Vaishnava Impact on Rajput Painting

If we tend to take a deep look, we can notice that the Vaishnava impact, which spread across India at the end of teh 15th century, also influenced the Rajput painting. The Geetha Govindam, which was about the divine diversion of Lord Krishna, demonstrated a rhythmic impulsion but was restrained by the devotional approach. Each painting of the Geetha Govindam was tranquil and offered the infinite joy that usually comes with the Vaishnava cultural diversity. From 1450 to 1650, folk literature gained huge prosperity, and Hindu culture was revived in several ways. As an outcome, a new era of Hinduism produced a new life across the nation.

Jaydev worshipping Lord Krishna (Delhi National Museum)

 Please note that it was not initiated in the court of the Mughal emperor. It was committed by the Vaishnava movement, and it came to the part of human life that brought a new horizon to Hindu culture. As I stated earlier, in the court paintings of the Mughal era, the Persian style had a huge impact on the Indian Rajput painting, and alongside, the paintings that were outside of the court pursued the new Hindu cultural ideology. Now it is necessary to clarify the contribution of two separate streams in Indian Rajput painting.


Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born in 1485 and died in 1533. No doubt, the new era in Hinduism was possible through the enormous influence of Mahaprabhu. Jayadeva (author of Geetha Govindam), and Vidyapati (Sanskrit polymath-poet-saint) were appreciated only for Mahaprabhu. He was the first person who initiated the Kirtan(praise of God in song) in Hindu culture. It was an astonishing combination of dance and song that is still running in the modern era within the Vaisnava community. 

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

 At the start of the Vaishnava movement, no specific connection occurred between the painting and such kind of Hindu evangelism. Such an opinion is acceptable because we have not found any evidential artwork of this era influenced by Vaishnava culture. Some of the artworks found in Odisha are mostly influenced by the style of southern India. We only can notice the prominent influence of Vaishnava culture (praise of God in song) in the series of paintings known as Raga Mala. RagaMala paintings are based on the concept of musical tunes matched with the seasonal impact of nature. But we didn't find such paintings in the 15th century. Only we can notice a little glimmer in the Basant Vilas painting that is about the spring season.


Nevertheless,  there were two scriptures named Bal Gopal Stuti, and Geeta Govindam that had a close relation to Vaishnava movements. The notable fact is that all the manuscripts of those said 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 the Gujarati language is perhaps a normal fact. 

Here I want to share a glimpse of the Kirtan considered the praise of God in the song, which was formed by Mahaprabhu and later assumed as a main part of the Vaishnava culture. This is an oil painting I depicted in the earlier time of my artist's life for a Vaishnava devotee who purchased it for his drawing-room. You will understand how it was.

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

Regardless, we can say that nothing is perfect to prove the evidence of a specific style of painting with date, year, and other necessary documents. If historians could get such absolute evidence, then we could say everything perfectly, and it would be approved universally. Because news always reaches faster to artists around the world. Which artist is doing something special is always get informed by other artists across the globe. It was the same in the past as is happening in this modern era. In such a way, the style which was considered brand new and exceptional is rejected later by artists as the old style. Therefore, which style appeared first, and which one got later is always tough to establish, without a date and year. Hence, anyone will be astonished to know that the source of the Rajput painting was not the miniature of the Gujarati manuscript art. Only it would be reasonable to find the Rajput painting technique in those Bundela styles (a regional form of Bundelkhand, UP) that are made with strong line drawing and vivid dramatic colors. Scholars considered the Rajput paintings of the primary era as primitive Rajput art. One of the notable manuscripts is Chaurapanchasika, written by the poet Bil Han. Two paintings in that manuscript describe a romantic sequence. Other paintings of the same period are about the Raag Mala series and describe some seasonal impacts on musical rhythm.  According to the subject matter, both represent the romantic mood in some specific season. But the fact is, all of those convey the Persian impact and even some of those paintings bear the Persian calligraphies too. Those are composed in 1570 approximately. Those paintings used vivid colors, however, we can take a glimpse to discover how colors got sober respectively in the paintings of the divine life of Lord Krishna that were patronage in the Boston Museum.

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

It is difficult to discover the accurate time and place of those paintings. We can find the similarity between those paintings with Hamzanama illustration. But those were composed from 1555 to 1579. I said that the scripture named Chaurapanchasika was composed in 1570 because most of the artists of that scripture were the court artists of the Mughal Emperor. Hence, the approximate date should be 1570. It is noteworthy that the Chourapanchashikar was written in the Sanskrit language. It's popular poetry in Gujrat, but that was written in the Gujarati language, not in Sanskrit. The painting style of the manuscript Krishna Lila was not in Gujarati style, but which style they pursued is not confirmed yet, and in which place this style was born is still also in the dark. Sometimes, scholars conclude by studying paintings such as the style of architecture, dresses, ornaments, etc, in the paintings, but those don't make us accurate since traditional ancient Indian architecture that was used in those paintings had been running for several decades even centuries. So it is tough to say properly, in which era or decade those paintings were composed. But we can get a trail in the relation between manuscript art and architecture by keeping up that painting style. Alongside this, we can affirm how the Indian painting style made an impact on the Mughal court painting during the time of Emperor Akbar. I guess the style that had been running in southern India at the end of the 16th century also made an impact on the Mughal court painting. A wrong perception drove us to conclude that after the southern Indian conquest of Aurangzeb, all the development in art occurred and raised a new art form recognized as Dekani Kalam[3]. But it is not so. After the demolition of Vijaynagar state, south Indian artists diverted to several places and exported the South Indian style to Northern India. It happened in the 16th century and in the 17th century, the Northern style came to South India and revived the South Indian traditional style. In the next episode, I'll discuss the relationship between the Rajput and Mughal styles.         


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 - 25.09.2023