Rajput (Western, Central, and Hill) Painting

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RAJPUT (WESTERN, CENTRAL, AND HILL) PAINTING The history of painting in the Indian subcontinent has ancient origins with the first expressions of artistic creativity found in scenes depicted on prehistoric caves. In the early historic period, excavated Buddhist caves were embellished with beautiful murals. The first manuscripts in the region were produced on prepared palm leaves and years later on paper. Among the most vibrantly expressive and numerous paintings were those produced for the Rajput rulers of western, central, and northern India. These works consisted of illustrated manuscripts and poetic sets, as well as elaborate wall paintings on palace walls.

Cave Paintings: Early Artistic Expressions in South Asia

Due to their ephemeral nature, ancient narrative or ritual scenes painted on prepared animal or vegetal media would have little chance of survival; consequently, for the pre- and early historic periods, paintings found in rock shelters or excavated caves provide rare and invaluable information about the formative period of two-dimensional artistic representation in South Asia. Among the earliest examples are those found within rock shelters at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, where excavations revealed paintings ranging from the Upper Paleolithic (40,000–15,000 b.p.) to the Mesolithic (15,000 b.p.–8,500 b.c.) periods. The Upper Paleolithic paintings, tentatively dated to circa 40,000 b.c., contain scenes portraying humans dancing or hunting quadrupeds, delineated in green and red mineral pigments. By the Mesolithic period, the Bhimbetka paintings display expanded compositions that may represent more complex societal developments. Humans were now depicted as engaging in multiple aspects of the life cycle, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and funereal ceremonies. Ritual performances and allusions to mother and animal cults are indicated by depictions of costumed male and female dancers, numerous female figures, and monumentally drawn naturalistic or composite animals.

The caves at Ajanta in Maharashtra provide the most extensive evidence of artistic production in the early historic period. Scholars date the first excavations at Ajanta to about 50 b.c. to a.d. 100, culminating in the twenty or more marvelously carved and painted rock-cut Buddhist shrines produced particularly under patronage of the Vakataka ruler Harisena (reigned c. 460–477). Only traces remain of the very earliest paintings, as they were either damaged or obscured by subsequent paint layers. The Ajanta artists produced beautifully colored wall and ceiling decorations in an apparent cohesive visual program that included geometrical designs and a profusion of naturalistically rendered figural and vegetal decoration. To prepare the rock surface for painting, layers of cow dung, mud, straw, and a final coating of lime plaster were applied. Pigments, primarily from mineral sources, were adhered with a binding material and applied with animal-hair brushes. When the composition was complete, artists burnished the surface to yield a lustrous surface. Among the most fascinating and gracefully rendered works were illustrations representing episodes of the Buddha's previous lives ( jātaka). Aside from their inherent high aesthetic and narrative qualities, the jātaka compositions provide a veritable compendium of information about contemporary costumes, textiles, and architecture. There is a gap of many centuries in the artistic record after the magnificent Ajanta paintings, and only fragments, such as those found in the sixth-century caves at Badami in Karnataka and the mid-eighth-century paintings on the Kailasha Temple at Ellora in Maharashtra, give evidence of continued artistic activity through the centuries.

Painting on Palm Leaf and Paper: a.d. 1000–1550

Very few early manuscripts have survived from the Indian subcontinent, with the exception of a few examples, which include a cache of sixth-to tenth-century birch bark, palm leaf, and paper manuscripts found during excavations of a Buddhist site at Gilgit, Pakistan (now in New Delhi's National Archives and other collections). However, palm-leaf manuscripts with elaborately painted wooden covers datable to the early eleventh century to the thirteenth century survive from the eastern part of the subcontinent (particularly Bihar and Bengal); they were apparently produced for pious Buddhist patrons and donated to monastic libraries.

Illustrations of the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and Tantric Buddhist deities used a limited palette that featured tones of yellow, red, blue, green, and white. These compositions were delineated in a stylized and linear fashion, with flatly rendered as well as naturalistically modeled figural types that varied in execution between individual manuscripts. As the depiction of Buddhist teachers and deities was of primary importance, architecture and foliage appear in these compositions predominantly as framing devices or as decorative embellishment. The only incidence of narrative subjects is found in Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita manuscripts, which include depictions of episodes in the Buddha's life. As exemplified in folio (c. 1150) from a copy of the manuscript produced in Bihar (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), in the hand of an accomplished artist, these subjects could be transformed into elegantly portrayed vignettes in miniature.

There is evidence that paper was manufactured as early as the sixth century in the northwest Himalayan regions, and from the twelfth century in Nepal; however, it was not used as the primary medium for manuscript production until the early thirteenth century, when Turkic and Afghan Muslim rulers gained suzerainty over northern regions of the subcontinent. Paper was imported to western India from the Middle East as early as the eleventh century, and records attest to the establishment of a paper mill in Kashmir in the fifteenth century. Some of the earliest examples of paper used as a medium for manuscript production are found in mid-fourteenth-century copies of Jain religious texts, such as the Kalpa Sūtra (Book of Ritual) and the Kalakacharyakatha (Story of the monk Kalaka), produced in western India. Emulating the format of earlier palm-leaf manuscripts, these folios were rectangular, and, perhaps to allow for larger and more complex compositions, the shape was modified by increasing the folio height. Further developments included an abandonment of pierced holes that were replaced by red or gold circles, or ornamented medallions. Instead of binding a text with a cord threaded through the folios, as was the tradition with earlier palm-leaf manuscripts, loose manuscript pages were gathered together and placed between cardboard and cloth covers.

All elements of these narrative compositions were rendered in a flat, linear manner using a palette of brilliant primary colors, particularly crimson and ultra-marine, enlivened by white and gold accents. Figures were highly stylized and display purposefully distorted or idiosyncratic features. One of the most distinct features of this type is the representation of a projecting, or "farther," eye in three-quarter profiles, an artistic convention that continued in some western Indian paintings through the sixteenth century. An interesting exception to this mode of representation is seen in Kalakacharyakatha manuscripts, in which foreigners were differentiated by the absence of a farther eye and by a different skin tonality, and were clothed in distinctive regional costume. Both figural types are shown within the same illustration in a folio dated to about 1400 from western India, depicting the Jain monk Kalaka discussing the abduction of his sister with the Central Asian Sahi king and a retainer (Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya). These illustrations are historically important, as they provide visual evidence of cultural contacts between indigenous populations and foreigners during a period when much of the northern and central regions of the subcontinent had come under the rule of Turco-Afghan sultans. Elements of artistic exchange during this period can also be seen in the similar use of coloration and vegetal or geometric motifs to embellish manuscript folios for Jain and Muslim patrons, as exemplified in a mid-fifteenth-century Qurʾan from the library of Mahmud Shah I Bigarha, the sultan of Gujarat (r. 1459–1511). Although naturalism is eclipsed in favor of representations in which gestures and symbols convey the narrative, these paintings reveal a brilliant use of decorative ornamentation (particularly evident in the representation of textiles), which visually enlivens the folios.

The format, figural, and decorative elements of these manuscripts were not restricted solely to Jain manuscripts, as evidenced in a folio of about 1450 from a copy of the Hindu text, Balagopalastuti (Eulogy of the Child Cowherd [Krishna]), made in Gujarat or Rajasthan, which depicts Krishna dancing with the gopis in Vrindavan (Los Angeles County Museum or Art), and in a fifteenth-century folio from a Durgāsaptashati (Seven hundred verses in praise of Durgā) portraying the multi-armed Durgā on her leonine mount battling demons (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Art Museums).

One of the classic Sanskrit Hindu texts most often illustrated was the tenth chapter of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (Story of the great lord [Vishnu]) which recounts the life of Krishna, the most beloved of Vishnu's avatāras. Among the earliest extant examples of the text is a now dispersed copy that may have been produced around 1520–1530 in the Delhi-Agra region. Illustrated folios from this text belong to a group of religious and secular texts produced for Hindu, Jain, and Muslim patrons described as the Chaurapanchasika group, as they are stylistically related to a 1550–1560 copy of the Chaurapanchashika (Fifty stanzas of a love thief) by the early twelfth-century poet Bilhana (Gujarat, Ahmedabad, Culture Centre). This group of works is related to the traditional western Indian paintings described above, and they were typically rendered with a limited palette of strong, brilliant colors applied in flat, unmodulated areas. Figures were often rendered in exaggerated, angular poses with faces rendered in profile with large almond-shaped eyes. Costume details often included a distinctive turban (kulah), and garments that terminate in spiky points or with fan-tailed flourishes. As illustrating the narrative elements of the story was of utmost importance, representations of architecture and foliage were highly stylized and served primarily to enhance the narrative and provide a visual setting. Illustrated works belonging to this group provide an insight into the dominant painting style in North India in the early to mid-sixteenth century. The prevalence of the Chaurapanchashika stylistic elements is evident in folios from a Mughal copy of the Tutinama (Stories of a parrot, c. 1560–1565, Cleveland Museum of Art) and indicates the importance of indigenous artistic traditions in the formation and spread of the early Mughal style.

The Rajputs

For centuries, the Rajputs (raja putra, or "son of a king"), said to be descendants of warrior clans, ruled much of the northern and central parts of the Indian sub-continent. Although the origins of these clans are unknown, some scholars believe that they may have migrated from Central Asia in the sixth and seventh centuries, over time adopting the status of the warrior class to legitimize their place within the Hindu social system. By the ninth and tenth centuries, the Rajput clans had risen to political prominence and had proclaimed independent dynasties. Renowned for chivalry and valor on the battlefield, their combative spirit often led to internecine warfare, which undermined Rajput solidarity and ultimately made them vulnerable to invasions of various Turkic and Afghan groups who had begun to encroach upon Rajput territories in the thirteenth century. The most significant of these foreign intruders were the Central Asian Mughals, who established themselves as a dominant power under the leadership of Zahir al-Din Muhammad, Babur (r. 1526–1530). By the time of the emperor Akbar's death (r. 1556–1605), most of the Rajput rulers had submitted to Mughal rule either voluntarily or by force, many making political and marital alliances to ensure Mughal beneficence.

Subjects for Illustration

Paintings and manuscripts produced in the Rajput courts before the seventeenth century depicted religious subjects such as the epic Mahābhārata (The great descendants of Bharata), the Rāmāyaṇa (Story of Rāma), and as noted above, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Stimulated by periodic upsurges in the devotional (bhakti) strand of the Hindu religion, texts and poems in Sanskrit and vernacular languages gained popularity, such as the Gītā Govinda (Song of the Herdsman) composed in Sanskrit by the twelfth-century poet Jayadeva, which describes the love of Krishna and Rādhā as a metaphor for the union of the individual with the divine.

A vast corpus of love literature inspired Rajput artistic interpretation, including the Rasikapriya (Connoisseur's delight), a sixteenth-century Hindi poem by Keshavdas that analyzes the stages of love using the analogy of the love between Krishna and Rādhā. Keshavdas also wrote the Kavipriya (Poet's favorite), based on the Baramasa (twelve months) genre of poetry that describes the inter-relationship of human love through the changing seasons. Other poetic works favored for illustration were those in which gods and mortals were characterized as personifications of various romantic situations or embodiments of heroic behavior. The Rasamanjari (Bouquet of delight) by the fourteenth-century poet Bhanudatta, one of the best-known Sanskrit works in this genre, categorizes and describes the various types of romantic heroes (nayaka) and heroines (nayika) according to their age, personalities, and circumstances. Numerous Rāgāmalā (Garland of melodies) series were produced for both Rajput and Mughal patrons. These visualizations of classical Indian musical modes (rāgas), accompanied by poetic verse, combined aspects of religion, love, and music. Each rāga is associated with a specific season and time of day, and personifies characteristics of love or heroic behavior.

With the increasing influence of Mughal artistic techniques and subjects during the seventeenth century, including naturalistic shading, subtly modulated colors, and secular subject matter, many Rajput artists incorporated these new elements into their works. Emulating Mughal royal portraiture, Rajput rulers were often depicted in hierarchical compositions depicting court gatherings or equestrian scenes. Blending ancient Indic and Mughal concepts of kingship, painters included halos around the heads of rulers, a symbol of their role as regents of the gods.

By the late eighteenth century, the need for extensive military campaigns had diminished, and elaborate hunts became an important outlet for the vital martial Rajput spirit. Perhaps another reflection of this time of relative peace and stability are the humorous and bawdy scenes of Rajput rulers presiding over drunken parties or dallying in lush gardens and pavilions with beautiful ladies of the court. With the increasing presence of the British, the influence of photography and European modes of artistic representation added yet another facet to the ever responsive and adaptive Rajput painters and their works.

Rajput Painting in Central and Western India


Works from the Malwa, a region that roughly corresponds to the modern state of Madhya Pradesh, can be characterized as the most artistically conservative of the Rajput styles. Early paintings associated with the region, from about the first decade of the sixteenth century, include works painted in the Indo-Persian style prevalent in the Sultanate period. During the second quarter of the seventeenth century, a style emerged that blended elements of indigenous western Indian and Chaurapanchashika paintings. The earliest dated paintings from this period, from a dispersed 1634 Rasikapriyaseries, feature unmodulated flat expanses of color and the use of a strong outline to delineate figural, architectural, and foliate elements. In many of these works, the artists used a brilliant juxtaposition of red, green, blue, yellow, and black coloration to enhance the dramatic visual impact of a composition. Women were usually portrayed wearing gaily colored skirts (particularly with horizontal stripes), and representations of architecture and foliage scenes, though highly schematized, were enlivened by the inclusion of preening peacocks or scampering monkeys.

About the mid-seventeenth century, a modified and more refined Malwa style was introduced, perhaps influenced by Mughal works, that included a more subtle palette with mauve and pink tones blended with other hues. This style is most clearly evident in two dispersed manuscripts of the Amarushataka (One hundred verses of Amaru), dated 1652 and about 1680, a text that features the romantic exploits of heroes and heroines. Distinctive to both sets is a decorative floral scroll placed at the bottom of the illustrated folios. By the eighteenth century, the distinctive Malwa artistic tradition appears to have all but disappeared, perhaps replaced by other styles, or perhaps due to a lack of patronage during a time of political turbulence. Traces of Malwa style can be observed in works produced at Datia and other central Indian centers, where aspects of Malwa-type compositions and format were apparently appropriated and combined with other artistic elements.


With the increasingly close interaction of the Rajput clans with the Mughals, many Rajput rulers emulated Mughal court fashions, customs, and institutions such as in Bikaner, Amber, and Bundi. Others rulers, however, resisted Mughal political and cultural hegemony, as exemplified by the Mewar kings, who did not succumb to the Mughals until 1615. Although the Mewar ranas were patrons of the arts, the earliest dated example of royal patronage is a Rāgāmalā series made at Chawand, the temporary Mewar capital during the reign of Rana Amar Singh I (r. 1597–1620). The now-dispersed set was made by Nasir al-Din, a Muslim artist working in a lively style with elements reminiscent of Chaurapanchashika works.

After the capitulation of Mewar to the Mughals, Karan Singh (r. 1620–1628), then prince, was required to spend time in residence at the Mughal court, was accorded great respect and privileges, and became a close friend of Shah Jahan (r. 1628–1658), the future Mughal emperor. There are no works that can be specifically ascribed to Karan Singh's patronage, and so the relationship of Mughal and Mewar painting remains unclear during this period. During the reign of Maharana Jagat Singh I (r. 1628–1655), a number of extant works indicate a flourishing of artistic production at the Mewar court at Udaipur. Of particular interest are the works of Sahib al-Din, Jagat Singh's senior artist, including a 1628 Rāgā-malā series and manuscripts with Vaishnavite themes, such as a 1629 Gītā Govinda manuscript, a 1648 Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and his collaborative work on a magnificent multi-volume illustrated Rāmāyaṇa in 1650–1652. Sahib al-Din's paintings indicate that at some point he was trained in the popular Mughal style prevalent in many Rajput centers, but the specific method of transmission of these techniques is unknown. Some of his early works present an innovative use of elements borrowed from Mughal works, including a taller page format, a subtle outlining of figural elements that are rendered more naturalistically, and a softer palette. In later works attributed to Sahib al-Din, such as a Rasikapriya series painted about 1630–1635 (Udaipur, Government Museum), there is a return to more traditional brighter coloration, now interpreted with fresh and brilliant tones, and compositional schemes using both synoptic and framing elements to portray narrative episodes.

Works produced during the late seventeenth century were primarily reformulations or copies of earlier paintings, following the style of Sahib al-Din, but without his inventiveness in color and composition. In emulation of Mughal court compositions, royal portraiture was a new innovation added to the Mewar artistic repertoire. These works included depictions of maharanas riding horses, accompanied by attendants hurriedly shuffling along on foot, in formal meetings with courtiers or clansfolk, and enthroned, observing elephant fights and other amusements.

Under Maharana Amar Singh II (r. 1698–1710), a number of portrait scenes were produced by an anonymous artist who experimented with a stippled treatment similar to the nim qalam (half-brush) technique sometimes employed by early seventeenth century Mughal and Deccani artists to produce a grisaille effect that emulated the appearance of European engravings. During this time, a larger format was introduced, providing more room for complex compositions that afforded bird's eye or topographic views, such as the portrayal of Amar Singh celebrating the spring festival of Holi with his nobles within the lush vegetation of the royal Sarvaritu Vilas garden (c. 1708–1710, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria).

Other paintings document the multifarious activities of rulers such as Maharanas Sangram Singh II (r. 1710–1734) and Jagat Singh II (r. 1734–1751). These large compositions were filled with vignettes of the maharana and his companions, portrayed in consecutive narrative, as exemplified in a 1749 painting by the artist Jiva depicting Jagat Singh in sequences of a lakeside tiger shoot (San Diego Museum of Art). The verso side of these works often include inscriptions detailing the artists' names, the date and place of the activity portrayed, and the participants.

By the early eighteenth century, a decline in patronage at Udaipur resulted in the departure of a number of artists, who sought employment at the courts of Mewar nobles. At Deogarh, the artist Bakhta and his son Chokha, and Chokha's son Baijnath, continued to produce works of the highest quality, surpassing those done in Udaipur itself. Chokha worked for both Maharana Bhim Singh (r. 1778–1828) at Udaipur and Gokul Das, the rawat of Deogarh, and interpreted court promenades, meetings, and intimate moments with observational insight, creating an atmosphere of dreamy sensuality.

During this period, the increased presence of foreigners is indicated in many Rajput paintings, as in the 1817 portrait (attributed to Chokha) of Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod, the British political agent, riding an elephant (London, Victoria and Albert Museum) and an 1825 painting (attributed to Ghasi) representing Maharana Bhim Singh formally receiving Sir Charles Metcalf and his entourage (Udaipur, City Palace Museum). Other compositions included fanciful portraits of Europeans that may have been inspired by imported prints. With the arrival of professional and amateur British watercolor artists, such as William Carpenter, who arrived at the court of Maharana Sarup Singh (r. 1842–1861) in Udaipur in 1851, Mewar artists were exposed to new techniques and modes of representation. From this period to the reign of Maharana Fateh Singh (r. 1885–1930), the last of the great Mewar rulers, two styles continued to be produced for the royal court: a modified version of the earlier court reportage genre, and European-style portraits in oil on canvas. With the advent of photography, a new form of expression for royal portraiture was introduced. Although some artists introduced photographic realism into their portraits, others abandoned their brushes and pigments entirely to take up the new medium.


The Marwar region occupies much of the western part of the modern state of Rajasthan, and was ruled for centuries by the Rathor Rajput clan from their capital at Jodhpur. One of the only pre-Mughal works from Marwar that has come to light is a Rāgāmalā series dated 1623, produced by Pandit Virji in the provincial town of Pali. Its horizontal format and illustrative style indicates that the artist may have been influenced by earlier Jain and other western Indian models. Throughout the early to mid-seventeenth century, works from Marwar are distinguished by varied but conservative styles related to the earlier traditions, as well as those of contemporary Mewar and Malwa. Influences from Malwa-style painting is particularly evident in the introduction of a vertical page format and a palette that juxtaposes somber green and brown tones with earthy and brilliant reds.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, the close relationship between the Marwar and Mughal courts is particularly evident in paintings that display Mughalizing subjects and compositions. A number of portraits of Maharaja Gaj Singh (r. 1620–1638) painted by his Mughaltrained artists were based on portraits of Gaj Singh produced by artists at the Mughal court. He is depicted in an idealizing profile, wearing an elegant ensemble, and holding a long sword, befitting a Rajput ruler. Mughal-influenced court scenes continued to be produced under Gaj Singh's son Maharaja Jaswant Singh (r. 1638–1678). Toward the end of his rule, a few works suggest that there were attempts to experiment with stylistic elements, including a resurgence of certain Rajput-style elements combined with Deccani artistic modes, presumably influenced by Jaswant Singh's posting to the Deccan in 1667. This beautiful synthesis of traditions is exemplified in a painting from about 1667–1670, which depicts the maharaja listening to female musicians in a palatial garden within a verdant landscape inspired by Rajput prototypes. Deccani elements appear in the form of a visual play between the boldly patterned carpets and the garden's brilliantly colored flowers.

During the first quarter of the eighteenth century, equestrian portraits, processions, and hunt scenes were added to the repertoire of Jodhpur court painting. The most accomplished artist to emerge from this period was Dalchand, a Mughal-trained artist who worked for Maharaja Abhai Singh (r. 1724–1749). His training in the Mughal court at Delhi is evident in an exquisitely composed and rendered portrait of the enthroned Abhai Singh watching a dance performance (c. 1725, Jodhpur, Mehrangarh Museum Trust). Under Maharaja Ram Singh (r. 1749–1751, 1753–1772), Mughal-type court scenes were still popular; however, human and animal forms were increasingly depicted in a more flat, schematic, and idealized manner. This style was also emulated by artists working at Ghanerao, Nagaur, and other districts, or thikana, of Marwar that were ruled by Rathor nobles swearing allegiance and paying tribute to Jodhpur. Characteristic of these compositions are depictions of a maharaja or a senior noble surrounded by members of his court, each man wearing lofty and elaborately wrapped colorful turbans that distinguished their specific clan affiliation.

The tendency toward idealized portraiture was taken to new heights under the enthusiastic patronage of Maharaja Man Singh (r. 1803–1843). Additionally, Man Singh was shown participating in a variety of court activities, including festive ceremonies and in playful dalliance with the women of his court, as in a painting from about 1840 depicting the maharaja riding on a Ferris wheel in the company of his ladies. Man Singh's piety was also documented in numerous paintings in which he is shown meeting with his guru Devnath or members of the Nath sect. These works display an idiosyncratic style developed by Dana Batiram, Bulaki Das, Amar Das, and other senior artists in Man Singh's employ. Characteristic of works from this period is the use of vibrant and rich colors, embellished with a generous application of gold to highlight details. Dramatic landscapes were created with hills and mountains represented by turbulent ripples and fantastic surging forms. Overall, there is a tendency toward using repeated curve or swirling patterns throughout paintings to delineate distinctive scrolling cloud formations, stylized palm fronds, banana trees leaves, the swelling chests of prancing horses and camels in procession, the upturned swing of hems in costumes for both genders, and the representation of arched eyebrows and exaggeratedly elongated and upswept eyes in portraits of men and women.

Under Maharaja Takhat Singh's (r. 1843–1873) patronage, the same style continued to be executed by many of the same artists that had previously worked for Man Singh. Toward the end of Takhat Singh's rule, Eugene Impey, an amateur English photographer, visited Jodhpur and took the first photographic portraits of the maharaja. During the rule of his successor, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II (r. 1873–1895), court painting severely declined in the name of modernity, as the maharaja increasingly preferred the medium of photography to document court life at the Marwar capital.

Amber and Jaipur

Maharaja Prithvi Raj (r. 1503–1527), of the Kachchhwaha Rajput clan ruling at Amber, was a member of the confederacy of Rajputs formed by Rana Sanga of Mewar to fight the Mughal emperor Babur. Years later, his son Maharaja Bharmal (r. 1548–1574) was introduced to Akbar, the young Mughal emperor, and a strong personal and political alliance was forged between the Amber rulers and the Mughals, which lasted for two centuries. The earliest mention of artworks commissioned at Amber is found in biographies of Raja Man Singh I (r. 1589–1614), who was also a senior member of the Mughal court under Akbar and his son Jahangir. These contemporary accounts mention that the walls of Man Singh's palace were painted with folk-story vignettes, Rāgāmalā compositions, and depictions of flora and fauna, traces of which still remain.

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh (r. 1699–1743) continued to maintain close relations with the Mughals and was an enthusiastic patron of art and architecture. Folios from a now dispersed Rāgāmalā set, painted about 1709, display static compositions typical of local, more conservative Rajput artistic traditions, but include figural types influenced by Mughal models. In 1727 Sawai Jai Singh moved his capital from Amber to Jaipur and established a large atelier of artists, papermakers, and bookbinders who were recruited locally and from the Mughal centers at Delhi and Agra. During his reign, the maharaja amassed a large collection of Mughal, Deccani, and Rajasthani illustrated manuscripts and single folios. The use of Mughal paintings as models for Amber works is evidenced by a nearly identical pair of portraits in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The earlier of the two paintings is a portrait of Maharaja Jai Singh of Amber and Maharana Gaj Singh of Marwar (c. 1638), attributed to the Mughal painter Bichitr. Both rulers share a splendid gold throne set upon an elaborately patterned carpet. Two angels float above and carry an embellished canopy. The later work, made in Amber around 1710, is a portrait of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber, seated with Maharana Sangram Singh of Mewar. The compositions of both paintings are the same, although there are differences in execution, as the later Amber work implements a more subdued and dull palette and there is a lack of delicacy and accomplishment in the figural details. The blue and gold border decoration added to both folios matches works that were mounted together in a codex album format in the Amber atelier, and indeed these two folios may have been mounted facing each other in that album.

Painting at Jaipur continued, enthusiastically encouraged by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I (r. 1750–1768), and came to full flourish during the reign of Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh (r. 1778–1803) when his painting workshop grew to include as many as twenty-five painters. Sawai Pratap Singh was a pious devotee of Krishna and must have looked favorably upon a magnificent large painting made in about 1790, depicting Krishna and Rādhā surrounded by concentric circles of gopis who sway in unison to the movements of the great Rasa lila dance (Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum). A decline in Jaipur painting occurred during the rule of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II (r. 1835–1880) when works were done in a stiff and formulaic manner or were influenced or eclipsed altogether by the medium of photography. An fascinating portrait of Sawai Ram Singh II (c. 1870) depicts the ruler at worship within his private quarters, and is clearly influenced by the type of photographic realism that was practiced in many late nineteenth-century Rajput royal ateliers.

Bundi and Kota

The origins of the Bundi and Kota rulers, members of the Hara Rajput clan, are based on ancient tales of a fantastic weapon-bearing warrior who emerged from a gigantic fire pit. The Bundi ruler Rao Surjan (r. 1554–1585) surrendered the fort at Ranthambhor to the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1569, and thereafter Bundi rulers were accorded special status by the Mughals. One of the earliest works attributed to Bundi patronage was a Rāgāmalā set produced at Chunar, near Varanasi, in 1591. Rao Surjan had been posted as commander of the Chunar fortress in 1575, and his son Rao Bhoj Singh (r. 1585–1606) spent some years there before being assigned to Agra. According to a colophon, the set was made by artists trained in the Mughal atelier, and although no specific patron is named, it has been surmised that the set was made for Bhoj Singh. This set is highly important to the understanding of the influence of Mughal painting on works created at Bundi, and it also indicates the close artistic relationship between Bundi and Kota. A consistency can be observed in the compositional format and stylistic elements used in the Chunar Rāgāmalā folios and the seventeenth-century Rāgāmalā sets made in Bundi, and later in eighteenth-century Kota Rāgāmalās. This continuity, with variations in coloration and details of ornamentation, is quite remarkable when a comparison is made between a folio from the dispersed Chunar set depicting Vilaval Ragini (Varanasi, Banaras Hindu University, Bharat Kala Bhavan) and an illustration of the same ragini made around 1760 in the Kota workshop (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts).

Wall paintings in the palace of Rao Ratan (r. 1607–1631) at Bundi vividly document the vitality of artworks produced during this period, which include richly colored depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses, and animal combat and hunting scenes set within lush landscapes. During the rule of Bundi by one of Rao Ratan's son, Rao Shatru Sal (r. 1631–1658), the evolution of a more distinct Bundi style emerged, as is particularly evident in portraits of the period, which often depicted figures in full profile, with large oval-shaped heads and pointy noses. In slightly later works, facial features became softened, more refined, and more delicately rendered. Typically, figures were placed against a monochrome background, as in one of the most beautiful works produced in the late eighteenth century at Bundi, which depicts a sympathetic lady-in-waiting attending to a lovesick lady yearning for her lover (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Art Museums). The two women are placed against a stark white background where the edges of the palace terrace and the sky almost seamlessly meet. At the very top of the composition, a glowing silver moon illuminates the sky, and a pair of Sarus cranes, said to mate for life, frolic as if to remind the damsel of her lonely status.

In 1631 Rao Madho Singh (r. 1631–1648 at Kota), the second of Rao Ratan's sons, was awarded the territory of Kota by Emperor Shah Jahan for his continued aid to the Mughals. Unfortunately, only a few posthumous portraits of Madho Singh remain, and so his contribution to the early history of Kota painting remains a mystery. Under Rao Jagat Singh (r. 1658–1684), painting at Kota flourished, as indicated by a number of his portraits executed with great subtlety in modeling and coloration. A portrait of Jagat Singh in a garden, surrounded by female attendants (c. 1670), exemplifies Kota works inspired by contemporary Mughal portraiture; it also includes an abundance of floral patterning and varied colors that are evocative of landscapes portrayed by Deccani painters. The inclusion of Deccanderived artistic elements here should not come as a surprise, as Jagat Singh and many other Rajput nobles spent considerable time waging campaigns against the Deccan sultans in the employ of the Mughals. Some Rajput rulers may have returned home with paintings acquired in the Deccan, or may have brought back Deccani artists (eager for employment after the vanquishment of their sovereigns) to work in the Rajput ateliers. During this time, Kota artists began to produce carefully observed and beautifully delineated studies of animals, particularly elephants, that were shown at play and at combat. These depictions sharply contrast the representation of humans, who are increasingly shown in a formulaic manner, with distinctively rendered large eyes that are ringed by an oval line representing the outer perimeter of the eyelids.

Beginning in the eighteenth century, both Bundi and Kota were subjected to internal intrigues and external turmoil, which included the threat of Maratha raids and interventions by the British. Paintings from both courts during this period convey a sense of escapism and the reluctance of the rulers to face their positions of political vulnerability. One might expect to find, during this period, scenes depicting strategic planning or military drills, but the paintings depict playful vignettes of court activities in which the rulers are shown hunting, gaming, and participating in ceremonies. The most spectacular of these works may represent visualizations of Rajput prowess in the form of magnificent and complex large-scale hunting scenes from Kota. Similar to contemporary works noted above at Mewar, these paintings were often inscribed on the verso with the names of the participants, the date, and the names of the master artists of that period, including Shaykh Taju, Hansraj Joshi, and Chateri Gumani, who produced a portrait in 1784 documenting a lion hunt attended by Maharao Umed Singh I of Kota (r. 1771–1819) and his minister Zalim Singh Jhala (Rajasthan, Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum, Fort Kota).

The last phase of artistic brilliance at Kota was under the patronage of Maharao Ram Singh (r. 1827–1866). Ram Singh was portrayed more often that any other Kota ruler and was shown in all manner of daily activities, including meeting with visiting dignitaries and playing polo with courtiers. One of the most humorous events documented by the eccentric ruler's court artists occurred in 1851, when Ram Singh rode his horse up a ramp to the roof of the Kota palace. The painting is attributed to the artist Namaram and faithfully depicts those present at the event, including courtiers, dancing girls, musicians, and the local British agent, who is shown wearing a blue suit and a top hat (Philadelphia Museum of Art).


Bikaner paintings are among the most lyrical and refined of the Rajput styles and were the product of a synthesis of Rajput, Mughal, and Deccan artistic traditions. Maharaja Karan Singh (r. 1631–1669) is the first documented royal patron of Bikaner painting, and among his atelier were some of the early masters, such as Rukn al-Din and Natthu, who played important roles in the early evolution of the court style. One of the most beautiful of these works was done by ʿAli Raza, a painter originally from Delhi, who produced Vaikuntha Darshana (Vision of Vishnu, c. 1650), a painting based on a dream that Karan Singh had of Vishnu and Lakshmī enthroned in their heavenly palace (Varanasi, Banaras Hindu University, Bharat Kala Bhavan). Karan Singh's successor, Maharaja Anup Singh (r. 1669–1698), was a connoisseur who gave great impetus to the creation of artworks, as exemplified in the production of a Bhāgavata Purāṇa manuscript (now dispersed, c. 1675–1700), which presents episodes from Krishna's life in continuous narrative vignettes with delicately rendered figures that appear to float upon the softly toned landscape.

During the reign of Maharaja Sujan Singh (r. 1700–1736), more intimate compositions were produced, rendered in dreamlike tones of pink, purple, and pastel greens, influenced by Sujan Singh's posting to the Deccan, or by artists that may have accompanied him back to Bikaner in 1707. Many of these works can be attributed to the artist Ustad Murad, including a jewel-like painting dated to 1710 depicting a princely youth (perhaps Sujan Singh) and his ladies shooting heron from a terrace (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Art Museums). Another work by Ustad Murad was the production of a now dispersed Baramasa set painted around 1725. In a folio depicting the month of Jyestha (May–June), Ustad Murad carefully selected a palette of vibrant, glowing colors to evoke the intense heat of this season (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Art Museums).

During the mid-to late eighteenth century, Bikaner painting was increasingly influenced by works of art from Jodhpur and Jaipur, and the migration of artists from those courts to Bikaner, as a result of marital alliances between the rulers of Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Bikaner. The sensual refinement of earlier Bikaner works was discarded in favor of more conventional, stiff representations.


Kishangarh was founded in 1609 by Maharaja Kishan Singh (r. 1609–1615), a son of the Jodhpur raja, who had close ties to the Mughal court. This amicable affiliation continued through the eighteenth century and is represented artistically by the flourishing of a Mughalized Kishangarh style. Bhavani Das was among three artists working at Delhi who joined the Kishangarh atelier during the reign of Maharaja Raj Singh (r. 1706–1748). Bhavani Das was highly esteemed by the Kishangarh royalty, and numerous works depicting members of the court and distinguished guests from other principalities can be attributed to him, such as the technically refined portrait (c. 1725) of Prince Padam Singh of Bikaner seated with his bard on a terrace (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The pinnacle of Kishangarh painting occurred under the patronage of Maharaja Sawant Singh (r. 1748–1757; d. 1764), an ardent follower of Krishna, who wrote romantic poems recounting the love of Krishna and Rādhā under the pen name Nagari Das. Although courtly subjects were also portrayed, the most distinctive and beautifully conceived paintings were those inspired by Sawant Singh's devotional tendencies. Krishna and Rādhā, the divine lovers, were portrayed trysting in a multitude of dark and lush romantic landscapes. One of the most exquisite examples of this genre, The Boat of Love, was made about 1750 or 1760 by Sawant Singh's primary artist, Nihal Chand. The painting presents an elaborate fantasy-landscape containing two vignettes of Krishna and Rādhā: in the foreground, Krishna tempts Rādhā to kiss him; in the midground, the two lovers are shown seated in a boat floating on a river dotted with lotuses (Delhi, National Museum). Facial features become a distinguishing feature of this mature Kishangarh style, characterized by the representation of attenuated heads, long noses, and prominent elongated almond-shaped eyes framed with arched eyebrows. It is thought that many of the Krishna-Rādhā paintings represent idealized portraits of Sawant Singh and his beloved, the poetess Bani Thani, with whom he went into self-imposed exile at Vrindavan. Artists continued to paint works for the Kishangarh rulers well into the nineteenth century in a style that was based upon the works of Nihal Chand but devoid of his complex subtlety and magnificent delicacy of execution; instead they presented overly exaggerated facial features and stylized, flat figural forms.

Rajput Painting in the Punjab Hills

Paintings produced for the rulers of the many small kingdoms found in regions that now consist of the modern states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmirare frequently referred to as "Pahari" (hill) or Punjab Hill paintings. One of the earliest manuscripts found in that region is an illustrated copy of the Devī Mahatmya, dated 1552, that establishes the existence of a pre-Mughal style in the Punjab Hills closely related to the Chaurapanchashika-type paintings produced in northern India (Himachal Pradesh State Museum, Simla). Beginning in the seventeenth century, two distinct styles appeared in neighboring Punjab Hill states. The first style implemented a bold palette of saturated brilliant colors applied in unmodulated, flat zones, as exemplified in the paintings at Basohli and Mankot (and other areas such as Nurpur, Kulu, and Chamba). Mughal-influenced details are included, but appear discreetly in the form of touches of color applied to the faces to indicate modeling, and in the depiction of richly patterned textiles. A second style, predominant in the works produced in Guler and Kangra, exhibits a strong relationship to Mughal works in the use of a subtle, varied palette, and the portrayal of naturalistically rendered landscapes.

Basohli and Mankot

One of the earliest group of paintings associated with Basohli is a seventeenth-century series of square-format paintings, each depicting Devī the great goddess in one of her Tantric forms. As if to match the divine subject matter presented, these works glow with a ferocious beauty. Embellishments distinctive to Basohli paintings are exhibited in this set: thickly applied dots of white pigment representing pearl ornaments, and iridescent green beetle-wing carapaces, applied to emulate emerald gemstones. Although no inscription identifies the patron or artist of the series, it has been stylistically associated with an illustrated copy of Bhanudatta's Rasamanjari, produced about 1660 or 1670. As Raja Sangram Pal (r. 1635–1673) adopted the worship of Vishnu, or Vaishnavism, it has been suggested that he may have been the patron of this vibrantly rendered version of the Rasamanjari. A folio from the set illustrates Guru Mana, or the "intense pride of the nayika," as identified by an inscription in takri script at the top margin. After a night spent with another woman, the nayaka (visualized in this series as the amorous god Krishna) sheepishly approaches the nayika (Rādhā) with a strand of pearls in his hand, the gift of a guilty lover (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Art Museums). Here we see quite clearly elements typcially associated with Basohli works: flat juxtapositions of colors; figural, architectural, and foliate forms delineated by a strong almost calligraphic line; and idiosyncratically presented physiognomies, all contained within a wide, brilliant red border.

Another beautiful Rasamanjari series was produced in 1694–1695 for Raja Kripal Pal (reigned c. 1678–c. 1693) by an artist named Devidasa, a member of a family of painters originally from the nearby state of Nurpur. A folio illustrating a spirited exchange between Shiva and Pārvatī during a game of chaupar depicts the pair seated on an upturned tiger skin that seemingly floats between two schematically rendered curving trees (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Works from Mankot are stylistically related to contemporary paintings produced at Basohli, as illustrated by a Bhāgavata Purāṇa series produced about 1700 (Chandigarh, Government Museum and Art Gallery). The destruction of the evil King Kansa at Krishna's hand is depicted in a beautifully composed frame that conveys the chaotic scene just before Krishna lands the fatal blow.

Royal portraiture inspired by Mughal models produced for Emperor Shah Jahan was introduced in Basohli and Mankot during the seventeenth century. A portrait of Shah Jahan, attributed to either Basohli or Mankot, was painted in about 1690 and depicts the emperor in a manner similar to the way he would have been portrayed by his own artists (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). However, in this work, Shah Jahan is positioned against a flat bright orange ground, his figure is devoid of naturalistic shading, and his head is disproportionally large—stylistic elements that distinguish this hill painting from imperial Mughal portraits. A slightly later Mankot painting of Raja Ajmat Dev (reigned c. 1730–c. 1760), painted about 1730, is even more schematically composed and depicts the elegant ruler seated while smoking a huqqa (London, Victoria and Albert Museum). The artist's virtuosity is especially displayed in the rendering of the raja's form, which is composed of sweeping lines that are paralleled in the shape of his huqqa's hose and the curve of his sword.

Portraiture at Basohli underwent a dramatic transformation beginning with works produced for Amrit Pal (r. 1757–1776), which were rendered in a naturalistic style. It is possible that this change may have been influenced by the presence of the artist Nainsukh of Guler, who moved to Basohli sometime after the death in 1763 of his patron, prince Balwant Singh of Jammu.

Guler, Jasrota, and Kangra

Nainsukh was a member of one of the most renowned families of Rajput artists; his father Pandit Seu and his elder brother Manaku also worked for the rajas of Guler. Raja Rup Chand (reigned c. 1610–c. 1635) of Guler and his descendants were closely affiliated with the Mughal emperors and went on military campaigns on their behalf. Although later artistic works from Guler appear to have been strongly influenced by the Mughal idiom, there is no evidence that yet explains this process of transmission.

Among the earliest works at Guler are those attributed to Pandit Seu while in the employ of Raja Dalip Singh (r. 1695–1741), such as a Rāmāyaṇa set painted about 1720, and a series of royal portraits. A wonderful painting attributed to the artist from about 1730 depicts the gyrations of men dancing to the accompaniment of four musicians (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Although the men are placed against a rich, solid-red ground reminiscent of compositions from Basohli, Mankot, and Nurpur, their delicately modeled and individualized portraits prefigure the works of his son Nainsukh.

Pandit Seu's elder son Manaku was also very active at Guler, and his early works, which include a Gītā Govinda series (c. 1730, Chandigarh, Government Museum and Art Gallery), are rendered in a more conservative style. A large-scale "Siege of Lanka" series, from about 1725–1730, was left unfinished, and the now dispersed folios provide an interesting study of artistic process in the Rajput atelier, as they display varied stages of execution from preliminary underdrawings to finished folios. A painting by Manaku (c. 1750–1755) illustrating an episode from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (in which the youthful Krishna and his brother Balarama play blindman's bluff with cowherd boys) displays the idealized beauty and naturalistic representation of landscape and figures that distinguish Kangra and later Guler.

Manaku's younger brother Nainsukh found patronage for many years at the small principality of Jasrota under Raja Balwant Singh, a prince of the Jammu family, until Balwant Singh's death in 1723. He arrived at Jasrota from Guler in about 1740, working first for Raja Mian Zorawar Singh, Balwant Singh's father. Nainsukh's many marvelous portraits of Balwant Singh provide the viewer with a compendium of the raja's activities and events. Nainsukh apparently accompanied his patron everywhere, making sketches and paintings of the prince, depicting him in quiet, intimate moments, as in a painting of Balwant Singh writing in his camp tent (c. 1750, Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya). The works also include lively compositions, such as a painting dated 1752 that depicts Balwant Singh perched in a howdah on top of an elephant, slashing at an attacking lioness with his sword (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Art Museums). The superb delicacy of line and color with which Nainsukh rendered his works is matched only by his ability to transmit the emotional aspects of the people and events that he documented.

Kangra was a center of artistic production from the eighteenth through early twentieth century. Although there were many families of artists working in Kangra, the primary creative impetus came from the grandsons of Pandit Seu of Guler. One of the most important patrons of art in the region was Maharaja Sansar Chand (r. 1775–1823) of Kangra. One of the most beautiful sets, of which about 140 folios survive, made during the early part of Sansar Chand's reign, was a Gītā Govinda series painted around 1775–1780. This set is attributed to a member of the Pandit Seu family, a generation after Nainsukh. An illustration depicting Rādhā and Krishna's tryst in a grove exemplifies the lyrical beauty and delicacy of line of early Kangra painting (London, Victoria and Albert Museum). Among other extant works from Kangra are numerous paintings from dispersed sets, including folios from a Bihari Satsai (c. 1780–1790) and illustrations that feature romantic and heroic nayaka and nayika themes. The refinement of Kangra paintings produced during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was eventually lost in favor of overly sentimental and repetitious compositions. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1801–1839) occupied the Kangra fort, and Gurkha troops triumphed in battle over Sansar Chand, and so for some years life was disrupted at Kangra. Many artists, including those from Pandit Seu's family lineage, moved to other villages, where they worked for patrons from nearby small hill principalities.

Rochelle Kessler

See alsoAjanta ; Mahābhārata ; Mughal Painting ; Rāmāyaṇa


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