The art of miniature painting is one of the finest gifts of
India to the art world. 'Pahari' is the popular term coined for the
paintings done in the various sub-Himalayan states.
THE HISTORY OF PAHARI MINIATURES
Most of the schools of Pahari painting developed and flourished from about 17th to 19th centuries in the present state of Himachal Pradesh. This hilly region, then divided into twenty-two small principalities, was ruled by Rajput kings or chieftains who were all great connoisseurs of art, with and most of them maintaining ateliers.
The Pahari rulers were tributary to the Mughals and they often visited the Imperial court and were familiar with Mughal traditions and tastes. With the decline of the Mughal Empire, many of the painters trained in the refined Mughal style migrated to the Hills.
The landscape of the sub-Himalayan mountain ranges fascinated poets and painters who enjoyed the patronage of the Pahari princes. The ultimate flowering of miniature painting took place in Nurpur, Chamba, Basohli, Guler, Kangra, Mandi, Kullu and Bilaspur.
PHASES OF MINIATURE PAINTINGS
Pahari painting had two principal phases of development. The earlier phase that started from the mid-17th century is extraordinarily colourful with its primitive expression charged with vitality and emotional intensity. These early Pahari paintings can be distinguished by fish-shaped elongated eyes, oval faces, receding foreheads, round chins and prominent noses.
Bold figures are carefully laid against monochrome background of red, yellow, green or brown colours. Decorative pigmy trees suggest the feeling of perspective while the sky is indicated only by a narrow strip on the horizon.
The style underwent a change in the second quarter of the 18th century and a new phase of style developed in the Guler area. The paintings of this phase are done in a somewhat naturalistic manner. The vitality of the line toned down and acquires a lyrical character; the lines now seem to be flowing in a rhythmic way. The colour scheme also became slightly cooler and freshness in colour and delicacy in execution particularly in case of Guler-Kangra schools is remarkable.
The Guler-Kangra Style
The new style of the eighteenth century dominated almost all the centres of Pahari painting. The Guler-Kangra style exhibit more vegetation and green expanses. Besides, the brooks and the rivulets became common elements of paintings done in Kangra valley.
The refined style of Guler-Kangra is distinguished by its graceful female faces are rendered with great care by the accomplished Pahari artists. The feminine beauty is highly idealized in the Guler-Kangra style. Young female figures seen in these pictures are at once coy and endowed with exceptional beauty.
Apart from the remarkable finesse and intricate brushwork, the Kangra miniatures are characterized by the skillful use of brilliant mineral and vegetable extract colours, which possess enamel-like lustre.
The Themes And The Inspirations
The subjects seen in Pahari paintings exhibit the lifestyle of society of the period. However, the most popular subjects were the legends of the God Krishna. The basic reason for Pahari painting becoming a great art is its inspiration drawn from the vaishnava cult which influenced the Sanskrit and Hindi poets of the 11th to the 16th century.
The activity of the Pahari painting continued till the close of the 19th century. The changes in this period reflect degenerating standards because of the prevailing political conditions.
Sikh School Style
The last phase of Pahari painting is generally known as the 'Sikh School'. This style lacks the real refinement and the aesthetic merit of Kangra Kalam, however, it is considered as the last destination of the art of Pahari miniatures. The Bhuri Singh Musuem in Chamba is one of the best-known museums famous for its exquisite collection of Pahari miniatures.