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In the earlier stage of miniature paintings, the Bundi paintings could not be differentiated from the Kota school of paintings, as they were united until the second half of the 17 th century. The earliest paintings of Bundi are Raga Malkounsa, Raga Sri and Ragini Ramkali of circa AD 1625-30, formerly in the Khajaanchi collection, with obvious influence from Chunar Ragamala in its architectural form. Earlier, during the origin of Bundi paintings, such a type of miniature painting was used to decorate the kings and queens mahals (rooms). One such great example is Garh Palace in Rajasthan. The palace was built in the 18th century and contains a set of bundi painted rooms called ‘Chitrashala’ on an elevated podium above the garden courtyard. The Chitrashala provides a colourful glimpse of history through Bundi paintings. The walls, ceiling of the palace are completely covered with paintings of the Bundi school which are still in very good condition. These splendid paintings in the Chitrashala are par excellence and can be compared with probably the best anywhere in the world. Some other examples of the Bundi paintings are the illustrated manuscripts of the Bhagavata-Purana in Kota Museum.
Apart from that, the National Museum of Delhi, has some excellent miniatures representing the Ragamala theme, which belong to the very last years of Rao Ratan of Bundi. The earliest paintings of Bundi are believed to be Raga Malkounsa, Raga Sri and Ragini Ramkali of circa AD 1625-30, formerly in the Khajaanchi collection, with an influence from Chunar Ragamala in its architectural form. Today a handful of artists in Bundi replicate the paintings at Chitrashala on old post cards, Bundi State and other Royal State Stamp papers, silk cloth, handmade paper, wooden frames and even fingernails.
For centuries, miniature painters have been creating artwork on canvas, parchment, stone and mud walls. Miniature painting is a game of meticulousness, perseverance and patience. Each of the paintings takes months to create while some of them take even years to finish. Miniature paintings are handmade paintings which are very colourful but are small in size.
Bundi School of Painting is one such miniature style of paintings which originated in Bundi town in Rajasthan. The highlight of this style of miniature paintings is the intricate and delicate brushwork which gives them a unique identity. The paints which are made for painting are all handmade from vegetables, minerals, indigo, conch shells, sometimes pure gold and silver. The paintings usually showcased the flora and fauna of the beauty of the Bundi forests with Ragini as the central theme. Ragini is the representation of several avatars of Ragas (Indian classical music notes) amidst seasons and changing landscapes of Bundi. It is said that the Bundi painting has a significant Mughal influence on it, which is quite visible in the paintings of the faces and an element of naturalism while depicting nature mostly trees.
The Bundi school of painting flourished in Rajasthan mainly under Rao Chhatrasal, Bhao Singh, Ummed Singh and Bhishan Singh. They covered a variety of themes as the Bundi Kings differed in their taste. It is said that the school reached its height during the first half of the 18th century and continued to flourish into the 19th century.
The rulers of Bundi must have been extreme connoisseurs of finer things. They have dedicated a vast section of paintings only to display some of the finest works of this art. Chitrashala (or art gallery) of the magnificent Bundi fort, which was built in parts between the 14th and 17th centuries, in Bundi, Rajasthan is one such example. Chitrashala is considered as the gallery having various imaginative and legends depicted through Bundi paitning. One such story painted in this gallery is described below:
“It’s a spring day sometime in the 1700s, during the reign of Umed Singh, and the forest is cool, dark and inviting. A young princess decides to skip her music class and go hunting instead. Armed with a spear, riding a white stallion, she gallops into the trees, followed by a man rider and a servant beating a drum to confuse the animals. She soon sees a family of deer and decides to strike. She whips the horse, it races forward, the deer sprint for their lives. One of them is just inches away but will soon outrace the horse. The princess must strike now. She bends low, over the left side of her horse, stretching her back and her hand, hooks the deer’s hind leg, and it’s a catch”.
There is so much movement, and drama, in the rare miniature murals of the Bundi fort that you can spin hundreds of such stories in the space of an afternoon. And there are hundreds of paintings to weave them around, all inside the Chitrashala that once was a flourishing art school inside the fort. Chitrashala is called Rajasthan’s Sistine Chapel for its intricate ceiling work, on the themes of the Raas-Lila (the romance of Radha and Krishna). There are stories also of the Nayaka-Nayika Bheda, featuring a passionate, devoted lover (with erotica included), and the zenana or women’s quarters, including a full court, women hunters and encounters with mythical creatures. The best thing about Chitrashala is that one doesn’t have to be ‘art literate’ to enjoy the work. The paintings’ intricacy, finesse and beauty will be enough to draw you and keep you engaged. The rest, you can leave to your imagination.
One of the prominent Rajasthani styles of Indian miniature painting considered is Bundi School of Painting. This style of miniature painting lasted from the 17 th century to the end of the 19 th century in the princely state of Bundi which was ruled by Hadoti Rajputs.
During the 16th to 19 th centuries, the Rajput courts in Rajasthan and Central India, started patronizing the miniature paintings and wall murals in their palaces and several rooms which usually depicted mythological stories from epics and court themes. Each of these Rajput courts soon evolved with a distinctive style of murals done on the walls of palaces, inner chambers of the forts and havelis. Most of these styles however had emerged combining indigenous as well as foreign influences (Persian, Mughal, Chinese, European and also from Gujarat, Deccan and Eastern India). In Rajasthan, the Hadoti region with its capital at Bundi was among the four principal schools that had evolved within the state. The role and influence of the rulers of the Chauhan dynasty were confined to the regions of Bundi, Kota and Jhalawar. Hence this area has been termed the Hadoti Region. This area was a treasure of art.
The oldest and earliest specimens of prehistoric paintings in Rajasthan state are found in the caves on the banks of Chambal River near Kota. Thus, it can be inferred that the iconography was famous since ancient times. Many artistic temples located at Kansua, Badoli, and Ramgarh testify to this fact. Unfortunately, it is not possible to trace the early stages of development of Bundi School due to paucity of dated material. Three miniatures from a Ragmala set said to be dated 1591 A.D. have been published. These were painted by three Muslim painters at Chunar where Rao Singh (1588 – 1607) was serving under Emperor Akbar. They show unmistakable Bundi features noticed in three miniatures from a Ragamala set illustrating Ragini Bhairavi in the Allahabad Museum, Raga Dipika in the Bharat Kala Bhawan, Banaras, and Ragini Malasri. These mentioned miniatures were made in the first decade of the 17th century during the reign of Rao Ratan Singh (1627-31). Paintings of another Ragamala set in the National Museum have been dated c. 1625-1630 as they reveal the impact of Mughal paintings of the Jahangir period. These Ragamala paintings from Chunar are regarded as prime models for the stylistic development of Bundi style in coming centuries.
From the Late 17 th to early 18th century artists of Bundi-Kotah followed the Pattern by Chunar Ragamala series at Chunar, which was once the Jagir of Hara Kings near Benaras. It is not clear under what circumstances the Bundi/Kotah Karigar families of Rao Ratan’s period had acquired the Chunar Ragamala from the famous commercial town of Benaras. It might have come with Rao Ratan’s coming to Bundi. It is also believed that the Bundi School had evolved at the Hadoti Court in the early 17th century in the time of Rao Bhoj Singh, with him overseeing Chunar near Varanasi as the governor of the province. During his governorship, he came in direct contact with Persian artists (these artists had been brought by Humayun) and commissioned them to illustrate a Ragmala series. The style with strong Mughal influence was first experimented at Badal Mahal in Bundi. In richness and brilliance, the Badal Mahal paintings have affinity also with paintings of Deccan, a region with which the rulers of Bundi were often in contact. The Bundi style then in the phase during the 17th century emphasised more on depicting hunting, court scene, processions, life of nobles, animals, birds and scenes from Krishna’s life. The Chitrasala or the Umaid Bhavan built in the 18th century by Rao Umaid Singh shows the climax of Bundi paintings, a style characterised by a fondness of lush vegetation, dramatic night skies, a distinctive way of depicting water by light swirls against a dark background, and vivid movement. The walls and ceilings of this palace are completely covered with paintings of the Bundi School and can be compared with among the best of pre-modern paintings anywhere in the world.
Two remarkable themes in the history of Bundi paintings considered are the Ragamala and Baramasa series depicting moods and sentiments of men and women, seasons and 36 ragas and raginis linked to the seasons, times of the day and the mood of the moment. It is said that, under Rao Bishen Singh (1771-1821 AD), the Bundi paintings flourished and new themes were added like hunting and wild animals.
Today, Bundi School of painting survives among a handful of artists, who still paint themes depicting the Chitrashala.
Taking into consideration the whole range of Indian miniature paintings which existed in the 17 th century, Bundi paintings of this century will rank as examples of one of the finest schools of Indian Paintings. The special features, which are typical to the Bundi school of painting are its colours. The colours used in this type of painting are rich and bright. The miniature paintings of Bundi include the depiction of minutest details, boldness of expression, frankness of lines, the representation of colour and form and the general finish. It combined the skills of laying pigments, shading, lining, and ornamenting the objects. Bundi paintings are mostly inspired from nature, mythological stories and epics. The deep blue skies, flat in tone, occasionally sprayed with a flight of birds or stars and sometimes cloudy skies with snake like lightning, bird’s eye view hills and pond at the background, a very unique presence of greyish-black lotus pond, birds and animals shown perched on them, colourful trees and sometimes trees laden with flowers; multicoloured buildings, the method of dividing up the picture plan into small spaces, bright colours, elaborate embellishment of costumes, the lavish use of gold pigment, Persian blue, yellow, orange, crimson and specially green superimposed on green and a row of trees, at the top etc. are the main features of the Bundi style of painting.
Apart from its detail oriented and exceptional features and use of colours, Bundi miniature paintings are famous for depicting various scenes from daily lives of the royals, describing festivities, visualising ragas, the breath-taking representation of the Bundi landscape and portrayal of Krishna- Lila. The female figures are tall with narrow waist, wearing short choli, colourful ghagra and translucent odhani (dupatta) partially covering the head; the facial features of Bundi paintings include pointed nose, receding chin, almond-shaped eyes and a reddish-brown flesh tint. But the most noticeable feature of Bundi paintings is the landscape background (Bundi – Kotah Region is famous for its charming landscape) with hills, flowing rivers, thick vegetation and colorful flowers. The painters took particular care to render the lush vegetation of well – laid gardens full of mango, peepal and plantain trees, flowering creepers and birds and animals in every painting. The water in rivers and pools is depicted in swirls and the sky in patches of blue. In later periods a peculiar admixture of grey, blue, orange and vermilion were used to depict a dusky sky which turned out to be characteristic features of Bundi painting of succeeding periods. The setting of the scenes is generally against garden pavilions or open portions. Their subject matter slowly changed and in addition to the illustrations of literary works, the scenes of hunting, merry making or formal court durbars were painted. In the late 18th century more and more portraits, scenes of elephant-fights, hunts, equestrian studies were seen painted. Although many sets of Ragamala, Baramasa, Bhagavata Purana and Rasikapriya miniatures were also produced. The main themes of the Bundi school of painting are:
-Ragamala: The idea of associating music with painting is unique in Indian art. Among all the ragamala sets from Rajasthan, the ragamala paintings of bundi are the most attractive. There are principle 6 ragas:
Raag Bhairava, Raga Malkounsa, Raga Dipaka, Raga Sri, Raga Hindola and Raga Megha.
-Baramasa: Bundi artists have deftly drawn out the true spirit of respective seasons in their Baramasa paintings as depict d in the poetical work of the great poet, Keshavadasa. According to the Hindu calendar, the twelve months of the year have been divided into six seasons. Each season consists of two months. The year can be divided into four seasons, ie., spring, summer, autumn and winter. These can be compared to the four parts of the day ie., dawn, noon, sunset and night. They also correspond to the four stages of four stages of man’s life: childhood, youth, middle age and old age. Baramasa starts in the month of Chaitra and ends with the month of Phalguna and describes the life ceremonies and rituals of the people in different seasons. He gives, an account of the months, mentioning the delights of the spring months of Chaitra, and Baisakha, the heat of Jyestha, and Ashadha, the showers of shravan and Bhadon, Ashvina when the sky is clear, the bright Karttika, the pleasant Agahana when the cranes shout joyfully, the chilly Pausha, the pleasant Magh,when the four
sides are perfumed with sandal and camphor and the delightful month of love and colours.
-Rasikapriya: (nayak-nayika bheda) – most of the nayak-nayika bheda paintings of Rajasthan are based on the poetry of Keshavdas who composed his famous work in about 1591. He was a talented poet laureate of Raja Inderjit of Orchha. He is considered the father of Sringara literature (love lyrics) of medieval India. The nayak-nayika in Rasikapriya are Krishna and Radha, the ideal lovers and the situations described show the relationship between soul and god. Keshavdas enumerates the seven colours namely white, yellow, black, red, grey, blue and mixed colours and fixes the colours for different objects. In a similar strain he reminds symbolically or otherwise the function and connotations of a circle, an arch, a triangle and all favorite motifs of painters. His descriptions of countryside, cities, forests, hermitages, rivers, gardens, tanks, sunrise, moonrise and the seasons were constantly utilized with emendations by poets and painters alike.
-Krishna Lila: The paintings related to Krishna theme were originally inspired by legends/stories which grew up around the supreme deity of Bhakti-cult. It has been observed that the kings of Bundi were the devotees of Krishna because Krishna is both God and lover. He is greatly adorned by the artists with their glowing brown, red, green, yellow and orange colours. He has been depicted in every theme painted in Bundi as can be seen in the ragamala paintings, as a dancer who dances with gopis. In ragini vasanta and in ragini megh malhar, he is shown dancing with the gopis. In baramasa paintings, he is shown sometimes seated on the terrace with his beloved Radha and welcoming the first rain of shravan. Miniatures representing Krishna's childhood, youth and the romantic world of Rasa Lila by the Bundi painters are mostly of the 18 th and the 19 th century AD.
-Portraits: From the first quarter of the 17 th century, Became an important centre of portraits painting in Rajasthan. It became a status symbol. The rulers were very fond of having their official portraits. Some portraits are based on life and others on imagination. Portraits are pictorial representations of the kings’ appearance and personality besides the individual’s taste. The kings have been portrayed as half-length holding weapons like swords or shields, bows and arrows, sitting cross legged, or on a low throne, holding a flower or huqqa. The different shapes and styles of turban worn by the male figures help to discern chronological ancestry. The figures are mostly drawn against flat green and black backgrounds.
-Hunting: The bundi artists have rightly been credited with various significant innovations in the field of weapons and instruments. The most suitable rifles to kill various animals and some other weapons, such as swords, Kaman or bow, arrow, spear, matchlock gun, daggers and shield, were used for hunting. All these were often decorated with precious gold, silver ivory and inlay work. The pictures of elephants fighting with each other and with lions appear to have given a new approach to the art of painting. Hunting was also a popular sport among royal ladies.
-Harem or Zanana: The apartment in a dwelling house allotted to a woman. The miniatures depict a couple embracing each other in a garden, near ponds or lakes, palace terraces, where they are also shown listening to music, playing chauper, feeding the fish, enjoying wine and smoking hookah, feeding the fish etc. there are also paintings of love-lorn ladies consoled by matrons. It is assumed most of their time was devoted to dressing themselves and adorning jewels with the help of their maids.
In the course of time, with the introduction of new types of paintings and techniques, the Bundi School of Painting too inculcated many new features which were inspired from other styles. There was more use of colour to characterize the paintings and these changes were too gladly accepted by the painters of the school. It thus slowly started flourishing in the state of Rajasthan.
Currently Bundi artisans are facing few challenges towards their craft. The main challenges are mentioned below:
-At present there are only a handful of artisans practicing this craft.
-The younger generation of these artisans are not interested in continuing their traditional craft, and thus have shifted to other employment opportunities to earn their livelihood.
-Due to this, the art itself is lacking creativity and is now slowly losing its craftsmanship.
-Pandemi of 2021, seriously affected the Bundi artisans. Most of the remaining artisans shifted toward other crafts leaving their age-old traditional Bundi painting art-from behind.
Bundi miniature paintings are executed meticulously with delicate brushwork. These vibrant works of art are painted with colors that are essentially made from minerals and vegetables, precious stones, as well as pure silver and gold. The paintings have some distinctive features. For instance, the flowing rivers, dense forests, lush green fields of Bundi region, dramatic night skies everything is depicted with a blend of ‘real’ and ‘imagined’. In all the miniature paintings of Bundi, there is significant Mughal influence on it. It is certainly visible through their refined drawing of the faces and an element of naturalism in the treatment of the trees.
The Bundi miniature requires the basic raw materials which are used in any normal painting. The colours used are the most unique in shade and source. Most of the colours during medieval times were obtained from nature ie. vegetation, minerals and stones. All these colours were prepared by the painters themselves. During preparation, various types of gums were used as a medium and sometimes egg-white was also applied. These colours seem to be fresh, bright and almost retain the same density even after 300 years. Most Bundi artists have used green, blue, red, orange, white, black, mauve, and yellow colours. At present, times a combination of both ancient as well as contemporary materials are used:
1. Handmade paper/hardboard
2. Fabric – mostly silk for its sheen
3. Wooden circular shapes
4. Poster colours
5. Powder stone colour – sourced from Udaipur
6. Gold/silver leaf sheets
7. Gond (a type of gum)
The cost for making one painting is between ₹50 to ₹100.
-Brushes: made of animal tails like mongoose, squirrel etc. and synthetic brushes as well (size 000 to 12). During the 17 th and 18 th century, Brushes used were of various sizes and shapes. Single hair brushes were also used for the microscopic lines. These brushes were made from the soft hair of different animals such as camel hair, goat hair and hair from cow ear, from the forehead of an ass and from the back of a big rat. Squirrel and mongoose hair from tails were also used for the brush.
-Paint mixing board: white sun-mica
-Stone grinder: for mixing color and gond paste
-Slight: slant working table.
Initially, the artists were made to practice sketching of basic flowers and leaves which are the simple elements of the painting. Human facial expression, animal movements are the most complex elements of the painting which require more practice and skill.
Artists use two types of gold and silver application techniques:
–Gold leaf and saras paste: Saras is a type of gum which is mixed in hot water. The paste is spread in a plate and then gold leaf is added and spread and mixed with help of a palm. After mixing, the paste is transferred to a big bowl. The gold and gum mixture are left in the bowl till the gold settles down at the bottom of the bowl. The water and gum are taken out gently from top. Then another gum, called gond is added and the paste is left to dry. The mixture is ready to be applied to a painting after adding a little water. This paste is ideal to draw fine gold lines.
–Gold leaf in-lay work: Saras (a type of gum) and water paste is applied directly on some parts of the painting where gold colour is required. The gold-leaf is then applied on the painting. Once the paste is dry, the gold leaf is removed from the rest of the parts and gold stays where the gum paste was applied.
The daily routine of the current artists varies as per on-going orders or demand of the paintings. During a busy season they start working from 6 am in the morning to 5 pm in the evening. On a normal day they start working from 10 am.
In the 17 th and 18 th century the first step in the painting was preparation of the paper. Hand-made paper was used for the painting, which was earlier manufactured in Sialkot. A few sheets of the Sialkoti paper were pasted together to provide optimum thickness. The next step was to draw a free- hand outline on the paper with the help of a fine brush or with the aid of charcoal powder. It was drawn in black, blue, red or yellow. After this, a white primer was thinly applied to the surface so that the black outlining was to be seen through the primer. Then corrections were made with a highly finished red colour. To make for the smoothness the paper was burnished thoroughly with a rounded stone or agate. Next, the colours were applied. Colours were often thinly used twice or thrice and after each application the surface was thoroughly burnished for the final effect, with a smooth enamel-like tempera. Usually, the background architecture and landscape were lightly coloured before the figures were painted. After finishing the colour, the outlining was drawn at the end with
black colour. After completion the picture was then mounted and the borders were painted with red colour. The calligraphy was done by the painter at last.
There are several steps currently being followed for the making of Bundi miniature paintings:
Step 1: Surface preparation:
On paper: Sketch of the complete painting is drawn or traced on the paper On Fabric: Starch made of wheat flour is applied multiple times to stiffen the surface and make it free from wrinkles. Before drawing the figures for the painting.
Step 2: Paint preparation:
There are usually two types of paints used ie. stone powder and poster colours. To avoid colour stain and to give the painting a smooth texture, gond (gum) is mixed with the stone powder or poster paint. The paint is mixed with water to make it thin and thick as per requirement
Step 3: Painting:
The background is painted first and then the main subject. Detailing like the ornaments, gold and silver work etc. are done at the end. Thin black outlining is drawn to define shapes to finish the painting. Thin single haired brushes are used to show facial thin hair, wrinkles on skin on animals as well as human subjects. Varnish is applied to make the painting surface smooth, shiny and to protect it from dust.
List of craftsmen.
Documentation by Gargi Sethia for Gaatha
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