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Colourful Desert Tales
  • August 2009

Rajasthan, the land of deserts, has a rich legacy in its paintings. Colourful and bold, these pictures narrate history and legend with an enthusiasm and vibrancy that make up for the vagaries of the land and its travails.  

Starting from the early days of civilisation, Rajasthani paintings ranged from simple earth colour drawings on the walls of rock shelters to miniatures, portraits, murals, frescos, ivory painting, folk paintings, phads or pichwals that developed through several schools of paintings.

The most popular and widely prevalent painting style of Rajasthan is its miniatures. Painted on paper, ivory panels, wooden tablets, leather, marble and cloth, the miniatures are typical to almost all parts of the State. They portray musical melodies, generally called Ragamala, seasons known as Baramasa, literary classics such as Gita Govinda and Rasikapriya, religious works like Bhagavata Purana and Ramayana in addition to the featuring of popular tales. Prevalent from the eleventh century till 17th century in Rajasthan, the miniature paintings were drawn mostly influenced by the Jain religious texts in the Mughal court style.

The major schools of painting of Rajasthan are Mewar, Marwar, Kishangarh, Dhundar (Amer-Jaipur) and Hadoti. Leading the scene, the Mewar School is responsible for the Ragamala paintings portraying scenes of folk legends, divinities, classics and epics. The Mewar School flourished under the rulership of Maharanas. Devgarh, Sawar, Sirohi, Shahpura, Pratapgarh, Banswara and Dungarpur are the sub-schools of Mewar. 

 The Marwar School featured a different type of painting, mostly with a Jain influence, with bold lines, glowing colours, and strong compositions showing the hero-type males with whiskers along with elegantly dressed ladies. The most important centres of Marwar School are Jodhpur and Bikaner, both of which were under the Rathod kingdom. Starting from the 17th century, the Marwar School was most active in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bikaner’s painters, called Ustas, followed the tradition of Mughal style and created some of the finest pieces of Rasikapriya, Ragamala, Baramasa and Krishnalila paintings. 

The Kishangarh School too was famous for its highly distinctive style of painting. One of the most notable painters of this school was Nihal Chand, whose works were highly individualistic and sophisticated. His works mostly featured events from the lives of Radha and Krishna. Nihal Chand’s Radha was an amazing piece of artistic creation. In his works, Radha attracted the admirers with her long neck, long stylised eyes with drooping eyelids, thin lips, pointed chin, covered head with a muslin odhna and her attractive posture. The Dhundar School, which was prevalent in the Amer to 

Jaipur region, reached its peak of artistry during the reign of Sawai Pratap Singh. The style of the paintings produced from this school was mainly of folk nature, yet the male characters wore Mughal costumes and turbans. The painting legacy developed by the Hada Rajput rulers in the Bundi and Kota centres is known as the Hadoti School. The miniature paintings of these two centres are excellent creations and typically portray graceful women with round faces, pointed nose, large eyes, receding chin and attractively shaped figure. The flora and fauna of the region are also featured in the Hadoti paintings, usually in the form of hunting activities. Typical of this school is a subtle blend of realism and symbolism. 

The rulers and princes of various kingdoms in Rajasthan were keen on decorating their chamber walls using wall paintings. Some of such fine pieces of wall paintings are now seen in the Chitrashala apartments in Bundi Palace and the Buda Mahal, Chattar Mahal, Raj Mahal palaces and Brijnath temple in the Kota Palace complex. During the 19th and 20th centuries, embellishing the walls of newly constructed beautiful palaces with paintings became a fashion. Some of such paintings displayed huge court and street scenes, religious events and even circus scenes. The tradition of scroll paintings in Rajasthan is colloquially known as Phads. A Phad is in the form of a long rectangular coarse cloth with paintings portraying the life and heroic deeds of a folk hero called Pabuji. The Pichwais paintings in various Krishna temples of Rajasthan depict another legendary hero, Shrinathji. 

The tradition of ivory paintings is special to Rajasthan and dates back to 2000 BC. The transparent watercolours used make the ivory visible even in the paintings. Folk paintings are done by the tribes of Rajasthan for special occasions like marriages and other auspicious ceremonies. These paintings possess a creativity and innocence that make them original and genuine. 

Tourism India, India' s Travel & Tourism Magazine, Kerala , India

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