In this article we will discuss about the Rajput schools of painting in India during the medieval period.
Alongside of the Mughal painting an independent school of painting developed which is popularly known as ‘Rajput school of painting’. It had an entirely indigenous origin and its roots can be traced to the tradition of Ajanta. This school of painting drew inspiration from the revival of Hinduism, spatially, the Bhakti cult.
Though, like the Mughals it produced mainly miniature, it was primarily a folk art. According to Charles Louis Fabri, “The art of Hindus reflected a strong popular element. The subject matter was their own religion, their stories of heroes from the epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharta, their own beloved God, Krishna, living the life of a simple cowhered.”
However, this view is not shared by Prof. V.A. Smith, who says that although the origin of the Rajput school may be found in “the classic painting of the Buddhist frescoes,” still “the primary fact that is overlooked is that the technique of the two schools (Mughal and Rajput) is identical. Prof. J.N. Sarkar also does not consider the Rajput schools as an indigenous Hindu product having any cultural connections with Rajputani.
He says, “The vassal Rujahs of the Mughal Empire used to enlist painters trained in the imperial court and employ them in representing scenes from the Hindu epics and romances and other subjects of a purely Hindu character, but the style and art ideas of these painters, are exactly the same as those of the painters employed by the Mughal Court. So thoroughly were the painters of Hindu subjects imbued with the spirit of their masters who drew Muslim or Mughal Court, pictures that the result is often comic to a modern critic.”
The Rajput painting can be divided into two styles known as Qalams. First, the Jaipur Qalams named after one of the leading Rajput state, which provided shelter to a number of artists, and enabled them to develop a distinctive school or style of paintings.
The other Qalam is named Kangra, the name drawn from a group of small states in the Punjab-Himalayan of which Kangra was the chief. This group developed a special style of its own.
The Kangra school has been described by Prof. Randhawa as the “visual expression of a cultural movement with roots in a great spiritual upsurge. Kangra painting is not a sudden development unrelated to the life of Northern India. But it is culmination of a spiritual and literary revival of Hinduism.”
It cannot be denied that the Rajput painting acquired a grace and charm of its own. The Hindu Princes encouraged the artists who did not find any appreciation at the Mughal Court on account of the policy of proselytism to Islam and iconoclasm pursued by Aurangzeb. These artists were given an opportunity to make use of their talents and they produced paintings which have been desert bed as “music in colour”.
Another school of art which grew as a result of the union of the hilly folk art and Mughal art, was Basholi school. The principal patron of this school of painting was Kirpa Lai. Prof. Randhawa says that the, “Basholi Paintings have an individuality of their own, and they are easily distinguishable from Kangra and Rajasthani Paintings. Though they have the vigour and the quality of simplicity.”
Dr. Tara Chand has tried to advocate the thesis that the Hindu and Muslim styles had only minor variations and there were no fundamental differences between the two. He says, “Hindu- Muslim style, related on the one hand with the mural art of Ajanta, and with the true miniature painting of Samarqand and Herat on the other, there were many offshoots differing in their character as they approached the one or the other pole of this style. The Rajput and Pahadi styles of Jaipur, Kangra and the Hindu states of Himalayans hills had a greater inclination towards the ancient Hindus; the Qalams of the Deccan, Lucknow, Kashmir, Patna gravitated more towards the Muslim; the Sikh Qalam was somewhere between them. They are all, however, sub-styles derived from the parent stock which is the style of the court at Delhi or Agra.”
He farmer does not agree with Prof. Coomaraswamy who has tried to emphasise the difference between the Rajput and Mughal schools and says, “The differences of technique are negligible, the processes of painting whether Persian, Mughal or Rajasthani are alike. The choice of subjects was conditioned by the traditions of the prince. In the Hindu courts Hindu mythology afforded opportunities to the painter which in the Imperial courts were offered by the glories of conquest. Both arts are essentially courtly for in either case the patrons are princes. There is undoubtedly greater freedom and variety in the Rajput schools because their social manners differed from those of the Mughals, but the aesthetic quality of the two arts is much the same.”
In view of the controversy existing amongst the scholars regarding the two systems of painting, it would be fruitful to make a study of difference between the two systems of paintings viz., the Mughal paintings and the Rajput paintings.
In the first place, the Mughal school of painting originated in the atmosphere of Imperial style. It was meant mainly for the pleasure of the Princely connoisseurs. The Rajput school of painting on the other hand was meant for the common people and it dealt with subjects which were far wider and extensive.
Prof. Gerola has rightly said that from the point of view of the subject matter the two schools of painting fundamentally differ. The paintings of the Mughal schools were more realistic, whereas the paintings of the Rajput schools were more imaginative.
They also possess the elements of folk sentiment and equality. It may be noted that whereas the Mughal painters paid foremost attention to portrait of Emperor and Nobles, the painters of Rajput style tried to deal with the various aspects of life. In the paintings of the Mughal school, we find mainly pictures of imperial gardens, imperial family, imperial Darbar or war.
But in the paintings of Rajput style the painters have covered subjects like village lite, folk lore’s and religious customs, etc.
Secondly, the basis of the Mughal paintings was Iranian. In fact, the Mughal school of painting came into existence as a result of the mingling of the Iranian and Indian systems. The Rajput school of painting was mainly Indian.
Thirdly, religion and realism are the predominant features of the Mughal paintings, while the Rajput paintings are characterised by mysticism and religion. Another feature of the Rajput paintings is idealism on the pattern of the Ajanta paintings.
Fourthly, the Mughal painting dealt with the contemporary subjects, while the Rajput painters dealt with subjects of external significance. This explains the reasons for the popularity of the Mughal paintings for a limited period only.
Fifthly, the Mughal paintings from the very beginning were miniature paintings but the paintings of the Rajput style were much larger in size and were painted on walls.
Sixthly, the Mughal painting was materialistic and aimed at entertaining. The Rajput painting was spiritual and reflected the sweet serenity of Indian life.