Miniatures: Marwar and Thikanas

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Miniatures: Marwar and Thikanas

Marwar, a region in western Rajasthan, corresponds to Jodhpur state, formerly ruled by the Rathor dynasty of Rajputs. Other Rajput states founded by members of the same clan include Kishangarh and Bikaner. Marwar painting developed mainly in the court at Jodhpur, though subclans of the Rathors also held smaller territories (called thikanas) within Marwar, and some of these smaller courts also developed a distinctive local, thikana style.

Jodhpur was founded by Rao Jodha in 1459, but came under Mughal rule in 1570. The Jodhpur rulers married into the Mughal dynasty and were given appointments as military commanders of the Mughal army, in an attempt to ensure their loyalty. Their constant attendance at the Mughal court and their exposure to Mughal arts and culture is reflected in Marwar court art from the mid-seventeenth century onward. Mughal-inspired portraits and hunting scenes developed, however, alongside a parallel stream of traditional Hindu paintings, which were being produced at the Jodhpur court and in the thikanas during the same period.

The earliest surviving example of painting from the Marwar region is the so-called Pali rāgamālā. This charming set of thirty-seven paintings illustrating musical modes (rāgas) has a dated colophon, which states that it was painted at Pali in Marwar by Pandit Virji in 1623 for Sri Gopal Dasji and his son Bithal Das. The style of the paintings is related to that of Jain manuscript paintings and book covers from Rajasthan and Gujarat, but the style also contains elements of what has come to be known as the Early Rajput or Chaurapanchasika style. These elements include flat, boxlike architectural settings, a dark background that does not meet the top of the page but instead terminates in a jagged edge, strong colors, and bold decorative patterns, especially chevrons, checks, and stylized lotus petals.

Although the Pali set is the only securely datable evidence for painting in Marwar at this time, other undated manuscripts and dispersed pages confirm that this was not unique. The dispersed manuscript of the Kathakalpataru, for example, shows the same distinctive figures as does the Pali set, and may have been made for a Rajput patron, perhaps even Bithal Das. Unrelated ragamala pages dating from the first half of the seventeenth century also bear witness to the development of styles in Marwar as well as in neighboring Mewar (Udaipur).

While these very traditional themes and subjects dominated painting in Marwar at this time, Mughal forms, especially portraits, started to become popular from the middle of the seventeenth century under Maharaja Jaswant Singh (r. 1638–1678). Several very fine group portraits of Jaswant Singh and his nobles survive in the form of both drawings and finished paintings, dating from about the 1640s to 1660s, which show the extremely high quality attained by the Jodhpur artists, who must have been exposed to Mughal training. This emulation of Mughal forms would remain the basis of the Jodhpur court style until its demise in the mid-nineteenth century, and conventions such as the jharokha portrait, the group portrait, and the equestrian portrait all continued to play major roles.

After Maharaja Jaswant Singh's death in 1678, a succession dispute arose over the legitimacy of his posthumous son Ajit Singh. As a result, Jodhpur once again came under direct Mughal rule until the death of the emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, when Ajit Singh was able to reclaim his throne after nearly thrity years in hiding. Two paintings from his reign show that the Jodhpur artists were starting to move from the static portraits of the seventeenth century to adopt more ambitious compositions, and on a larger scale. One of these paintings, dated 1722, depicts a procession; the other is a hunting scene, dated 1718. In both, Ajit Singh is the center of attention, surrounded by courtiers and attendants who have already started to take on the distinctive appearance characteristic of eighteenth-century Marwar painting. Their large almond eyes, curling moustaches, and prominent noses recall the figures in the Pali rāgamālā and other early paintings, and there is also some influence from the neighboring state of Mewar, where Ajit Singh grew up in exile, and where he married a local princess. The earthy colors, dominated by yellow and green, and angular profiles that appear at this period continue to characterize painting in Marwar, and especially that of the thikanas, throughout the eighteenth century.

Several single paintings datable to around 1720 to 1730 are typical of this newly emerging Marwar style, in which Mughal traces are visible in the format (that of the group portrait, for example), while the palette of colors and the style of drawing are clearly far removed form the refined late Mughal style of the same period. Among the most characteristic of this type is the elegant portrait of a nobleman with a buck, now in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales of Museum), Mumbai; others are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, and private collections. Around this time, painting in the thikanas of Marwar also started to develop, and among the most active patrons of painting were the thakurs of Ghanerao, situated on the border of Marwar and Mewar. A fine group portrait of Thakur Pratap Singh of Ghanerao (r. 1714–1720) and his nobles, datable to around 1715 or 1720, shows the same earthy colors and sparse line as the portrait of the noble with a buck. Several portraits have survived of his successor, Thakur Padam Singh (r. 1720–1742). Probably the finest is a darbar (court) scene of the thakur with his nobles, sons, and officials ascribed to a Jodhpur artist named Chhajju and dated 1725, which is now in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Much of the work produced for Padam Singh and his successor Viram Dev (r. 1743–1778) has an undeniably "folky" feel, and was undoubtedly created by local artists rather than those (like Chhajju) who were connected to Jodhpur itself; they are still, however, very recognizably within the Marwar tradition (for example, a group portrait of Padam Singh and nobles by Manno, dated 1721, and a scene of Thakur Viram Dev worshiping at a Shiva shrine, from about 1745, both now in the Victoria & Albert Museum).

While this local style was developing in Jodhpur and the thikanas in the early eighteenth century, Maharaja Abhai Singh (r. 1724–1749) was commissioning some exceptionally fine paintings in pure Mughal style from a Delhi artist named Dalchand whom he employed in Jodhpur. Dalchand was the son of Bhawani Das, a renowned artist in Kishangarh, and elements of the Kishangarh style (for example, the exaggerated, curving lines of the horses, and of women's eyes) are also sometimes visible in Dalchand's work. Superb paintings by Dalchand from around 1725 include a large scene of Abhai Singh watching a nautch (a dance performance), an equestrian portrait of the maharaja with attendants (both still in Jodhpur), and two standing portraits of Abhai Singh with the poet Prithvi Raj (one dated 1727). Court paintings from Jodhpur of the mid-eighteenth century show Dalchand's influence in their formality and attention to detail. Abhai Singh's son and successor, Ram Singh, ruled for only two years (1749–1751), but left many highly distinctive portraits of himself and his nobles, wearing the toweringly tall turbans that were the fashion in Jodhpur in the mid-eighteenth century.

The next major phase in Marwar painting comes with the reign of Maharaja Man Singh (r. 1803–1843), the last period in which creative and innovative artists were at work in Jodhpur. After the murder of his Nath sect guru by discontented nobles in 1815, Man Singh became a virtual recluse, and in 1839 the British army took control of Jodhpur. In spite of what must have been a somewhat subdued atmosphere at court, many exuberant scenes of court life and festivities were produced during Man Singh's reign, including many large scenes showing the celebration of Holi and other festivals, and hedonistic scenes of Man Singh with his consorts in his gardens or at the hunt.

Man Singh also commissioned many sets of immense paintings to illustrate Hindu texts such as the Durgā Charitra, the Shiva Rahasya, the Shiva Purāṇa and the Rāmāyaṇa. Measuring between 47 inches (120 centimeters) and 53 inches (134 centimeters) in width, these huge sets range from 56 folios (the Durgā Charitra) to 109 (the Shiva Purāṇa) and are vibrantly colored and superbly painted and composed. Man Singh also commissioned sets of large paintings illustrating subjects relating to the Nath sect: the Siddh Siddhant, the Nath Purāṇa and the Nath Charitra. There are also hundreds of single paintings either of solitary Nath gurus, or of Man Singh paying homage to them.

Although Man Singh's successor Takhat Singh (r. 1843–1873) continued to patronize painting, employing several of the same artists who worked for Man Singh, the paintings produced during his reign were mostly stiff and unimaginative. This decline in artistic standards paved the way for the demise of painting in Jodhpur with the adoption of photography during the reign of its modernizing maharaja, Jaswant Singh II (r. 1873–1895).

Rosemary Crill


Crill, Rosemary. Marwar Painting: A History of the Jodhpur Style. Mumbai: India Book House, 1999. Overview of painting in Marwar from the seventeenth to late nineteenth centuries; all major works illustrated.

——. "The Thakurs of Ghanerao as Patrons of Painting." In Court Painting in Rajasthan, edited by Andrew Topsfield. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2000. Focuses on the major center for thikana painting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Goetz, Hermann. "Marwar (with Some Paintings of Jodhpur from Kumar Sangram Singh)." Marg 11, no. 2 (1958): 42–49. Important early article on the subject.