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Rajput Painting


 I have previously expounded upon a range of attributes about Indian painting within this blog. Nonetheless, one notable facet that warrants recognition—Rajput Kalam—was omitted in my previous discussions. Henceforth, I have elected to commence a fresh dialogue on the illustrious form of Indian artistry known as Rajput Painting.

Chauhan Rajput Shephard
Chauhan Rajput Shephard.

To commence, please preface a concise commendation regarding the Rajput community, as per the Hindu Puranas and two esteemed Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana; Rajputs trace their lineage back to thirty-six Kshatriya clans. These clans are divided into three fundamental lineages: Suryavanshi, Chandravanshi, and Agnivanshi. The Suryavanshis were born from the power of the sun, Chandravanshis from that of the moon, while Agnivanshis were believed to have been born from fire's might. India's Rajput populace and former Rajput states can be found across most parts of the subcontinent, with a concentration in North, West, and Central India. The population of Rajputs is distributed across Rajasthan, Saurashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh.

The primary significance of the Rajput community lies in its portrayal as a symbol of courage on the battlefield, exhibiting an unwavering presence that endures until death. This remarkable community has demonstrated exceptional defense skills throughout India's ancient history. Witnessing how a combat-oriented society has also excelled in artistry is awe-inspiring!

The Rajput painting about a romantic tale of princess Rupmati
The Rajput painting about a romantic tale of princess Rupmati


In our prior discourse concerning the Jain manuscript, we have observed how Persian influence impacted painting before the arrival of the Mughal monarch in Mandu. Furthermore, we witnessed how two distinct art streams were amalgamated into a single practice of Mughal painting. We were introduced to how the framework of Jain manuscript art was integrated with the Vaishnava approach and exhibited at the Mughal royal court and various regions throughout Rajasthan. This is exemplified by a painting portraying Princess Rupmati's tale from the 17th century.

See the image on the right side, - 

From my perspective, Mughal painting originated from a scholarly standpoint and was not intended for the typical individual. Conversely, Rajput painting emerged as an expression of royal folk art that evokes endless joy and pleasure while remaining humanitarian. Having visited Rajasthan on several occasions, it is clear that this region boasts stunning artwork that reflects its rich cultural heritage - from private residences to grand palaces. The nature of Rajput painting has made it an integral part of life in Rajasthan's communities; however, Mughal painting could not achieve such widespread integration despite influencing Rajput artistry. Despite their similarities, these two styles maintain distinct approaches that set them apart.

After carefully evaluating all Rajput paintings, we have identified distinct specialties based on their unique styles and characteristics. These are primarily influenced by regional locations, including Ajmer (now Jaipur), Amber, Bikaner, Bundi, Kishangarh, Kota, Mewar, and Jodhpur. The largest of these regions comprises several smaller sub-regions known as 'Thikana.' Each Thikana is renowned for its distinctive style.

In contrast, the Rajput miniature painting technique is more enduring and archaic than the Mughal miniature. It has a long-standing tradition that continues to this day. Conversely, the Mughal miniature was an imported graft onto India's traditional art form. However, it evolved with Indian traditional styles and grew along with its indigenous art forms like a grafted mango tree. The style of Rajput painting is firmly rooted in Indian artistic lineage and can potentially elevate any other style it intersects with.

Radha and Krishna in the boat, Kishangarh
Radha and Krishna in the boat, Kishangarh, c. 1750

 The Persian style influenced the development of a new form - what we now know as Mughal painting. This occurred when Mughal Emperors brought Indian artists from different regions of Rajasthan to assist Iranian artists at their royal court. Foreign techniques were combined with native Indian formations, resulting in a unique approach to color, line drawing, composition, and decorative formation – all hallmarks of Mughal paintings.

Meanwhile, native Indian artists began working alongside royal court painters and regional kings who served under the Mughal emperor's command. They started by creating illustrated manuscripts and wall paintings, which today are street art, across several areas of Rajasthan. After the decline of the Mughal dynasty, Rajput paintings flourished to an unprecedented extent, with some even attributing their success to divine intervention. As work dwindled in the studios of royal court artists during the eighteenth century, many dispersed throughout Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, and other provincial areas under Mughal rule in search of new opportunities. Drawing from their wealth of experience at court, they infused their native Indian style with artistic intuition and produced a poetic philosophy reflected in their refreshed painting technique. These works created a new paradigm for humanity by offering spiritual insight and nobility beyond what was previously seen in Mughal art. Their heavenly style remained unparalleled throughout history and evoked sensitivity among viewers like never before. Unfortunately, subsequent Indian artists overlooked this exceptional Kalam; had they delved deeply into it, Indian art would have prospered anew.

The predecessor to Rajput painting originated from the ancient art found on street walls and illustrations within various manuscripts, including those of Jain and Vaishnava[1] styles. These artistic traditions experienced a resurgence in popularity within the Iranian perspective and were subsequently integrated into traditional wall art. Ultimately, this amalgamation gave rise to a new form of expression that we now recognize as Rajput Painting. The pinnacle of prosperity for this style can be observed throughout Kangra, Gadwal, and select regions in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. 

For 30 years, the Lalit Kala Academy has been publishing exquisite albums on Rajput Painting. Throughout this time, we have witnessed its gradual transformation and enhancement through a process that carefully preserves regional characteristics while modifying composition and color. The Mughal-Rajput-Pahari Gharana is akin to an extensive family tree whose branches are represented by these paintings; thus, engaging in taxonomic discussions regarding their hereditary traits is imperative. Such talks would reveal the spiritual, humanistic, and expressive qualities within these works alongside the transformative revolution of their external features.

While this topic may seem daunting, I will endeavor to convey the essence of Rajput painting as best I can. Please do not hesitate to correct any errors I may make during our discussion or share your experiences reading about this fascinating subject. Please consider subscribing to our blog to stay up-to-date with future posts on this topic. I appreciate your interest!



[1] Vaishnavism (Sanskrit: वैष्णवसम्प्रदायः, romanized: Vaiṣṇavasampradāyaḥ) is one of the significant Hindu denominations along with Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. According to a 2010 estimate by Johnson and Grim, Vaishnavites are the most prominent Hindu sect, constituting about 641 million or 67.6% of Hindus. It is also called Vishnuism since it considers Vishnu the sole supreme being leading all other Hindu deities, i.e., Mahavishnu. Its followers are called Vaishnavites or Vaishnavas (IAST: Vaiṣṇava), and it includes sub-sects like Krishnaism and Ramaism, which consider Krishna and Rama as supreme beings, respectively.


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