Rajput Paintings in Regional Style


 It is a common practice to casually use the term - Rajput Painting during times of defining Rajput painting without considering that both Rajput painting and Hindu traditional painting are quite the same. Though Rajput painting indeed had a specialty and versatility, it's remarkable that reciprocal exchanges of painting style and doctrine occurred frequently between several regional artists across India, keeping up the regional impact. Therefore, it couldn’t be pointed out as a characteristic of the painting that it's a pure or original Rajput Painting. Just like in modern times, doctrines and styles were changing as well. So, we could say about Rajput painting, which was also modified several times following the artistic knowledge, place, and regional impacts. As I said in the earlier write-up, there is no such painting we could mention as a Mughal painting, or Persian painting, in India. All the forms were modified with Indian techniques and reproduced in an Indian manner. It is also applicable to ancient cave paintings. They have all been swapped. Because all the provincial dynasties of Hindu kings had good relationships with the Mughal emperor in economic, social, and cultural spheres. Even Hindu artists got the honor from the royal court of the Muslim Emperor, and the same happened in the Hindu royal court. So, it's easy to guess that no boundaries in the style of painting of both communities made interruption. It was flowing naturally. So, we can also see Hindu traditional doctrine influencing Muslim painting in the same way that Muslim traditional art has influenced Hindu painting. 


I will now discuss several regional Rajput painting styles and propose a study on the specific impact of these styles on the Rajput Gharana based on the above information.

Gujarati Style

Gujarati style has a conspicuous space in the history of Indian art. It has been holding on to the medieval era of Indian painting, which is between Ajanta and Mughal, Rajput eras. We can learn how Indian art evolved during this middle age of both painting styles and how it has improved over time. Moreover, such a significant style helped to mingle and reform both streams in a single framework. Unfortunately, In India, we have little evidence of paintings of the medieval era that can be found in Tanjore and Tirupati fresco paintings. Several more can be found in the Pal dynasty paintings, however, most of them have been exported to Nepal in the past.  


Some resource persons conjectured that there was a specific style in the medieval era that was driven across India. Gujrati style is just a tiny part of it, and the second one we have found in Nalanda (Bihar). 

Vishnu as his third avatar (incarnation) named Varaha (Jaipur) Now in the collection of British Museum.

 The tradeful approach allowed the Gujarati style to flourish. The state had huge commercial feasibility because of the good arrangement of its seaport. From an earlier time, we can experience a commercial impact on Gujarati society and culture. The wealthy business community was helping artists at the time when the attack of exotic Muslim invaders destroyed the art practice of several king's courts across India. It's easy to guess that such a rich Gujarati community would never agree to receive the creed of Buddhism and the harsh discipline of Hindu Brahmin philosophy. Rather they were passionate to amuse themselves with art and enfolded it in their daily life. 


There is no evidence of paintings in this era; however, after the epoch of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,[1] we got some evidence of paintings influenced by the Jain religion in manuscript illustrations and some sculptures made with metal. It continued to the 17th century. In the Jain manuscript illustration, we can notice the influence of the Persian miniature style that had been since its earlier stage. Resource said that some of the colors imported from Iran to work on the Jain manuscript illustration caused the impact of the Persian style on Gujarati painting. The impact appeared in several tiny areas of those paintings, such as the shape of faces, dancing postures, and even dresses.  


Nowadays, some art critics describe the Gujarati style as a Western Indian style. But around the 11th century, we can find the oldest style of Rajput painting in some manuscripts. But those were monotonous; nevertheless, it got developed in the 13th century. In those paintings, we can find the backgrounds of the painting, which appear with trees and other objects. At the end of the 14th century, when the era of palm leaf got to an end, and paper was invented, we could see some large paintings with vibrating colors. I said that colors were imported from Iran (Persia), and now papers also came from Iran, and with those (papers and colors), influences of Irani style also appeared in the Rajput painting of Gujarat. For instance, we can notice in Gujarati paintings, - bearded men wearing long Cloaks and men with high shoes that were used in Iran. These, for the first time, appeared in Indian Rajput paintings. Also, the Irani impact appeared in the designs, decorations, etc of those paintings. All of those were flat-typed. Only the line drawing and the reddish surface of the painting kept the trait of the ancient Indian tradition of Rajput painting.


Basant bilas manuscript

 Some Jain manuscripts of the 15th century still exist. An important manuscript of the said century is Basanta Bilas[2]. Probably, the manuscript was composed in 1451 during the reign of Ahmed Shah Kutubuddin of Gujrat. The most ancient manuscript other than Basanta Bilas is Kalpasutra, which was composed in 1237. But the Basanta Bilas is important because of its illustration. In this illustration, we can feel an innocent but candid sense that brings infinite joy. Indeed in all Indian paintings, such a sense of candidness produces innocence, and it is the main grandeur that makes Indian paintings magnificent. 


Most of the Gujarati Rajput paintings are a kind of story-telling like the Ajanta cave paintings. A remarkable fact is that if we tend to take a deep look at those paintings, we can notice that the dresses of males and females are quite similar to Ajanta cave paintings. It is applicable in ornaments too. It means that the Mughal impact as yet was far away from the drapery arrangements, and ornamental designs in those paintings. The same matter can be seen in the Vaishnava paintings of the contemporary era. But all paintings were just composed in too conventional technique, and therefore, sometimes it looks monotonous. Nevertheless, the colors of those artworks are praiseworthy.  

Kalpasutra painting

 At the end of the 15th century, perfection got decreased and unnecessarily raised the use of ornaments. Similarly, the line drawing got weak and diverted. Such signs had been running up to the 16th century. In the manuscript named Kalpasutra, we can notice some specialties. For instance, on each page of that manuscript, more than one painting is composed, and in the frame of those paintings, birds, fruits, flowers, and even men are composed by following the concept of the Irani style. But the main painting follows the Indian traditional Rajput art. Therefore, we can consider that probably the Islamic impact in the Gujarati manuscript paintings came not from Persia (Iran) but from the southern part. Thus, if we consider that the highest transcendence in Gujarati Rajput painting occurred in the first half of the 15th century, then the said manuscript was composed after the mentioned period.

Here I want to bring forth a joking fact about how people want to hold on to the old tradition. In those manuscripts, we got the same joking fact as we can notice in the motor car. When It got invented, the engine of the motor car was placed on the front side of the car. It is because, in earlier times, horses took place at the front of the car to pull it. Therefore, the engine took the same place as horses. The same things happened in those manuscripts. After the invention of paper, illustrated manuscripts had started composed on paper instead of palm leaf. But as we have seen during the time of the palm-leaf manuscript, two little holes got placed in the palm leaf to bind the manuscript with a yarn; in the same area, artists placed two round shapes with color on the paper-made manuscript. Although there was no need to bind those paper-made manuscripts in the same way, nevertheless artists loved to indicate the points where manuscripts were usually bound with yarn. I enclosed an image of the manuscript named Uttaradhyayana Sutra in below paragraph where you can see that joking fact. 

Uttaradhyayana Sutra

 During the 15th century, Gujarati Rajput painting reached the highest transcendence; nevertheless, at the end of the said century, it started dimming away. In the last half of16th century, it got dried out and lost magnificence. As a result, most art critics believe that Gujarati painting is not the main source of Rajput art. We can gain a clearer understanding of Rajput painting when we remember that the Gharana of Rajput painting was a culmination of old Gujarati painting doctrines accumulated in the 16th century. Likewise, we must take into account that Gujarati paintings have also been influenced by Irani art. As an outcome, we can say that Rajput paintings are a result of the mixing of the Indian doctrine with Irani art. 


Historians found a manuscript that made a complication in understanding the fundamental Gharana of the Rajput painting. The name of the manuscript is Uttaradhyayana Sutra. In this manuscript, we did not find the influence of the Irani Style, and on the other hand, even the impact and emotional sense of the fundamental Rajput style is quite minimal.  This manuscript proved that overemphasis on exotic influence in Indian painting by ignoring the Indian traditional doctrine is how wrong judgment. The similar one is the manuscript of Geet Govindam, where we can find the same fact. It indicates that although there was no universal method or style in Rajput painting, nevertheless, of course, a regional native style had to exist, which was very simple but candid.

Will continue in next episode 

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1. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was (born in 15th-century) Indian saint who is considered to be 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 had a profound effect on 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 him being born underneath a Neem tree.


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



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Last updated on - 07.12.2023