The state of Bundi in Rajasthan, formerly known as Haraoti, was the stronghold of the Hara Rajputs. It is surrounded by Jaipur and Tonk on the north, and the state of Mewar on the west. To the south lies the state of Kotah, where an identical style of painting prevailed. This entire region is mountainous, with fast-flowing rivers, dense forests and greenery. These natural physical features proved conducive to a picturesque landscape, which Bundi painters exploited to the fullest extent. The history of Bundi began in the era of Rao Surjan (r. a.d. 1554–1585), a vassal of Mewar, who after 1569 became a feudatory of the Mughals. The recently discovered Chunar Ragamala, dated to 1591, painted at Chunar near Banaras (Varanasi), provides conclusive evidence of the close relationship between the Mughal and the Bundi rulers. The Chunar Ragamala, apart from revealing some visual similarities between Mughal and Bundi painting, has a detailed colophon in Nastalique script, giving a date, place of execution, and a genealogy of painters, whose origins leads us to the period of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605). Thus it stands to reason that early as well as late Bundi painting had been influenced by contemporary Mughal painting up to the nineteenth century.
As a result of the Vaishnava renaissance (in Rajasthan), which passionately captured the hearts of the Hindu masses with its doctrine of bhakti (devotion) to Vishnu and his avatāra Krishna, propagated by Vallabhacharya, various schools and styles of paintings sprang up, producing abundant devotional art. Authors and artists took great delight in writing about and painting themes of divine love, as in the Gītā Govinda of Jayadeva (c. 12th century), the Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa (c. 16th century), the Sur-Sagar of the blind poet Surdas, as well as the Dasama Skanda (tenth canto) of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Painters' repertoires also included sets of Barahmasa (pictorial descriptions of the Indian seasons) and the Rāgamala (pictorial renderings of the Indian musical modes in color), which became the favorite subjects Bundi and Kotah artists.
Apart from these devotional works of art, there were also many paintings of court life and outdoor activities, particularly hunting. Large shikar (hunting) scenes, music and dancing parties, and portraits of Bundi chiefs and their favorite animals, especially the elephant, became the stock and trade of the Bundi painters. They produced some exquisite studies of elephants in fury, engaged in intense battle, or escaping through narrow gateways. The taming of wild elephants has always been a subject of delight to Indian painters and patrons a like.
The discoveries of certain inscribed and dated paintings toward the middle of the seventeenth century helped to reconstruct a rough chronology of the development of Bundi style. Examples include: Nobleman and the Lady Watching Pigeons, Bundi, dated 1662; Lovers in a Pavilion, dated 1682, from the collection of the Bharat Kala Bhawan Banaras; and Lovers Pointing to the Crescent Moon, gift of the painter Mohan. All of these exhibit salient features of the school, which determine the definition of Bundi painting.
Female figures are tall, with narrow waists, having somewhat prominent noses and almond-shaped eyes. Their costumes consist of a ghaghra, a very high choli, and an odhni, and black tassels are attached to their wristlets and armlets. Men wear a long transparent jama, a long and narrow patka, and a churidar paijama. Mughal mannerisms, such as shading below the armpit, are also seen in many cases. A variety of turban types are depicted, among which the Khanjardar turban type (having a pointed top) invariably indicates nobility. Pictures are composed either in open courtyards or inside pavilions with lush green vegetation as a backdrop.
Bundi style also exhibits certain Deccani influences, due to close contacts with the Deccani ruler Rao Satrasal (r. 1631–1656), who was installed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as governor. Subsequently, there were many appointments of Bundi rulers in the Deccan, reinforcing the Deccani influence on Bundi style.
The eighteenth century witnessed a prolific production of portraiture on the one hand and depictions of the Krishna legend on the other. Most of the Barahamasa and Ragamala sets were produced by Bundi and Kotah painters during this period. Later Bundi paintings excel in certain prominent features, such as lush green vegetation with a variety of flowering vines and plants, evergreen plantains, and dramatic skies with grey, orange, and blue hues. Another peculiarity of Bundi painting is a cast shadow behind the faces and figures, highlighting the contours of the body. Nineteenth-century Bundi paintings developed a pale phase, in which artists preferred light hues and cool color notes, and there was an emphasis on outdoor scenes. The figures appear squat, and the cast shadows dominate. Toward the late nineteenth century there was a decline in the technique and quality of Bundi paintings, and folkish and pedestrian works were produced by undistinguished painters.
Barrett, Douglas, and Basil Gray. Painting of India. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1963.
Beach, Milo C. Rajput Painting at Bundi and Kota. Ascona: Artibus Asiae, 1974.
Chandra, Pramod. Bundi Painting. Mumbai: Lalit Kala Academi, 1959.