GARHWAL PAINTING

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the State of Garhwal in Northern India presents us with a series of intriguing problems. Lying on the south-east fringes of the Punjab Hills, it had for long preserved its feudal independence. Its capital, Srinagar, lay deep into the hillsa week's march from the plainsand although it had nursed a traditional feud with its neighbour, Kumaon, and kept an uneasy watch on the Gurkhas of Nepal, it had, for many years, escaped the havoc of a major war. Its isolation, in fact, was the secret of its quiet, the cause of its freedom and the excuse for its slender cultural achievement. In 1658, a Mughal prince, fleeing from his uncle the emperor Aurangzeb, had brought to Garhwal a Mughal artist and his son. These artists had been as much goldsmiths and courtiers as actual painters and remaining at Garhwal after the prince had left, they had been granted a substantial pension. Their work as artists, however, had been distinctly mediocre and when we come to 1771, the latest representative of the line, a certain Mola Ram, although still painting, was commanding a woefully poor and unimpressive style. Yet despite this lack of fertile antecedents, despite also its general isolation, there matured at Garhwal a style of painting only equalled in romantic charm by that of another Punjab Hill State, Kangra. In place of drab prosaic portraiture, poetry was accepted as the true theme of art. Technique achieved a new delicacy. Passionate romance was treated with innocent grace while line itself was used to express a sense of musical rhythm. For centuries backward and aloof, within a decade Garhwal had made one of the greatest contributions to Indian painting.

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