Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 10


BY: SUN STAFF - 21.1 2017

Vasant Ragini 
Rajput Ragamala – Bundi, Rajasthan, c. 1660

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


The Rajput School of paintings grew out of the Sisodiya dynasty in Udaipur, and eventually dominated the whole of Rajputana (modern Rajasthan) and the Punjab Hills. The Sisodiya were a clan of Chattari Rajputs who ruled the kingdom of Mewar, and met one of the early onslaughts of Islamic intruders, around 1300 A.D.

As described by Rashmi Condra in her study on Rajput Ragamalas, Rajput paintings are found from the 17th to 19th Centuries. With the accession of the Islamic fanatic, Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707 A.D.) to the Mughal throne, the court arts slowly stagnated. Aurangzeb declared that art and the patronage of it was decadent, and he closed the imperial ateliers and pushed out the court artists. Those with no other means fled to the courts of the more obscure Rajas in the Punjab Hills, and others went to the great Maharajas of Rajasthan for their subsistence.

Rajput Ragamala
Basholi School, c. 1710

The Rajput kings, who were great patrons of the arts, gave the indigenous artists refuge and supported their ongoing work, but also allowed the displaced Mughal court artists to be absorbed into the Rajput communities. Their contribution of painting styles and technical expertise enriched Rajput's academic traditions, and there many examples of the influence of these artists on Indian schools of art that followed.

The Rajput paintings are uniquely identifiable by their striking characteristics of symbolism and rhythm, combining beautiful color and composition. Rajput paintings bring focus to psychological aspects of the subject rather than simply meticulous reproduction of the actual form.

Vasant (Spring) Ragini 
Rajput Ragamala, c. 1770

Condra also describes the technical process of painting that the Rajput school applied to Ragamala illustrations, saying that the surface of the paper, or more rarely the hemp or cotton canvas, was primed by the application of a thin film of glue derived from plant gum. The artist then sketched out the drawing in red in lines, often preparing numerous trial drawings. Corrections were made in oily black and the whole design was fixed with an adhesive liquid gum.

Paints were prepared by the artists in their workshop, sometimes using secret recipes for pigments that combined mineral, plant and even animal ingredients, diluted in a fixative. The splendid blues of Rajput painting were made out of ground lapis-lazuli, while the crimson was produced from the dried bodies of woodworms. Gold and silver leaves were applied with an adhesive mixture. Sometimes, the drawing underneath was retraced to make it standout more strongly, and corrected lines that had been painted over are sometimes still visible in the painting.

Kalinga Ragaputra
Kangra Ragamala, c. 1785

Like the Ragas themselves, each Rajput Ragamala illustration portrays a unique mood, emotion and atmosphere related to the specific musical verse being represented, with classic figures and scenes depicting the Ragamala family, or garland. While there are several sub-schools of Rajput Ragamalas, for example, the Kangra, Bundi, Basholi and Mughal, each with its own particular Bhava, there is very little variation in the actual form and composition of the specific illustrations. This is particularly evident in the red base drawings, which show the consistent forms of this immutable Rajput style of painting.

Gunakali ragini, Ragamala 
Rajput Ragamala – Bundi, Rajasthan, c. 1660


Sources: Excerpted and paraphrased from: 
Ragamala Paintings & Rajput Art of India (18th c.) by Rashmi Arvind Condra, M.A., Mumbai