Kangra painting is the pictorial art of Kangra, named after Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, a former princely state, which patronized the art. It became prevalent with the fading of Basohli school of painting in mid-18th century,and soon produced such a magnitude in paintings both in content as well as volume, that the Pahari painting school, came to be known as Kangra paintings.
In the middle of the 18th century A.D. when the plains of Northern India were convulsed by the invasion of Nadir Shah (1739), followed by the incursions of Ahmad Shah Abdah, a strange event took place in the Punjab hills viz. the birth of the Kangra School of Painting at Haripur-Guler under the patronage of Raja Govardhan Chand (1744-1773), a prince with a refined taste and passion for painting. He gave asylum to refugee artists trained in the Mughal Style of painting. In the inspiring environment of the Punjab Himalayas with their beautiful green hills wave-like terraced paddy-fields and rivulets fed with the glacial waters of the snow-covered Dhauladhar , the Mughal style with its sensitive naturalism blossomed into the Kangra style instead of painting flattering portraits of their masters and hunting scenes, the artists adopted themes from the love poetry of Jayadeva Bihari and Keshav Das who wrote ecstatically of the love of Radha and Krishna. Thus, developed a school of painting with new spirit, whose artistic works are suffused with romantic love and bhakti mysticism.
Parkash Chand (ruled 1773-1790), the successor of Govardhan Chand, also continued the patronage of the artists. The paintings in early Guler style were by the artist Pandit Seu and his two sons Nainsukh, Manak and his brother Gursouhae were in the employ of Raja Parkash Chand of Guler. Raja Sansar Chand (1775-1823) attracted a number of talented artists from the court of Guler even when he was 20 years of age. He was the most renowned Raja in the Kangra Valley and was the most generous patron of the art of painting. It was under his patronage that Jaydeva’s Sanskrit love poem, the “Gita Govinda”, “Bihari’s Sat Sai”, “Bhagawat Purana”, the romantic tale of Nala and Damyanti , and Keshav Das’Raskapriya and Kavipriya were translated into paintings of exquisite beauty. Manku, KhushalaKishan Lal, Basia, Purkhoo, Fatoo are also mentioned as artists in the employ of Sansar Chand and his son Ramdyal is also mentioned. These artist did not mention their names on the painting which also shows their selfless devotion to the art.
To turn to the techniques of Kangra Painting, its chief features are delicacy of line, brilliance of colorand minuteness of decorative details, like the art of Ajanta, Kangra art is essentially an art of the line. This imaging delicacy and fineness of the line was achieved by the use of fine brushes made from the hair of squirrels.
The Kangra painters made use of pure colors like yellow ,red and blue and these have retained the brilliance, even after two hundred years.
The central theme of Kangra painting is live and its sentiments are expressed in a lyrical style full of rhythm, grace and beauty. The recurring theme of Kangra painting whether it portrays one of the six seasons or modes of music, Radha and Krishana or Siva and Parvati is the love of man for woman and of woman for man.
The three main centers of Kangra painting are Guler, Nurpur and Tira-Sujanpur.
Painting depicts ideas and values which guided life in society, sentiments and passions pictured in the language of brush and color make our experience rich and sensibilities sharp. Miniatures are steeped in religious faith as they depict Puranic tales and stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata in minute detail. Sensitive depiction of literary works RasikPriya, Sat Sai and Rasmanjari, GeetGovinda and other works refer to the awareness of people. The episodes are most eloquent, colours most vibrant, brilliant and soft. The brush is tender. Nature sublime. Animal & birds find place wherever necessary. The Nayika of miniature is Radha, the most beautiful woman on earth characterized by feminine grace and Porcelain delicacy and Nayak is none other than the blue God Krishna. We also see the hill Rajas modelling for the Nayak. Portraits of hill Rajas give us a glimpse into theircharacter, likes and attributes. But for the liberal patronage available this art would not have touched such High levels of excellence.
Though the main centres of Kangra paintings are Guler, Basohli, Chamba, Nurpur, Bilaspur and Kangra. Later on this style also reached Mandi, Suket, Kulu, Arki, Nalagarh and Tehri Garhwal (represented by Mola Ram), and now are collectively known as Pahari painting, covering the style that was patronized by Rajput rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Pahari paintings, as the name suggests, were paintings executed in the hilly regions of India, in the sub-Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. It is in the development and modification of Pahari paintings, that the Kangra School features. Under the patronage of Maharaja Sansar Chand, it became the most important center of Pahari painting. To see some of these master pieces one can visit the Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum, adjoining the Kangra Fort in Kangra Himachal. This museum has been founded by the erst-while Royal Family of Kangra.
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