It is these two qualities-a flair for painting and a zest for Krishna-which characterized Sansar Chand when he succeeded to the Kangra court. We do not know what actual steps he took to attract master-painters but the death of Raja Gobardhan Singh of Guler in 1770, with, by implication, the sudden removal of a great patron, is perhaps the clue to subsequent events. It is certainly significant that in about the year 1765, at least one Guler artist seems to have migrated to the northerly State of Chamba while about the year 1770 other Guler artists appear to have reached Garhwal, there to produce a style of art whose romantic charm is only equalled by that of Kangra itself. Following the death of Gobardhan Singh, then, we must assume a period of anxious crisis, the partial exploration of other centres and finally, a drift to Kangra. In such circumstances, the knowledge that the youthful Sansar Chand was keenly interested in painting may well have been decisive and by 1780, a number of Guler artists must almost certainly have sought his favour.
The particular painters who now produced the Kangra style are still comparatively unknown. The names of three—Fattu, Purkhu and Kushan Lai—have been preserved and it is possible, as Mr Karl Khandalavala has suggested, that Kushan Lai is identical with Kushala, the nephew of Nainsukh. No signed examples of their work, however, have survived and we can only conjecture what were their respective roles. It is clear, however, from the pictures associated with the first great period of Kangra art, 1780 to 1806, that at least two master-artists representing the 'Mughal' strand in Guler painting were working at Kangra while a number of other practitioners deriving from the other less sophisticated streams were also employed. One of these master-artists is associated with a set of pictures illustrating the Bhagavata Purana. The Mughal flair for character study is present and as in previous Guler pictures, there is the same all-pervading air of innocent naturalism while landscape backgrounds have the same open spaces and simple construction. It is rather in the use of an intensely fluid line that the artist of the Bhagavata Purana detaches himself from former Guler art. He reaches, indeed, a new level of rhythmical exaltation while the use of shaded outlines gives each of his compositions a luminous clarity which was nowhere else achieved in Kangra art.
The second master-artist is discernible in pictures such as Plates 1 and 2 and in a series of illustrations to Bihari's Krishna cycle, the Sat Sai. In these paintings, the outline is no longer so decisively shaded and while the landscapes have a warm luxuriance, contrasting with the sparse schematic backgrounds of Guler art, there is a greater standardization in the treatment of the figures. These still possess a suavely modelled grace but detailed characterization is wanting. At the same time, birds, rivers, plants and flowering trees are all employed as symbolic parallels to enhance the charms of lovers and suggest the nature of their meetings. We reach, in fact, a type of art in which, as Coomaraswamy has pointed out, 'the complete avoidance of sentimentality is founded on the constant reference to the physical fact.'
The style of both these artists is clearly that of Kangra and the same is true of many other practitioners who also received patronage. Here also the change of court appears to have had deep and fructifying consequences. In 1770, at Guler, there had been at least three different formulae for recording the female face. Two of these were now discarded and it was the third only which was taken up and standardized. A change was also made in the favourite posture for depicting women. In Guler, the standing or the seated pose had chiefly claimed attention. At Kangra, it was the peculiar gliding grace of a girl in motion—the head bent, the dress filling out, the whole resumed in a single curving line, which became the Kangra type par excellence. At the same time, the early Guler method of using colour symbolically and of introducing formalized shapes was given an air of greater naturalism. Geometry was still employed as a foil to feminine grace but instead of distorting shapes in an angular direction, the same effect was achieved by means of architecture—buildings with their hard and rigid lines serving by their very angularity to enhance the body's softness. Finally, symbolic settings embodying the same images which were current in poetry were adopted as the normal means for conveying romantic emotions.
For all this painting, the adhesion by Raja Sansar Chand to the cult of Krishna provides the main motivating force. Indeed without this cult and the ruler's devotion to it, the concentration of these artists on the feminine form and their constant investment of it with delicate poetry would be unintelligible. It was because Krishna, the divine lover, had constantly to be depicted that romantic themes engrossed their minds. And since Krishna himself delighted in romance, the lovely objects of his passion gradually assumed dominance until it is the feminine character, endowed with loving tenderness, innocent sensuality and intensely passionate needs, the feminine form serenely graceful with gentle languid curves, which becomes the true subject of Kangra art.