Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 29


Radha, Waiting 
Kangra, under Sansar Chand

A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.


17th to 19th Centuries


Throughout the 17th and up to the middle of the 18th Century, Kangra state was crippled by the capture of the great Kangra castle by the Mughals (1620). The continued presence of a Mughal governor and the loss to Mughals of the state's western half dominated life in Kangra state. Consequently, despite its former position as the greatest and oldest state in the Punjab Hills and the location of three famous centuries of pilgrimage – Bhawan (Kangra), Baijnath and Jwalamukhi – its rulers lived under a shadow, sometimes meekly attending the imperial court while at other times resorting to fierce, albeit ineffective warfare.

Not until the appearance of Ghamand Chand, who ruled from 1761-74 A.D. did the former undivided Kangra state finally re-emerge as an independent power. Almost all the western part (except the castle) was then won back, fresh territory was acquired, tribute was executed from minor neighbours, and in general influence, the state began to rival Jammu, Chamba and Kahlur (Bilaspur). Nonetheless, the experience of the last century and a half could not be easily erased, and it was the Beas Valley rather than the castle at Kangra which remained the centre of Kangra courtly life and the core of its culture.

Under the reign of Ghamand Chand, there is no evidence that Kangra had any local painting or that conditions existed that were strongly favourable to art. A shrine to Chamunda Devi, the Goddess of War, was added to the Tira fortress at Sujanpur, but otherwise, Ghamand Chand seems to have been too involved in military enterprises and affairs of state to actively concern himself with art and culture. It was his grandson, Sansar Chand, who infused Kangra with a love of devotional painting.

Teachings of Narada
Purkhu, Ramayana illustration, c. 1800

Sansar Chand is described not only as a masterful and ambitious ruler, but from his boyhood onwards, as one with an exceptional interest in painting. Two pictures exist showing him actually looking at pictures, and with the exception of a portrait of Balwant Singh of Jammu, these are the only known examples of portraits showing a Pahari ruler engaged in this activity.

As early as 1864 (only forty years after his death) historian Baden Powell noted that Sansar Chand was a great patron of painting, and this reputation was still alive when the French visited the Kangra valley in 1929 and met his descendant, the Maharaja of Lambargaon.

There is also a first-hand account of the traveler Moorcraft who visited his court in 1820, three years before Sansar Chand's death. In this account, "fondness for drawings" is singled out as one of Chand's outstanding characteristics. Moorcraft also refers to his "immense collection", which was comprised of some 40,000 paintings, many depicting religious scenes and legendary Vedic subjects.

Even after his downfall, Sansar Chand still had several artists in his service. Most notable among them were Khushala (the son of Manak and nephew of Nainsukh), Fattu, Sajnu, Krishna Lal, Purkhu, and Gaudhu. (The first generation after Manaku and Nainsukh were Fattu, Khushala, Kama, Gaudhu, Nikka, and Ranjha. Active at a number of Pahari region courts, mainly in the Kangra Valley, ca. 1740–1830 were sons of Manaku (Fattu and Khushala) and Nainsukh (Kama, Gaudhu, Nikka, and Ranjha). The four sons of Nainsukh and two sons of Manaku are known collectively as the 'First Generation after Nainsukh and Manaku'.

Yasoda showing Krsna His Reflection
Kangra, under Sansar Chand

In view of his success in making Kangra not only the greatest but the richest state in the Punjab Hills, Sansar Chand's personal interest in and devotion to Sri Krishna, along with his attachment to music, dancing and singing, created the conditions necessary for the emergence of a great school of painting at Kangra.

The art that was produced in Maharaja Sansar Chand's court was quite epic in scope compared to the bodies of work being produced in the comparatively smaller states of Basohli, Jammu, Guler, and Chamba, where the Basohli kalam had already been in play for some fifty years.

Chand commissioned albums of paintings on Vaisnava themes from Bhagavat Purana and Mahabharata, and texts like Gita-govinda, Ragamala and Baramasa. These miniature were replete with depiction of the pastimes of Radha and Krsna. The Divine Coupe were also modeled into Ragamala illustrations as nayak and nayaki (hero and heroine). Even in the durbar scenes depicting activities of the royal court, the scenes were metaphors of the pastimes after Radha and Krsna, the court men and women acting the roles.

The development of the Kangra School under the patronage of Sansar Chand is a good reminder that behind all these bodies of wonderful Indian devotional art, there is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna, in one of His countless manifestations and pastimes. Likewise, there is someone like Sansar Chand, who guided, encouraged and funded the artists who captured the religious sentiments and affections of the people for the benefit of generations to come.



With excerpts, some paraphrased, from Punjab Painting by R. P. Srivastava, and Splendours of Himachal Heritage by Mulk Raj Anand