If you have ever paid really close attention to Radha Krishna paintings, especially the ones that are smaller in size and from the times gone by, you will notice the focus of the artist and the attention to every single detail. Chances are that this painting with a devout foundation is from the school of miniature painting and is an art that has been practised for several centuries. At eCraftIndia, we have been endeavouring to bring to the forefront a range of art forms that have existed in our country for hundreds of years, but are slowly fading into anonymity, back into the limelight. With our series of articles, we are making an attempt to make the modern generation aware of the stunning and intricate art forms that have existed in our country, and need to thrive for generations to come.
Today, as part of that very series, we shift our focus to Pahari painting, which in simple terms means painting from the pahars or mountains. This is actually an umbrella term that includes a range of painting forms, most of them done in miniature format – these were styles that were practised mostly in the 17th to 19th centuries, under the aegis of the kings, who ruled the hill kingdoms of northern India. Let’s take a deeper look at what makes Pahari style of painting so special.
Pahari Paintings

What is the history and origin story of this style?

The pahari style of painting was born and grew during the 17th to the 19th centuries in sub-Himalayan India – this mean that the artists who practised this style lived in several parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and some parts of Punjab as well. The origins of this style of painting actually lie in the heart of Mughal styles, but because this form was patronised mostly by Hindu rulers, there are a lot more influences from Hindu mythology and spirituality. These were regions that were ruled by mostly Rajput kings, who had spread their wings from Rajasthan through trade and marriages. This is one of the reasons why you will see a lot of influences of painting styles that existed in Gujarat and even further south of the country. The main theme for all these often the lives of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama and stories associated to their lives. There was a sense of reverence in the art, but also love and romance and devotion in all of these wall decor items.
What is interesting to note is that even though several artists came to the Pahari courts from the Mughal ones, they were never really considered a part of the school. They were allowed to practise their craft and showcase their talent, and while they were able to earn their keep, they were never one of the publicised artists in that court. Another unique aspect about Pahari painting is that there were multiple schools under the umbrella, but each of them has something very distinctive about it.

So, what are the schools that exist under the Pahari painting style?

The Pahari style can be divided first and foremost into two categories, and this was based on the geographical range – the Basohli and the Kulu styles were highly influenced by the Chaurpanchasika style and the Guler and Kangra styles were recognised more based on the usage of cooler colours as well as the sense of refinement. Here are more details:
  • Basohli: One of the earliest forms of Pahari paintings, Basohli originated from a small town in Himachal Pradesh that is located on the banks of River Ravi. There are some incredible portraits and the series that have come from this school and the most popular ones include the Rasamanjari, said to have been painted by an artist named Devidasa, under the patronage of the then king, Kirpal Pal. The Devi series that came from this region is recognised as a stupendous series that details the various manifestations of the Supreme Goddess. However, there are not a lot of Lord Ganesha paintings that emerged from here. The legendary, Gita Govinda is also believed to have origins in this school, which was characterised by bright colours, geometrical patterns and glossy enamels.
  • Kulu: Comparatively smaller, the Kulu style was simpler and is recognised for one Bhagavata Purana as well as two Madhumalati manuscripts.
  • Guler Kangra: This was a much more naturalised version of Pahari painting of Himachal Pradesh that developed somewhere around the early 1800s. the difference was clearly visible in the way the eyes were painted and the face was modelled and landscapes were the most popular theme. The grace and elegance of the Indian woman was much emphasised.
  • Bilaspur: Bilaspur is a small, yet popular town in Himachal and this is where, during the mid-17th century, that another school emerged. There were series based on Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana and there were also rumals (coverlets), which were painted for specific ceremonies or occasions.
  • Mandi: This town saw the rise of a brand-new style under the patronage of Raja Sidh Sen – this was a time when portraits of rulers took the forefront and they were painted as larger than life figures. There were however, natural details and geometric compositions.
  • Mankot and Jammu: These two were important Pahari painting region and both styles were ‘born and raised’ around the 17th and 18th centuries. While the Mankot style had a lot of resemblances to the Basohli style, the Jammu style was highly influenced by the Kangra style. Bold subjects and bright colours were favoured as were portraits.
  • Chamba: Quite similar to the styles of the Mughals, this style had strong influences from the Gujarat and Deccan styles too. Towards the late 17th century, there were influences from the Basohli as well.
Then there were also some other minor schools like Garhwal, Jasrota and Nurpur – these were all similar to the more prominent schools and showed scenes of the lives of the kings, the court and scenes from religious texts.

Finally, we move to the most frequently asked questions:

Which are the most famous Pahari miniature paintings?

There have been several beautiful wall paintings that have adorned the walls of palaces and castles and now reside in pride in museums across the world, that come from the Pahari schools. Some of the most famous ones include the Krishna and Radha in a Pavilion, images from Bhāgavata-Purāṇa and the Gītagovinda.

What kind of colours are used in the Pahari style?

Even though the lines were always on the delicate side, the colours used were really bright and vibrant – red, blue and yellow were always used.

What were the main sources of inspiration for the paintings?

The maximum influence came from the Vaishnav cult of Hinduism, which is why Lord Rama and Lord Krishna were the main protagonists.

Which kings were most renowned for offering patronage?
Maharaja Sansar Chand, Raja Sidh Sen and Raja Kirpal Pal were some of the most popular kings of the time period, who provided a lot of patronage to the arts.
Who were the most popular artists of the Pahari style painting?
Pandit Seu was one of the most popular painters of the early 18th century and once his time was done, his sons, Nainsukh and Manak took over the mantle.
What were the main characteristics of the Basohli style?
Shiny enamel, geometrical patterns and bright colours are all the main characteristics of this style.
When you choose to shop at eCraftIndia, you get access to more than just beautiful wall hangings – we bring to you a chance to connect with arts and crafts that have existed in our country for several centuries and are now undergoing almost a revival. Come to our website and choose handicrafts and home décor for your living spaces and as gifts for your loved ones!