Vaishnava Impact on Rajput Painting

Upon close examination, it becomes apparent that the Vaishnava influence, which proliferated throughout India in the late 15th century, also permeated Rajput painting. The Geetha Govindam, a work centered on Lord Krishna's divine pastimes, exhibited a rhythmic impulse tempered by a devotional approach. Each painting of the Geetha Govindam exuded tranquility and conveyed the infinite joy characteristic of Vaishnava cultural diversity. Between 1450 and 1650, folk literature flourished and Hindu culture experienced a renaissance in various forms. Consequently, a new era of Hinduism emerged, imbuing life anew throughout the nation.

Jaydev worshipping Lord Krishna (Delhi National Museum)

 It is worth noting that the genesis of Indian Rajput painting did not originate in the court of the Mughal emperor. Rather, it was initiated by the Vaishnav movement and subsequently became an integral part of Hindu culture, ushering in a new horizon. As previously mentioned, while Persian style had a significant influence on court paintings during the Mughal era, paintings outside of the court embraced this novel Hindu cultural ideology. Therefore, it is essential to differentiate between these two distinct streams when assessing their contribution to Indian Rajput painting.


Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a Hindu saint and polymath-poet, was born in 1485 and passed away in 1533. His tremendous influence ushered in a new era of Hinduism, surpassing the admiration previously bestowed upon esteemed figures such as Jayadeva (the author of Geetha Govindam) and Vidyapati (a Sanskrit polymath-poet-saint). Mahaprabhu's initiation of Kirtan - the praise of God through song - revolutionized Hindu culture with its remarkable fusion of dance and melody that continues to thrive within the modern-day Vaisnava community.

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Puri, Odisha. Image courtesy - Rikudhar, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 At the inception of the Vaishnava movement, no direct correlation existed between painting and this form of Hindu evangelism. This thesis stands valid since there is a dearth of concrete evidence indicating any artistic influence from Vaishnava culture during that era. While some artworks in Odisha bear resemblance to the style prevalent in southern India, their connection with Vaishnavism remains tenuous at best. The Raga Mala series of paintings, however, presents a clear manifestation of Vaishnava culture through its musical renditions dedicated to glorifying God and harmonizing with seasonal changes in nature. These paintings did not emerge until later periods; thus we can only identify faint echoes of such themes in Basant Vilas - a painting centered around springtime festivities - dating back to the 15th century.


Nevertheless, the scriptures Bal Gopal Stuti and Geeta Govindam are closely related to the Vaishnava movements. Notably, all the manuscripts of those Vaishnava scriptures discovered by historians were written in the Gujarati language. It is, however, not accidental because, at that time, southern India was influenced by Ramanuja[1] and Madhvacharya[2] communities, and on the other hand, Gujarati devotional approach to Lord Krishna; both ambiances helped to make a suitable platform for the Vaishnava movement even in the 13 century. Therefore, writing Vaishnava manuscripts in Gujarati is perhaps an everyday fact. 

In this piece, I aim to offer a glimpse into the practice of Kirtan - an act of devotion to God through song that was both originated and embraced by Mahaprabhu as a central facet of Vaishnava culture. I previously created an oil painting depicting this very subject during my earlier years as an artist, which was subsequently acquired by a devoted follower of Vaishnavism for display in his personal drawing room. Allow me to provide you with further insight into this revered tradition. 

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Mahaprabhu
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Mahaprabhu performing Kirtan on the riverside of Nadia (WB, India). Artist - Author

Notwithstanding, it is impossible to establish the authenticity of a particular painting style without concrete evidence such as dates, years and other relevant documentation. If historians were able to obtain such conclusive proof, we could assert with absolute certainty and gain universal acceptance. Due to the swift transmission of information amongst artists worldwide, news of any unique artistic creations quickly spreads across borders. Consequently, styles that are initially deemed novel and exceptional may later be rejected by artists in favor of older ones. Therefore, determining which style emerged first versus those that followed is always challenging without accurate dating information.


It would come as a surprise to many that Rajput painting did not originate from miniature Gujarati manuscript art but rather from Bundela styles (a regional form of Bundelkhand in UP) characterized by solid line drawings and vibrant dramatic colors. Scholars consider primary era Rajput paintings primitive Rajput art forms. Chaurapanchasika - written by poet Bil Han- contains two paintings depicting romantic sequences while others in the same period focus on Raag Mala series illustrating seasonal impacts on musical rhythm conveying a romantic mood specific to each season.


However, all these paintings exhibit Persian influences with some bearing Persian calligraphy as well; they date back approximately 1570 AD. Although vivid colors were used then, subsequent divine life Lord Krishna paintings commissioned at Boston Museum reveal subdued hues providing us with an insight into how color schemes evolved over time. 

Chaurapanchasika manuscript illustration. Image resource - https://www.kamat.com

Determining the precise time and location of these paintings is a challenging task. While we can draw similarities between them and Hamzanama's illustrations, it should be noted that those were created from 1555 to 1579. Based on my research, I believe that Chaurapanchasika was composed in 1570 as most of its artists were court painters under the Mughal Emperor. Thus, we can estimate that the approximate date for these paintings falls around that year. It is worth mentioning that Chourapanchashikar was written in Sanskrit despite being popular poetry in Gujrat; however, it was written in Gujarati language rather than Sanskrit.


Although the painting style seen in Krishna Lila manuscript did not follow a Gujarati style, scholars have yet to confirm where this particular style originated from or what era it belongs to. Analyzing elements such as architecture, clothing styles, ornaments etc., may provide some insight into determining their composition period but cannot guarantee accuracy since traditional Indian architectural designs used during those times had been prevalent for several decades or even centuries.


Despite difficulties encountered when attempting to pinpoint an exact timeline for these pieces' creation dates accurately, analyzing manuscript art alongside architecture styles could help establish links between them and identify how Indian painting styles influenced Mughal court paintings during Emperor Akbar's reign. Furthermore, southern India's artistic influences at the end of the sixteenth century might have also impacted Mughal court painting styles significantly.


The misconception regarding all post-Aurangzeb development resulting from southern Indian conquests leading to a new art form known as Dekani Kalam needs correction because after Vijaynagar state was demolished by invaders during the sixteenth century; South-Indian artists migrated elsewhere and exported Southern-style artwork northwards which resulted in Northern India adopting this unique art form too.


It would be erroneous to conclude solely based on this event without considering other factors like how Northern-style artwork made its way southward later on while reviving South-Indian traditional painting forms throughout the seventeenth century.


In future articles related to this topic series will focus more on Rajput-Mughal stylistic relationships between different periods within history.


Will continue in next episode

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:Image attribution:

Wikimedia Public domain, Rikudhar, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons, (Image of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) www.kamat.com (Image of Chaurapanchasika manuscript)


1. Ramanuja (Tamil: இராமானுசர்; Sanskrit: रामानुज; c. 1017–1137 CE;  also known as Ramanujacharya, was an Indian Hindu philosopher, theologian and a social reformer. He is noted to be one of the most important exponents of the Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism. His philosophical foundations for devotionalism were influential to the Bhakti movement.

Ramanuja's guru was Yādava Prakāśa, a scholar who according to tradition belonged to the Advaita Vedānta tradition, but probably was a Bhedabheda scholar. Sri Vaishnava tradition holds that Ramanuja disagreed with his guru and the non-dualistic Advaita Vedānta, and instead followed in the footsteps of Tamil Alvārs tradition, the scholars Nāthamuni and Yamunāchārya. Ramanuja is famous as the chief proponent of Vishishtadvaita subschool of Vedānta, and his disciples were likely authors of texts such as the Shatyayaniya Upanishad. Ramanuja himself wrote influential texts, such as bhāsya on the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, all in Sanskrit.

2. Madhvacharya (IAST: Madhvācārya; Sanskrit pronunciation: CE 1199-1278[5] or CE 1238–1317, sometimes anglicised as Madhva Acharya, and also known as Purna Prajna and Ānanda Tīrtha, was an Indian philosopher, theologian and the chief proponent of the Dvaita (dualism) school of Vedanta. Madhva called his philosophy Tattvavāda meaning "arguments from a realist viewpoint".

Madhvacharya was born on the west coast of Karnataka state in 13th-century India. As a teenager, he became a Sanyasi (monk) joining Brahma-sampradaya guru Achyuta Preksha, of the Ekadandi order. Madhva studied the classics of Hindu philosophy, particularly the Principal Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras (Prasthana Trayi).  He commented on these, and is credited with thirty seven works in Sanskrit. His writing style was of extreme brevity and condensed expression. His greatest work is considered to be the Anuvyakhyana, a philosophical supplement to his bhasya on the Brahma Sutras composed with a poetic structure. In some of his works, he proclaimed himself to be an avatar of Vayu, the son of god Vishnu.

3. Deccan painting or Deccani painting is the form of Indian miniature painting produced in the Deccan region of Central India, in the various Muslim capitals of the Deccan sultanates that emerged from the break-up of the Bahmani Sultanate by 1520. These were Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar. The main period was between the late 16th century and the mid-17th, with something of a revival in the mid-18th century, by then centred on Hyderabad.

The high quality of early miniatures suggests that there was already a local tradition, probably at least partly of murals, in which artists had trained. Compared to the early Mughal painting evolving at the same time to the north, Deccan painting exceeds in the brilliance of their colour, the sophistication and artistry of their composition, and a general air of decadent luxury. Deccani painting was less interested in realism than the Mughals, instead pursuing a more inward journey, with mystic and fantastic overtones.

Other differences include painting faces, not very expertly modelled, in three-quarter view, rather than mostly in profile in the Mughal style, and "tall women with small heads" wearing saris. There are many royal portraits, and although they lack the precise likenesses of their Mughal equivalents, they often convey a vivid impression of their rather bulky subjects. Buildings are depicted as totally flat screen-like panels.



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Last updated on - 07.02.2024