Echoes from the hills
Pahari painting was patronized by the Rajput kings who ruled many parts of the region in sub-Himalayan India, through Himachal Pradesh, previously called hill states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, which gave birth to a new idiom in Indian painting. Art Historian Ananda Coomaraswamy clubs the School with Rajput painting. Pahari painting, means a painting from the ‘hilly’ regions, (pahar means hill), which during 17th-19th century were notably Basohli, Mankot, Nurpur, Chamba, Kangra, Guler, Kulu-Mandi, and Garhwal known for their painting styles.
The Pahari School flourished stretching from Jammu to Garhwal. Ranging from bold intense Basohli painting, from Jammu and Kashmir, to the lyrical Kangra paintings, which became representative of the style before other schools developed, to the poetic representations in painting from Garhwal. The Kangra style reached its peak with paintings of Radha-Krishna, inspired by Jayadeva's Gita Govinda. The paintings from all Schools leave a sense of beauty, charm and lyricism in the mind, to the delight of the viewer.
During the Mughal rule, there was interaction between the Rajput rulers and the Mughal court; the local rulers even engaged in wars carried out by the Mughal emperors, some of them being their vassals. They were also influenced by the artworks produced in the in the Mughal court and encouraged their own artists. A new beginning of a Pahari School was made. Many Mughal artists migrated to Rajasthan and the hilly regions when royal patronage reduced in the second half of the 17th century at the Mughal court. In spite of a war-like political situation which prevailed initially, the school flourished and flowered under better patronage in the succeeding generations. Under rulers like Raja Govardhan Chand, Prakash Chand (seen in the image), Sansar Chand, Kirpal Pal and Chattar Singh, the School developed and is widely known for its lyrical beauty and enchanting colour schemes.
A rich repertoire
The Pahari Schools had a large canvas for the content of the paintings. They included a variety of themes in their rich repertoire. The epic Ramayana, the text Bhagavata Purana, Shiva-Parvati, Radha-Krishna, texts like Rasikpriya, Rasamanjari, Gita Govinda, courtly scenes, portraiture of the rulers, Nayaka-nayika bheda, Barahmasa and Ragamalas were all illustrated by the Pahari artists. The paintings are now in many collections across the world.
The Museum collection
The collection of Pahari School of miniature paintings in the museum is rich and interesting. The themes are diverse. There are paintings of Ramayana and the Bhagavata Purana. There are Radha-Krishna paintings, Ragamalas and Nayaka-nayika bheda, Rasikpriya themes and portraits among others. The sub schools are also diverse such as Basohli, Bilaspur, Chamba, Guler, Kangra, Garhwal and Mankot. Some drawings are also part of the collection on different subjects.
Let us take a journey through the hilly regions of sub-Himalayan India, mostly during the 17th to 19th century, when these artworks were created and delight in the same, while understanding this unique lyrical School of painting from North India.
Painting of a noble lady (1825/1825)Salar Jung Museum
Painting of a noble lady
An exquisite painting of a noble lady on a settee holding huqqa pipe in her hand. A lady attendant is standing before her. An ewer, basin and foot-rest are placed on the floor. There are arched niches on the wall and drawn up blinds to give the place a very royal ambience. Floral ornate border around this painting from Kangra dated to circa 1825.
Raja Pritam Singh with nobles (1775/1775)Salar Jung Museum
Raja Pritam Singh with nobles
Raja Pritam Singh in a grove sitting on an orange carpet enjoying huqqa and addressing eleven nobles seated near him. This miniature is from Kulu dated to circa 1775.
Lord Krishna and Radha (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum
Lord Krishna and Radha
Lord Krishna and Radha standing under a tree with a rug over their heads and a cow behind them. A cowherd sitting in the cavity of the tree to be safe from the rain, while other two standing under the tree. Two gopis carrying milk pots on their heads. This miniature is from Kangra dated to mid 19th century.
Portrait of a nobleman with a lady (1710/1710)Salar Jung Museum
Portrait of a nobleman with a lady
A nobleman is seated with a sword in hand, slung over his shoulder and a lady seated in front, pleading with him. He wears a green striped garment. This miniature is from Basohli, dated to circa 1710.
Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi
Drawing showing Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi seated on a lotus bed. Goddess Lakshmi's drawing is coloured; from Kangra dated to circa 1810.
Lord Narasimha killing demon Hiranyakashipu (1740/1740)Salar Jung Museum
Lord Narasimha killing demon Hiranyakashipu
Lord Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu is emerging out of a broken pillar to kill Demon Hiranyakashipu who is in green costume, with dagger like moustaches and dishevelled hair, Standing on either side, Prahlad and his mother Lilavati are watching with folded hands. This miniature is from Nurpur dated to circa 1740.
Birth of Krishna (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum
Birth of Krishna
A painting which depicts the scene around the birth of Krishna. Vasudev and Devaki with attendants and maids in the building at left, a man and two ladies in a building in the middle with two swordsmen on either side of the door, three ladies and a child in the building at the right. Vasudev along with child Bala-Krishna is seen crossing the river Yamuna. Golden scroll border around this miniature from Kangra dated to the 19th century.
Seated Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum
Seated Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati
Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati on Mount Kailasa seated on a panther skin under a tree in the forest. Son Ganesha is seated in the lap of Shiva and son Subramanya is seated in the lap of Parvati. Nandi standing beside them. Trees, hillocks and sky in the background of this miniature from Kangra, dated to early 19th century.
Procession scene (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum
A painting in mixed Guler and Basohli style, a Raja is seated in a palanquin holding a shield in his hands; a bolster at his back, two men on either side carrying the palanquin. Attendants with staff, chatter and a fly-whisk. Six guards are behind with shield, spear and swords. This miniature is from Basohli, dated to the 18th century.
Conversation between king and saint (1800/1825)Salar Jung Museum
Conversation between king and saint
A saint seated on a mat in front of his hut. Two disciples seated behind him. A king seated before him with folded hands, seeking advice from him. On extreme left, his arrival on horses has been depicted. An army holding spears with a chief riding on horse is seen. Trees, tiger, a dog and deer are in the hermitage in this miniature from Kangra dated to early 19th century.
Seated prince and princess (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum
Seated prince and princess
A romantic interlude between a seated prince holding a flower and the princess opposite him holding a flower too. Figures are painted against green and red background in this miniature from Kulu, dated to the 18th century.
Redemption of Ahalya (1800/1825)Salar Jung Museum
Redemption of Ahalya
An episode from the epic Ramayana, this painting depicts the redemption of Ahalya. A blue and golden foliate band around this painting from Kangra, dated to the early 19th century.
Portrait of Raja Raj Singh (1700/1725)Salar Jung Museum
Portrait of Raja Raj Singh
Portrait of Raja Raj Singh seated against a bolster on a carpet, wearing a floral angarkha and headdress. This miniature is from Guler dated to early 18th century.
Laila Majnu (1775/1775)Salar Jung Museum
A scene from the tragic love story Laila-Majnu - An emaciated Majnu sitting in the desert under a tree resting his right hand on the ground and raising his left hand. A bent Laila is saluting him holding a flagon in her left hand. A lady attendant standing behind her with a tray in her hands. A dog is seated in the foreground of this painting from Kangra, dated to circa 1775.
Lord Rama and Sita performing yagna ceremony (1780/1780)Salar Jung Museum
Lord Rama and Sita performing 'yagna' ceremony
Lord Rama with Sita performing yagna ceremony being attended by rishis or sages, royal personages and devotees. A unique painting on wood, presumably a box cover from Kangra, dated to circa 1780.
Seated Devi on tiger-skin
Drawing depicting a seated Devi (goddess figure) on tiger skin in front of a hut. A tree on the right side of the hut, different animal heads at the seating. Inscription on top of this drawing from Mandi, dated to circa 1720.
Scene from Bhagavata Purana (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum
Scene from Bhagavata Purana
Portrait of seated Krishna with two male figures and a lady. Probably he has been pacified by them, a lady depicted by the side of a mango tree, also a conversation scene between two ladies is seen, and a seated saint. Inscription on the top of this miniature from Kangra, dated to the 18th century.
Text and Curation: Soma Ghosh
Photography: M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali
Research Assistance: Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh
Special thanks to Dr. A Nagender Reddy, Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.
1. Khandalavala, Karl (1958) Pahari miniature painting, Bombay: New Book Company.
2. Rao, Bhaskar D (1996) Pahari miniatures in the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, Hyderabad: Salar Jung Museum.
3.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pahari_painting (accessed 29.12.2021)