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Rajput Painting

Regional Style


Using the term "Rajput Painting" to define Rajput painting is often done casually without acknowledging that it shares similarities with Hindu traditional painting. While Rajput painting boasted versatility and specialty, it's noteworthy that regional artists across India frequently exchanged their styles and doctrines, thereby maintaining a regional impact. Consequently, one cannot attribute pure or original characteristics to this art form. Just as in modern times, artistic doctrines and styles underwent changes influenced by knowledge, place, and regional factors. As previously mentioned, no paintings in India can be considered solely Mughal or Persian as they were all adapted using Indian techniques and produced in an Indian manner. This holds even for ancient cave paintings, which have undergone modifications due to the good relationships shared by provincial dynasties of Hindu kings with Mughal emperors in economic, social, and cultural spheres. Both communities' painting styles flowed naturally without interruption because they had no boundaries. It was evident that Muslim traditional art had influenced Hindu painting just as much as Hindu traditional doctrine had impacted Muslim painting.


I will discuss various styles of Rajput paintings and propose a study on their impact on the Rajput Gharana.


Gujrati Style

The Gujarati style holds a prominent place in the annals of Indian art history, evocative of the medieval era sandwiched between the Ajanta and Mughal/Rajput periods. Through its study, we can trace the evolution of Indian art during that age and observe its gradual refinement over time. Furthermore, this significant style facilitated an amalgamation and reformation of both streams within a single framework. Regrettably, India possesses scant evidence of paintings from this period; however, fresco paintings in Tanjore and Tirupati offer some insight into medieval-era artistic expression. The Pal dynasty's artwork also contains several examples but has been chiefly exported to Nepal in ancient times.


Certain experts have speculated that a distinct style pervaded India during the medieval era - Gujarati being just one facet - with another example found at Nalanda (Bihar).


Maharao Kishor Singh of Kota Celebrating a Religious Festival, rajput painting
Maharao Kishor Singh of Kota Celebrating a Religious Festival, 1813

Before proceeding, we must learn a bit about the Rajput painting process and the materials used in those artworks. This will help us gain a deep knowledge of such a remarkable style.

Rajput paintings are typically created using gouache or opaque watercolor techniques on paper. The process begins with a sketch using charcoal. The initial drawing is then strengthened with a sanguine brush, with some details added, and then a thin white priming coat is applied. The priming is minimal in thickness, as the "underdrawing" should be visible in the next step, which involves firming it up with a black line. Pigments are then applied in stages, with each layer burnished onto a flat surface to fuse the pigments and create luster on the painting. In the next stage, known as "khulai," every outline becomes crisp, and every detail comes to life. This is when the painting truly begins to take shape. Finally, delicate shading is added, along with gold and "moti mahavar" work, in which the minutest details are painted. Impasto is applied to ornaments and jewelry, "tooling" is done, and lips and fingertips are reddened.


The lucrative approach fostered the flourishing of the Gujarati style. The state's well-organized seaport facilitated immense commercial potential, which has been evident since ancient times and has profoundly impacted Gujarati society and culture. In light of the devastation wrought by exotic Muslim invaders upon several Indian king's courts' artistic practices, it was the affluent business community that assisted artists during this tumultuous period. Given their opulent stature, it is unlikely that such individuals would have embraced Buddhism or adhered to the austere tenets of Hindu Brahmin philosophy; instead, they were fervently devoted to indulging in art and integrating it into their everyday lives.


There is a lack of evidence for paintings from this era; however, following the epoch of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,[1] we discover some indications of paintings that Jainism influenced manuscript illustrations and metal sculptures. This trend persisted throughout the 17th century. In Jain manuscript illustrations, one can observe the influence of the Persian miniature style, which had been present since its inception. Sources suggest that specific colors imported from Iran for use in Jain manuscript illustrations contributed to the impact of Persian style on Gujarati painting. The effect manifested in various small details within these works, including facial features, dance postures, and clothing. 


In contemporary times, several art critics classify the Gujarati style as part of the Western Indian style. However, manuscripts dating back to the 11th century reveal that Rajput painting boasted an ancient form during this period. These early styles were somewhat dull compared to their later counterparts, which emerged in the 13th century and featured backgrounds filled with trees and other elements. By the close of the 14th century, when palm leaf was no longer used for painting and paper had been invented, large paintings adorned with striking colors began to appear. Colors imported from Iran (Persia) were utilized in these works alongside Iranian papers; consequently, Iranian influences became increasingly apparent within Gujarat's Rajput paintings. For example, bearded men donning lengthy cloaks and high shoes - both commonly worn in Iran - made their first appearance in Indian Rajput paintings through Gujarati works specifically. Furthermore, Irani influences permeated designs and decorations throughout these flat-typed compositions, while only line drawings and reddish surfaces maintained traits consistent with India's longstanding tradition of Rajput painting.


Basant Vilas Manuscript
Basant Vilas Manuscript

 Several Jain manuscripts from the 15th century have survived. One notable example is Basanta Bilas[2], which was likely written in 1451 during the reign of Ahmed Shah Kutubuddin of Gujrat. Although Kalpasutra, composed in 1237, is an even older manuscript, Basanta Bilas stands out due to its stunning illustrations. The artwork conveys a charming and unpretentious quality that evokes boundless joy. This sense of guilelessness imbues all Indian paintings' innocence and contributes significantly to their magnificence.


Most of the Gujarati Rajput paintings depict narratives akin to the Ajanta cave paintings. Notably, upon closer examination of these works, one may observe that the attire worn by male and female figures resembles that seen in Ajanta. This similarity extends to their use of ornaments as well. It is worth noting that there appears to be little influence from Mughal art on drapery arrangements or ornamental designs. The same holds for contemporary Vaishnava paintings. However, despite employing rather conventional techniques, which occasionally render them somewhat monotonous, these artworks boast commendable color palettes.


Kalpa Sutra Manuscript,
Kalpa Sutra Manuscript, c.1375–1400.

Towards the end of the 15th century, there was a decrease in perfection, which led to an unnecessary increase in ornamental usage. In addition, line drawings became weaker and more divergent. These indications persisted until the 16th century. The Kalpasutra manuscript exhibits some distinctive features, such as multiple paintings on each page with birds, fruits, flowers, and even men depicted within Irani-style frames while maintaining traditional Indian Rajput art for the central painting. Consequently, it is plausible that Islamic influence on Gujarati manuscript paintings originated not primarily from Persia (Iran) but from southern regions. Henceforth, if we acknowledge that peak transcendence in Gujarati Rajput painting occurred during the first half of the 15th century, this manuscript was composed after that period.


In this discourse, I shall present a humorous fact regarding the tenacity of individuals to cling to age-old customs. Brace yourself for an amusing observation concerning how people are unwilling to relinquish their traditional practices. It is akin to the advent of automobiles and their front-facing engines; during that era, horses drew carriages at the front end, hence why engines occupied that spot in cars. Similarly, ancient manuscripts followed suit! Even after transitioning from palm leaves to paper as a writing medium, artists persisted in placing two circular shapes filled with color in the same position as the holes used for binding palm leaf texts with yarn. Although there was no need to bind paper manuscripts similarly, they continued doing so anyway - adhering to the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" The following paragraph contains an image of the Uttaradhyayana Sutra manuscript showcasing this comical fact.


Uttaradhyayana Sutra
Uttaradhyayana Sutra

 During the 15th century, Gujarati Rajput painting achieved its highest transcendence; however, it began to dwindle by the end of the same century. In the latter half of the 16th century, it became desiccated and lost its grandeur. Consequently, many art critics argue that Gujarati painting is not a primary source of Rajput art. To better comprehend Rajput's painting style, we must remember that the Gharana of Rajput's painting was a culmination of old Gujarati painting doctrines accumulated in the 16th century. Additionally, we must consider that Iranian art has also influenced Gujarati paintings. As a result, we can conclude that Rajput's paintings are an amalgamation of Indian doctrine with Iranian artistry.


 Historians have discovered a manuscript that has complicated the understanding of the fundamental Gharana of Rajput painting. The name of this document is Uttaradhyayana Sutra. Upon examination, we found no traces of influence from the Irani Style. Furthermore, even the impact and emotional sense associated with the fundamental Rajput style are minimal in this manuscript. This discovery highlights an issue with overemphasizing exotic influences in Indian painting while ignoring traditional Indian doctrine - it leads to incorrect judgments. A similar example can be found in Geet Govindam's manuscript, showcasing this fact. These findings suggest that although no universal method or style was used in Rajput painting, a regional native style did exist - one that was simple yet candid.


 

Addendum 

1. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was (born in the 15th century) an Indian saint considered the combined avatar of Radha and Krishna by his disciples and various scriptures. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mode of worshipping Krishna with ecstatic song and dance profoundly affected Vaishnavism in Bengal. He was also the chief proponent of the Vedantic philosophy of Achintya Bheda Abheda Tattva. Mahaprabhu founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism (the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya). He expounded Bhakti yoga and popularized the chanting of the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra. He composed the Shikshashtakam (eight devotional prayers). Chaitanya is sometimes called Gauranga or Gaura due to his molten gold–like complexion. His birthday is celebrated as Gaura-Purnima. He is also called Nimai due to his being born underneath a Neem tree.

 

2. Basant Bilas (The Joys of Spring) is a fagu poem by an unknown author in the old Gujarati language, believed to have been written in the first half of the 14th century. Its theme is the depiction of Shringara, an erotic sentiment. The poem has significant historical value as it provides linguistic evidence of Old Gujarati.


 

 


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