Sirohi School Painting

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SIROHI SCHOOL PAINTING The school of Sirohi painting is synonymous with a Vijnyptipatra, or letter of invitation, which seems to have originated from this town. Until the 1960s the art world of miniature painting was completely unaware of this school. The first reference to Sirohi painting appeared in the Khajanchi Collection (New Delhi) catalog of 1960; its entry 64 is a vijayptipatra, titled Rajarthani, Sirohi, dated a.d. 1737. The entry related that "a congregation of citizens from Sirohi sent a letter of invitation to the Vijayadeva Suri (a famous Jain monk) inviting him to visit the city during Paryusana festival." A long descriptive entry appearing in the same catalog reads, in part, "Sirohi, near Mt. Abu, seems to have been one of the centers of painting in southern Rajasthan in the early eighteenth century, and no doubt in the early seventeenth century. The facial types are very similar to another vijayptipatra from Sirohi dated a.d. 1725" (p. 48).

According to the Purāṇas, the present state of Sirohi was formerly called Arbutadea. Also, the name "Sirohi" is said to have evolved from the word "Sirnava," a mountain range, at the foothills of which the town of Sirohi was established. The present town of Sirohi is situated in southwest Rajasthan, bounded on the north, northeast, and west by Jodhpur (Marwar), in the south by Palanpur, Danta, and Idar (Gujarat) and on the east by Udaipur (Rajasthan). The physical features of this region include a hilly and rocky region of the Aravalli ranges; the only river that flows is the Banas. It has a varied flora and fauna, though the countryside is mainly arid and dry, with extreme temperatures in summer and winter.

Sanis Mal, son of Rao Sobha, founded Sirohi in a.d. 1425. What seems to have brought renown to Sirohi is its proximity to archaeological and religious sites. It is located near the great Jain temples of Delvada at Mount Abu. The ruins of the ancient temple sites of Chandravati and Vasantgarh (Pindwara, c. 7th century a.d.) indicate socioreligious activities in this region in early times.

The town was situated on the trade route from Abu to Ranakpur and farther to Rajasthan via Pali, Ghanerao, Desuri, and the main Jain seat of learning, Patan. Itinernant Jain monks often demanded certain socioreligious artifacts (such as vijnaptipatras), cloth paintings, and paper manuscripts from time to time. To cater to this demand, a community of scribes known as Laiyas became established in Sirohi. Among them were painters, calligraphers, and teachers who belonged to the Mathen community of painters. They possessed blank letters of invitation, which were long and narrow paper scrolls (often measuring 50 feet × 12 inches [15m × 30.5 cm]), which were used for painting and for writing text in beautiful calligraphy. The themes of the scrolls were often repetitive. The top portion of the scroll contained the eight sacred symbols and the fourteen lucky dreams of the Jains, as well as the depiction of sermons, processions, temples, famous buildings, and marketplaces (represented by a street with shops on either side of the road and people shopping). Stylistically, such scrolls are painted in the established Marwar style, with bold figures and bright color schemes, though a number of them are painted in the distinctive Sirohi style.

Recent scholarship has brought to light a few dated examples with place names that determine the styles at least in the early eighteenth century. Two illustrated manuscripts—the Upadesamala, attributed to Sirohi, of the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, from the collection of the Deva Sano Pado Bhandar, Ahmedabad; and a Durga-Saptasati, dated 1710, painted at Sirohi, from the collection of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum), Mumbai—help establish the stylistic characteristics of Sirohi painting. There is another complete manuscript of Devi-Mahatmya, dated 1726, painted at Ghanerao (a thikana, or smaller feudatory state in rajasthan owing allegiance to the ruling chief, of Marwar), close to Sirohi, which is painted in Sirohi style.

These early examples, though within the known stylistic frame work of the Marwar school, possess certain peculiar features of the Sirohi idiom. In a horizontal Pothi format (of loose folios), they are executed in a refined Kalam style with a number of Mughal mannerisms. Male and female figures are squat and robust. Male costumes consist of a large turban with a broad sash, a long floral Jama, and a broad Patka. Women are clad in Ghaghra (long frilled skirt), choli (bodice), and odhni (long narrow piece of cloth which is meant to cover the head and the breasts). One of the distinguishing features of the Sirohi style is a kind of shading or modeling that appears on the faces and limbs, an element that is not found in the Marwar and Ghanerao styles. Another noteworthy characteristic of Sirohi style is the depiction of a colorful landscape. Sirohi artists were fond of a variety of flora and fauna, flowing rivers, and scenic waterfronts. The architecture in paintings consists of a domed pavilion with arches, balconies, and chhajjas (weather shades). Scenes take place in the middle plane; the foreground is a raised platform with colorful flowering plants and other objects placed below. Trees are often shown in bloom with a variety of foliage. All these elements are rendered in a naturalistic manner. The color palette is predominantly orange, brown, olive green, and brick red. The later paintings of Rāgamālās (garland of melodies) in Indian music are devoid of these subtle qualities. This school seems to have produced at least ten sets of Rāgamālās, dated from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Of these, at least one complete set from the collection of Kumar Sangram Singh of Navalgarh (Jaipur) has been separated; its folios are now in various museums and private collections in India and abroad. Sirohi Rāgamālā paintings do not have text on the top margin, but the name of the Rāga appears in Devanagari (script which has originated from Sanskrit).

Shridhar Andhare

See alsoMiniatures: Marwar and Thikanas


Andhare, Shridhar. "A Dated Salibhadra Chaupai and the Mathen Painters of Bikaner." Sri nagabhinandanam, edited by L. K. Srinivasan and S. Nagaraju. Bangalore: Dr. M. S. Nagaraja Rao Felicitation Committee, 1995.

Ebeling, Klaus. Ragamala Painting. Basel: Ravi Kumar, 1973.

Khandalavala, K., M. Chandra, and P. Chandra. Miniature Painting. Catalog of the Sri Motichand Khajanchi Collection. New Delhi: Sri Motichand Khajanchi, 1960.