plants and creepers, leafless trees, rivulets and brooks. The Kangra artists adopted various shades of the primary colors and used delicate and fresher hues. For instance, they used a light pink on the upper hills to indicate distance.

Kangra paintings depict the feminine charm in a very graceful manner. Facial features are soft and refined. The female figures are exceptionally beautiful. Later Kangra paintings also depicted nocturnal scenes, and storms and lightning. The paintings were often large and had complex compositions of many figures and elaborate landscapes. Towns and house clusters were often depicted in the distance. The Kangra painters used colors made of vegetable and mineral extracts. They employed cool and fresh colors. Kangra paintings are known for the lyrical blending of form and color.

The Kangra Arts Promotion Society an NGO at Dharamshala Himachal Pradesh is working for the promotion of this art which is at the verge of extinction today. This NGO is running a school to train young boys and girls in this art. It also runs a workshop where genuine Kangra Paintings are made on traditional handmade paper using only mineral and vegetable colours.