At the close of the seventeenth century, painting developed in the Punjab Hill states, which for long had remained in cultural backwaters. The rulers of the Punjab hill states were chieftains like the Rajasthani rulers. Though some of the artists from the Mughal atelier did come to Pahari courts and executed a few commissioned works they were not the pure Pahari miniature painters. The lively and romantic school of Pahari miniaturists produced some of the finest religious or legendary scenes offering a glimpse of Indian life with sentimental and psychological undertones.
The earliest Pahari School of miniature painting is Basholi. Basholi had produced some marvelous portraits and Rasamanjari series. Pahari art produced in Kangra under Raja Sansar Chand is identified with a new level of rhythmical exaltation. The source of inspiration of Kangra painting was the Vaishnav cult of Hinduism, the love of Radha and Krishna.
There was a famous painter family from Guler whose head was Pandit Seu. He had two sons Manak and Nainsukh who became the great court painters of the hills of Kangra and Jammu. The generation of this family have been responsible for various Pahari schools of painting such as Guier, Chamba, Nurpur, Garhwal, Mandi to name a few. These painters have produced some master works and sets of Bhagvata Puran, the Ramayana, Ragamala series and Geet Govinda apart from secular and court paintings.
The expressions are soft and sensitive, and the composition depicts Sant Kabir seated outside his cottage wearing a dhoti and top bare, whereas the two visitors are clad in jamas and caps and seem to be Muslims. Kabir is busy on his ‘khaddi' (loom). He was known for having religious audiences and discourses with Hindus as well as Muslims.
There are two scenes depicted in one painting – one happening inside a pavilion and the other in the open ground. Baby Krishna painted blue is standing on the high pedestal trying to reach the butter pot his mother had hung high beyond his reach. Yashodha is seated looking amused at the act of his son.
The other scene in the open is a 'lila' of Krishna when he was punished by his mother and tied around the ukhal between the two trees. Krishna uprooted the trees and released the two brothers Nala and Kubera who were under a curse. Yashodha is holding the baby Krishna and in the foreground Krishna is standing blessing. Nala and Kubera after their release.
The burnt portion of the painting, a part of the main Kartar Singh collection which got partially destroyed in a fire, indicates to the Nurpur origin where the rulers were followers of Damthal establishment, a seat of Vaishnava Mahants. This is the portrait of a Mahant of Damthal wearing the colourful gudri and the conical cap representative of the Vaishnava Mahants. He is seated on a carpet against a big bolster in the open terrace. Facing him are the devotees - an old bearded nobleman and a young royal figure who could be the ruler of Nurpur. This is a very fine painting displaying the Pahari skill of a great master.
Vishnu has come down to rescue his ardent devotee, the Gajendra who has been caught by the crocodile while bathing. The painting depicts Vishnu approaching Gajendra whose one foot is in the mouth of the crocodile. Vishnu's vahan, the garuda, is shown as a tiny figure in the top left corner. It is a soft and sensitive pointing where the water treatment is captured rather beautifully with lotuses.
The forms of Shiva riding his mount Nandi, his bull, or leaning on it or just in a posture suggestive of leaning on it when it is actually absent, with or without Parvati, are known as Vrishvahana Shiva. In the painting, Lord Shiva is riding his mount and Parvati is seated behind him, and the enthused Nandi is galloping like a horse. The artist has delightfully dramatised his canvas. Shiva's robust figure clad in traditional saffron antariya, an unstitched textile worn around lower half of the body, has been contrasted with a doll-like tiny Parvati attired like a coy purda-ridden Indian housewife, not like Shiva's consort, the model of timeless love and its perpetual manifestation in her being. Ordinarily, a stream of water gushing from his hair symbolises the presence of the river Ganga. But, instead of that, the artist has painted a female face, obviously the humanised form of Ganga, locked within the knots of Shiva's hair and the stream of water gushing from its mouth. Similarly have been dramatised Nandi's gesture, modeling and adornment of its horns and curvature of its tail, both making full circles.
Shiva's robust figure clad in traditional saffron antariya, an unstitched textile worn around lower half of the body, has been contrasted with a doll-like tiny Parvati attired like a coy purda-ridden Indian housewife, not like Shiva's consort, the model of timeless love and its perpetual manifestation in her being. Ordinarily, a stream of water gushing from his hair symbolises the presence of the river Ganga.
The depiction of the divine drama of the elimination of the two most powerful demons, Sumbha and Nisumbha by Devi, against a formless monochromatic huge background, using just tiny figures of all three players and Devi's mount lion, is truly an artistic adventure. It seems that artist aimed of underlying how insignificant are all entities: gods, demons, men or animals, against space and time. Devi and one of the two demons fighting in the air look like two big sized birds. Sons of sage Kashyapa by Diti, Sumbha and Nisumbha had from Brahma the boon that no male would ever have the power to kill them. This made them arrogant and ambitious. They subdued Indra and overthrew gods. Knowing from Brahma that his boon granted them immunity against men and not women, the gods invoked Mahadevi. Mahadevi appeared, and as prayed, set out to kill the demons.
"Krishna is seen as a little baby sucking his toes, shown on a banyan leaf the faint sketches of two male and one female devotees display the pencil skill.
This scene from the Bhagvata Purana refers to the deluge when the entire world is submerged under water. Then the God appears as a child, noticed by Markandya rishi and rescues the world."
The fierce-looking blue-complexioned Kali is charging against demons. Severed heads, hands and other organs of many of them lay scattered all over the ground. Crushed under her right foot lies the horse-demon Hayagriva, and with her right hand the goddess is flinging away the
elephant demon Gaya. The force which her anatomy reveals is tremendous.