KANGRA PAINTING
For twenty-five years, the court of Sansar Chand provided the painters with ideal conditions. In 1806, however, a crisis occurred. Advancing from Nepal, the Gurkhas invaded Kangra, routed the State armies and besieged Sansar Chand in the vast fortress which for several centuries had been renowned as sentinel of the hills. The siege ensued for three years during which the enemy devastated the countryside, despoiled the villages and compelled Sansar Chand to lead a hunted existence. In 1809, seeing no other remedy, he invoked the aid of Ranjit Singh and with the help of Sikh armies successfully raised the siege. His feudal supremacy, however, was ended. The Kangra fort passed to a Sikh garrison and Sansar Chand himself was forced to admit Ranjit Singh's sovereignty, to present himself once a year at Lahore, and for the rest, to live quietly at his country seats. It was at one of these, existing on a paltry 70,000 rupees a year yet spending 'large sums of money upon a numerous zenana and a parcel of hungry retainers' that he died in 1823.
Such a violent upheaval inevitably affected Kangra painting. We know that at least one artist, Sajnu, must have left the court, for in 1810 he presented the ruler of the neighbouring State of Mandi, Raja Iswari Sen, with a set of pictures illustrating the Rajput ballad, the Hamir-Hath. The abrupt curtailment of courtly luxuries must also have affected artistic production. Yet painting can hardly have ceased altogether and it is to other factors that we must look to explain the change of style which now appears to have set in. A first factor is the age of Sansar Chand himself. In 1806, he was 41 years old and while this would not in itself have precluded active patronage, we must remember that the great development of the style had been the creation of his early manhood. It is possible that his first enthusiasms had by now become blunted, other preoccupations were disturbing his mind, and though he retained a lively interest in painting, there was no longer the same electrifying passion. In such circumstances, his artists may possibly have become complacent and as a consequence, their work may have lost its fervid touch. It is a second factor, however, which possibly provides a more correct answer. If the Gurkha invasions did not cause, they may well have synchronized with the death of the Kangra master-painters. We have seen that at least two of these must almost certainly have joined the Kangra court in about the year 1780. Both were probably in advanced middle age and it is therefore more than likely that after serving at Kangra for ten to twenty years, their careers were ended by death. It is certainly the quality of fluent animation which seems to disappear after 1806the quality which represents the working out of the Mughal vein in Guler art and is the vital factor in Kangra painting during its greatest period. Without this vitalizing influence, Kangra artists might continue their exquisite creations but the force responsible for the early supple strength, the powerful colour and the rhythmical verve was missing.
The subsequent phases of Kangra painting can be shortly narrated. With the death of Sansar Chand in 1823, the school not only lost its greatest stimulus but much of its stability. Six years after his death, his successor, Anirodh Chand retreated to Tehri Garhwal rather than marry his sisters to two Sikhs. Before doing so, the traveller Vigne tells us, he 'despatched all his valuables towards the Sutlej and although pictures are not expressly mentioned, it is reasonable to suppose that they were included in the royal baggage and that they comprised the greater part of the family collection. Shortly afterwards, the two princesses were married to the Raja of Garhwal, Sudarshan Shah (1815-59) and since a number of the finest Kangra pictures are preserved in Tehri, it seems certain, as Rai Krishna Das and Karl Khandalavala have suggested, that these were originally a part of the wedding dowry. But besides pictures, it is possible that a number of Kangra artists also accompanied Anirodh into exilea suggestion which is supported by the style of painting associated with the period 1830 to 1860 in Garhwal itself. Indeed Mr N. C. Mehta has gone so far as to suggest that many late 'Kangra' pictures are in fact of Garhwal origin. Yet if certain artists emigrated to Garhwal, at least a nucleus must have stayed behind. It is difficult to believe, however, that sensitive patronage was now forthcoming. An uneasy period, first under the Sikhs and then under Raja Jodhbir Chand, had followed Anirodh's retreat until, in 1846, the territory was ceded to the British. While painting seems to have persisted until almost the present dayfour artists were still at work in 1929 when Mr J. C. French visited Kangrathe style shows every symptom of rapid decay. The early lithe grace deteriorates into a weak prettiness and this in turn is succeeded by a shrinkage in the height of the figures and by harsh severities of tone. Indeed a series of paintings, dated 18 58, in the British Museum is marked by blatant colouring and an almost iron-like stiffness.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7