The Eighteenth Century
The bards of Rajputana had long celebrated the deeds of the reigning families of the several states before the practice of portraiture was learnt from the Mughal court. But it is not apparently until the eighteenth century that court scenes became one of the main themes of Rajput painting. Dr H. Goctz, who has had opportunities of studying the collections preserved in several of the State Treasuries of Rajputana, has stated that nowhere do these collections go back before 1700, and that in the first half of the eighteenth century the influence of the Mughal style is overwhelmingly strong- both at Jaipur and Jodhpur. There is also a general Mogulization of Ragmala paintings after 1725, superseding the older Rajput style, and it can be concluded from them, as from the portraits in the early years of the eighteenth century, that Mughal example was everywhere in the Plains the model which all followed—just as it was in architecture. It has been suggested that this was due to the bigotry of Aurangzeb driving many of the best Mughal artists from the Imperial court to take service in the provincial courts. But there is little evidence from the paintings themselves to support this view. The change in style is never so complete nor the finish so competent as to suggest that they were actually the work of Mughal artists.
In the remote states, however, Mughal influence was less and the Basohli school worked in a conservative style looking back to Jahangiri (1605-27) models rather than to any contemporary Mughal style. An example is a Gita Govinda manuscript which is dated in the year A.D. 1730 and embellished for a Basohli ruler, Medini Pal, by a painter who gives his name as Marnaku. The Mughal scheme of chiaroscuro is indeed used in this manuscript but in a conventional decorative way and not to give atmosphere and depth. The Basohli school has no longer the strength of the seventeenth century paintings, but a good deal of the brilliant colour sense and power of composition are preserved. There is, however, no hint of the great development of Pahari (Hill) painting which was to come in the second half of the century.
Writing in 1912 Dr Vogel pointed out that the political decay of the Mughal empire and the anarchy which followed the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739 brought economic prosperity to the Hill states through whose territory the trade route was diverted. It passed through Haripur, Nurpur and Basohli to Jammu. Much work remains to be done on those local schools; but it is evident that in the second half of the eighteenth century, the most powerful Hill states were Jammu and Kangra. Ranjit Dev of Jammu ( 1750-81) controlled a wide territory which included Basohli, whose ruler, Amrit Pal, was practically his client. It is, however, Kangra which seems to have taken the lead in the formation of a new painting style to which the Mughal painters contributed an academic tradition and standard of technical skill. Mr J. C. French considered that the Mughal influence was introduced in the seventeenth century, but Dr Goetz, writing in 1946, places the early Kangra school in the reign of Ghamand Chand (1751- 74) and its zenith under Sansar Chand (1775-1804). The portrait of Raja Govardhan of Guler (1730-6o) may be accepted as from the life, but the portraits of Raja Bikram Singh of Guler (1661—75) and of Raja Sidh Sen of Mandi (ruled from 1684—1717?) can hardly be contemporary and the first are not in Kangra style, as indeed Mr French states, while the Raja Vikram and his elephant seems to be a developed Rajput drawing of much later date. This is not of course to deny the existence of an art in the hills before the middle of the eighteenth century—in addition to the Basohli school something is known of this painting in the Kulu valley—an attractive art of simple line and low-toned colouring.
It was, however, the patronage extended by Sansar Chand at Kangra which made it the cultural centre of the land, and his portrait is to be found in many collections. The style soon spread as far as Kashmir and Lahore and to Garhwal and Chamba and the decline of Sansar Chand's political position before the rising power of the Sikhs after 1804 did not by any means extinguish the school, which indeed flourished far into the nineteenth century.
Of all the Rajput schools the Kangra is certainly the best known, ever since a large part of Dr Coomaraswamy's Rajput Painting was devoted to it. But it will now be realized that it is a late and special offshoot from this old stalk. Apart from large series illustrating the great epics, the most frequent subjects are the pranks and play, and the love-scenes of Krishna and Radha, especially in illustration of the Navika themes, the classic situations of the beloved.