Pahari Painting(Chamba)



Chamba, an important centre of Pahari painting, is situated in the Ravi Valley in the heart of the Himalaya mountains. To its north-west lies the State of Jammu-Kashmir. Chamba was till recently the capital of a small principality. Being protected naturally, and too small to attract an invasion, its archaeological wealth is well preserved. As a result of the explorations carried out by J. Ph. Vogel in the opening years of this century, a museum was established at Chamba in 1908. Raja Bhuri Singh, of Chamba after whom this museum is named, presented a large number of Pahari miniature paintings from the palace collection to the museum. The gift included an extensive set of paintings on the Ramayana.

The historicity of the Ramayana epic has received the attention of several scholars. Monier Williams and Arthur Berridale Keith were of the view that the original portion was written around 400 B.C. Valmiki Ramayana  is a great classic and in content more than an epic. Rama the hero of the story, as depicted by Valmiki is a human being possessing unique valour and endowed with divine powers.

All ancient Indian scriptures hold a man’s character above all else. In fact, ‘the central idea of old Hindu civilization… was that of dharma which was something much more than religion or creed; it was a conception of obligations, of the discharge of one’s duties to oneself and to others’. The epic is encyclopedic in its content and it has been said that there is no situation or circumstance, one face in life, which does not occur in this story and thus it guides its hearers to righteous action on all occasions and for all obligations and duties in different situations and circumstances. Countless versions of the Ramayana exist in local dialects and folk songs peculiar to small areas and communities. Chamba is no exception and it, too, has a beautiful loka Ramayana in a long poem, known as anchali of Rama, which is sung for the whole night on auspicious occasions. It is simple and is usually sung in chorus. Noteing a literary work of a single poet, it is hardly possible to ascertain the antiquity of this folk poem. 

Although for want of adequate material it is difficult to say exactly when the art of miniature painting was introduced in Chamba, it is believed that the beginnings in this art were made in the early seventeenth century. There were probably no regular ateliers at that time at Chamba but the presence of some itinerant artist can safely be assumed, from the evidence of portraits of the princes of that period. It seems that some artists working at Nurpur had migrated to Chamba in the first half of the seventeenth century. At first a naturalistic style of painting having affinities with Mughal painting of the Jehangir period may have been introduced at Nurpur and not long afterwards at Chamba. Thereafter the migration of painters from the centres of the Mughal painting who were not first rate artists of Imperial atelier and the presence in the Hills of the pre-Mughal style of manuscript illustration, resulted in the evolution of a style which is peculiar to the Hills. Gradually the naturalistic style gave way to stylization while more vivid colour tonalities were preferred. 

In the beginning of the eighteenth century the facial type becomes slightly heavier but soon thereafter a longish facial type was evolved which remained popular for some decades. Mid-eighteenth century paintings from Chamba have a distinctive style of their own as can be seen in both dated and signed works. Trees crowned with triangular foliage and irregular trunks rows, are a common features of the paintings of this period. The backgrounds are generally plain. There is no attempt at perspective. Architectural features though not very intricate have resemblances to contemporary Mughal architecture. The drawing is competent though human figures are stylized.  

Thereafter for a decade or so, two broad styles seem to have been in vogue at Chamba, one having its roots in the local style yet disclosing some influence from other centres and the other considered to be an off-shoot of the Guler style till its development into the Kangra style.


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