Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 6

By editor - 7.12 2017

Champavati by a Lotus Pond 
Miniature from Chaurapanchasika, 16th c.

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



In exploring the Kulhadar Group of 16th Century paintings related to the Western Indian school, some of the finest examples are illustrations of Vaisnava themes from manuscripts like the Bhagavata Purana, Gita Govinda and Ragamala. Many of these come from northwestern India, particularly the Rajasthani kingdoms of Mewar and Malwa.

In the 17th Century, the art of Rajasthan developed into a number of highly acclaimed schools, notably the Malwa, Mewar, Bundi, Kotah, Amber-Jaipur, Marwar, Bikaner and Kishangarh schools. But even in the previous century, when there was an abundance of paintings that demonstrated the Persian/Mughal influence in Western Indian art, we also find a well-defined Vaishnava style that maintained its philosophical integrity through the painted medium.

In order to get a visual sense of this progression, one can study the paintings previously mentioned in the series, such as the Jain Miniatures from Gujarat that are ornamented along the borders with Persian stylings, seen in various Kalpasutra and Kalakacharya-Katha manuscripts.

In the field of secular art from the region, there are various manuscripts of popular romance stories like the Laur Chanda, an Avadhi folk story. These manuscripts display a mixture of Persian and Indian styles much like the Nimat Nama of Malwa, pictured in yesterday's segment.

Some of the religious manuscripts of the period that likewise demonstrate a melding of Indian and Persian styles include the Mrigavati and Mahapurana, two important Jain texts. These examples are executed in a style very similar to the illustrations found in the Chaurapanchasika, another 16th Century secular love story.

In the case of the Chaurapanchasika, we have an excellent 16th c. example of Western India style that held its indigenous roots, exemplified by the Miniature pictured above of the romantic heroine Champavati standing by a lotus pond. The Persian influence is relatively minimal in this painting, but it is present in the flag's floral motif.

The overall style of this painting will be very familiar to the devotees, given that a great number of Krsna-lila paintings were also done in this style. Many such images illustrate manuscripts of the Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata pastimes, such as the image below of Sri Krsna defeating Narakasura.

Krishna Battles the Armies of the Demon Naraka 
Bhagavata Purana, c. 1520–30 A.D., Delhi-Agra

This painting of Krsna's pastime with Naraka comes from the oldest surviving manuscript of the Bhagavata Purana. The painting, which hangs in the New York Met, is noted as having been done in the Chaurapanchasika style. By this description, art historians are apparently suggesting that the Bhagavata Miniature is attributed to a style named for the secular Chaurapanchasika manuscript. This would seem to indicate a presumption that the latter is greater in age than the former.

Most Chaurapanchasika-style manuscripts are short, but this Bhagavata Purana text was originally composed of approximately 300 pages, about 200 of which are extant. Like the much small Bhagavata Purana manuscript found at Isarda, both are thought to have been produced in the Delhi-Agra area, close to Mathura.

Given that this Bhagavata manuscript is the oldest surviving, dating to the early 16th Century, and the style is so similar to the secular Chaurapanchasika, it seems likely that the thematic composition and style originated in the Vaisnava arts, not in the secular sphere. In other words, it is far more likely that artists of the day were influenced in the style of sastric manuscript illustrations than by non-religious cultural texts. This dynamic of influence has been proved out in many eras of Indian art history.



Sources: Excerpted and paraphrased from: 
Ministry of Culture, Government of India 
Metropolitan Museum of Art's 'Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History'