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The tradition of miniature paintings in India has a very long history, and dates back to the 9th and 10th century. During this period, these small sized paintings were done on palm leaves. After the introduction of paper in 12th century, these paintings started appearing on paper. Pahari miniature paintings are a variant of miniature paintings, which originated from hilly regions of India, and hence the name Pahari miniature.
Origin of Pahari miniature paintings:
In Hindi, the word ‘pahaar’ means mountains. Hence the term, Pahari painting refers to a painting that originates from any hilly region. The credit of origin of Pahari miniature paintings goes to Raja Kripal Pal of Basholi (1678 CE– 1731 CE). From the Basholi court it spread to other states and flourished a great deal between the periods of 17th-19 century in the hilly regions of North India – from Jammu to Garhwal. The major centres were Mankot, Nurpur, Chamba, Kangra, Garhwal, among others.
This was even before the influx of artists from the Mughal courts. During this time, the Basohli style of pahari miniature paintings was simple and mainly focused on bringing out the beauty of the hills surrounding the area.
However, the things were to change soon. By the mid of the 17th century a new generation of artists appeared on the scene. These artists moved away from painting nature and moved to painting themes like mythology and literature. Many of these artists prominently portrayed stories of the legendary love between Radha and Lord Krishna. Even though this was the dominant theme some artists were inspired by the great literary work of great poets of India. The artists were inspired by Gita Govinda, the literary compositions of Jayadeva, Rasikapriya of Keshava Das and Rasmanjiri of Bhau Datta among others.
Major compositions of Pahari paintings:
In addition to these religious topics, some artists have drawn illustrations from famous epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, legendary love story of Nala and Damayanti and more. The pahari miniature paintings have also portrayed various subjects like depictions of musical melodies (Raagmaala), life of people during twelve months (Barhamas). At one spectrum these pahari miniature paintings showcase the beauty and many moods of the Nayika (Heroines), and portraits of kings, queens and on the other end it depicts scenes from battles and courtrooms.
During the 18th century, Nainsukh was very famous of creating beautiful pahari paintings. His next generations have also been involved in promoting the pahari miniature paintings.
Speciality of Pahari paintings:
Pahari miniature paintings have a very dynamic character. These paintings are quite serene, lyrical and bold and depict intense human emotions. The painting style from each region was distinct from one another.
Variants of Pahari miniature paintings:
Though each of the regions mentioned were places where pahari paintings flourished, there were distinct variation in in terms of genre. While the Basholi paintings, which originated in Basholi, Jammu & Kashmir were bold and intense and involved immense use of primary colours, the Kangra paintings, which originated in Himachal Pradesh, were quite soft and lyrical. The highlights of the Kangra paintings were depiction of Radha & Krishna, which was inspired by Gita Govinda, written by Jayadev.
Pahari paintings in current situation:
After the 18th century, the Pahari miniature art saw its downfall. The repeated attacks by Gurkhas caused instability in the region, which has an adverse effect on the art as well. As a result of this instability, many local artists started moving out to other places like Lahore and Amritsar.
Today, this art of pahari miniature paintings is facing the danger of extinction. Some NGOs are trying their best to revive this dying art, however a lot more needs to be done to keep this traditional art form alive. In the last few years, the Kangra style of miniature paintings have shown some promise and they have adapted themselves into greeting cards, post cards and other gift items. However, very few paintings get commercially sold. Most of the work these days are seen only as exhibits at museums and art galleries.