Kangra paintings of ancient India belong to the school of Pahari paintings that were patronized by the Rajput rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries. Pahari paintings, as the name suggests, were paintings executed in the hilly regions of India, in the sub-Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. It is in the development and modification of Pahari paintings, that the Kangra School features. Under the patronage of Maharaja Sansar Chand, it became the most important centre of Pahari painting.


To portray human feelings through colours and imagery, Kangra paintings turned out to be the main medium. In ancient philosophical texts, there are entries relating to Kangra paintings, in which there are depictions of Royal events and temples/religious cultures. The 'Vishnudharmottar Purana' written in the 5th C has a section dedicated to just 'Chitrasutra', the story of paintings. The tradition of drawing has been prevalent in Indian handwritten texts since ancient times. Indian miniature paintings began with the imagery in illustrated religious texts. The earliest example of miniature paintings is considered to be in the imagery of the religious text called 'Pragyaparmita' falling under the Pala style in the 11thC. These books would be made using a Taadpatra (a particular kind of leaf) and paintings would be made on them. The width of these leaves was approximately three inches, because of which, the characteristics of the paintings would naturally be small-scaled/miniature. 

Around the 14th C, books began to be made of paper rather than these leaves which brought about a change in the size and style of the paintings. In the beginning, the main usage of miniature paintings lay with the creation of imagery for religious texts. With time, this painting started getting associated with the beauty and happiness of daily human life and this started getting depicted more often. Miniature paintings are not just associated with beauty, but with social and cultural situations of that time period, and hence, are very informative mediums of the same. 

Today, Pahari paintings are famous for the craftsmanship and the flawless beauty and depiction of happiness, such that people want it to adorn their homes for its aesthetic qualities. A number of times, Kangra paintings are also worshipped and are kept as religious imagery in homes and temples.



The subjects seen in Pahari paintings exhibit the tastes and traits of the life-styles of the society of that period. The Bhakti cult was the driving force and the love story of Radha and Krishna was the main source of spiritual experience, which was also the base for the visual expressions. 'Bhagavata Purana' and the love-poems 'Gita-Govinda' of Jaideva were the most popular subjects dealing with the legends and the amorous plays of Radha and Krishna symbolizing soul's devotion to God. In some miniature the blue-God Krishna is seen dancing in the lush woodlands and every maiden's eyes are drawn to him. Love remained the inspiration and central theme of the Pahari painting as was observed, "What Chinese art achieved for landscape is here accomplished for human love."  


Myths & Legends

In the Indian tradition myth, history and legend conflate and the borders between them are transparent so that myth is not mythic or false but another version of reality that appeals to our ancient sensibility. Such is the veracity and aesthetic strength of these mythic narratives that it not only becomes the foundation of our religious rites and rituals but also leads to artistic representations and supports many of our living cultural traditions.  One such mythic narrative is the love story of Usa and Aniruddha, and among the many love stories of the tradition, it has its own pride of place. 

The Usa-Aniruddha story is unique in many ways. Not only does it occur in many Puranas such as the Harivariis'a, Bhagavata, Garuda and Vishnu, but also it has inspired painters and dancers to represent it artistically. It is for the first time in the Puranas that we find Krishna and Siva pitted against each other in a fearsome battle and it is not until Brahma invokes the concept of Harihara that the fire between the two Gods is extinguished. The story is also interesting because it revolves around locating Aniruddha from the many portraits that Chitralekha has done. The art of creating portraits thus has a primacy in the story. Banasura is the prototypical demon, arrogant and virile, but at the same time a devotee of Siva, who in turn protects him. The story is replete with scenes of pomp and ceremony, of long panegyric passages, of descriptions of the many weapons that were used in ancient warfare, of trickery and magic, of music and dancing. Sonitpur is the main location of the story, but then the happy ending takes place in  Dvaraka, with the Gods and celestial beings celebrating the victory of Krishna, and romantic scenes of the demure Usa and the handsome Aniruddha joined in marriage. What began, as a dream becomes a reality? Legend has it that the present-day Tezpur, or the city of blood, on the northern banks of the Brahmaputra, of magnificent scenic beauty with the backdrop of the Himalayas in Assam is actually Sonitpur from the myth. In Tezpur is Agnigarh where ancient ruins still exist and it is believed that this is the fortress that Banasura built to imprison her daughter. The story is told that a raging fire was kept burning at all times to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the fortress. Archaeologists have discovered an underground chamber, as part of a temple in Tezpur, and they believe that this is where Banasura hid his daughter. Archaeological finds dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are still seen in places like Singri Gopevar Temple, Mahabhairab Temple and Rudrapath Temple in and around Tezpur and we are told that these are from the time of King Banasura. Fondly cherished legends such as these bring history and myth close together and add to the charm of the narrative. The love story of Usa and Aniruddha throbs with romance, pulsates with narration of longing and the joy of belonging, it bristles with fierce battles, there are long passages of veneration of Krishna, it meanders on the ground and in the sky, has moments of tension and scenes of celebration and rivets our attention, as fantasy and fable create a delectable myth. 


This great art originated Guler State, a small hill state in the Lower Himalayas in the first half of the 18th century when a family of Kashmiri painters trained in Mughal painting Style sought shelter at the court of Raja Dalip Singh (r. 1695-1741) of Guler. Pahari painting is the generic term for the paintings created in the various hill states of the northwestern Himalayas. The rise of Guler Paintings started in what is known as the early phase of Kangra Kalam. The new arrivals mingled with the local artists and were greatly influenced by the atmosphere of the hills. Instead of painting flattering portraits of their masters and love scenes, the artistes adopted themes of eternal love between Radha and Krishna. The paintings were naturalistic and employed cool, fresh colours. The colours were extracted from minerals, vegetables and possessed enamel-like lustre. Verdant greenery of the landscape, brooks, springs were the recurrent images on the miniatures. 

The origin of the Guler style of Pahari painting is shrouded in controversy. A commonly held view was that Guler artists came to that state from the Mughal ateliers when Nadir Shah invaded north India in 1739. However, an entry recorded in the priest's register by the painter Manak during his visit to Hardwar in 1736 confirms beyond any doubt that his family had settled in Guler at least a generation ago. Manak records himself a tarkhan (carpenter-painter) and mentions himself in the inscription as 'veisi guler ke' meaning a native of Guler. It is known that some Kagmiri painters had been working in Delhi at the Mughal atelier, even during the time of Akbar. Names of some Kagmiri painters find reference in the production for the emperor Shahjahan. It is possible that Hasnu, a tarkhan painter and father of Pandit Seu, might have received patronage during the reign of Raja Dilip Singh (r. 1695-1741) of Guler presumably in the early eighteenth century. Hasnu's sons Pandit Seu, Biland (Billu) and Rughu were painters and it were they who were responsible for initiating a new painting style at Guler. It appears that this family of Kagmiri painters had connections with their counterparts working in the plains of Punjab, especially in the city of Lahore. It is also known that members of the Seu family served Pahari courts other than that of Guler. The Magic Diagram, depicting a goddess with many arms pointing towards the names of various hill states and chieftains, published by B.N. Goswamy in his essay in Marg (1968) confirms this suggestion. Portraits of the Mughal Governor Mir Mannu and his father Kamar-ud-din, the minister of emperor Muhammad Shah (1719-48) and some other works including the reinterpreted versions of some Mughal subjects show a strong kinship and stylistic affinities between later Mughal paintings and the Guler    Most of the schools of miniature paintings had flourished in 19th centuries in the present state of Himachal Pradesh. Rajput chiefs ruled this hilly region, then divided into several principalities, and most of them maintained courts. They embellished their capital towns with temples and palaces and showed an extraordinary interest in patronizing the art of miniature painting. This visual art could, perhaps, fulfill their needs and aspirations in a splendid manner and paintings could also satisfy their religious needs and provide satisfaction to their emotional feelings and impulses. Being subservient to the Mughals, the hilly chieftains quite often used to visit the imperial court and were, thus, familiar with the tastes and trends prevalent at the Mughal court. They were great connoisseurs of literature, music and arts and had grown up in such an atmosphere, which was full of romantic suggestions.  

This style reached its zenith during the reign of Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch (r.1776-1824) who was a great patron of Kangra art. Being a liberal patron, the painters working at his atelier received large commissions while others accepted a permanent settlement in the form of lands. Maharaja Sansar Chand was an ardent devotee of Krishna and used to commission artists to paint subjects based on the loves and life of Krishna. The Guler-Kangra art is the art of drawing and the drawing is precise and fluid, lyrical and naturalistic. In these styles the faces are well modelled and shaded so judiciously that they possess almost porcelain-like delicacy. Anandaswamy was the first scholar who appreciated and introduced "Rajput painting" to the western world. Rajput painting that flourished under the patronage of Rajput rulers of Rajputana and Punjab Himalayas was different in spirit and idiom than Mughal painting as Coomaraswamy regarded Rajput painting as an immediate expression of the Hindu view of life'. He further classified Rajput painting into two main categories i.e. 'Rajasthani' and 'Pahari'. 



The focal theme of Kangra painting is Shringar (the erotic sentiment). The subjects seen in Kangra painting exhibit the taste and the traits of the life style of the society of that period. Bhakti cult was the driving force and the love story of Radha and Krishna was the main source of spiritual experience, which was also the base for the visual expression. Bhagavata Purana and the love poems Gita Govinda by Jayadeva were the most popular subjects dealing with the legends and the amorous plays of Radha and Krishna symbolising soul's devotion to God. In some miniatures, the blue-god Krishna is seen dancing in the lush woodlands and every maiden's eye are drawn to him. Krishna subjects, known commonly as Krishna-lila predominate, while the themes of love, inspired by the nayaks and nayikas and baramasa enjoyed great favour. The sentiment of love remained the inspiration and the central theme of Pahari painting. The Sat Sai depictions of the legendary lovers, on the other hand, were set against an architectural background with walls, balconies and windows. Kangra paintings are influenced by the Bhagavad Purana and portrayed incidents from the life of the young Krishna, against the Brindavan forest or river Yamuna. 

The other popular themes were the stories of Nala and Damayanti, and those from Keshavdas's Baramasa. The patrons of the Pahari painting were always looking for a pretext to commission such texts, which were full of both religious and romantic metaphors. Bhanudutta's Rasamanjarr and Keshavadasa's Rasikapnya' were treatises on the Nayika-Bheck, the classification of heroine theme, which were extremely popular poetic texts that these drew attention of the patrons as well as the painters. Even in the depiction of the illustrations of Nayika-Bheda theme, Krishna is invariably shown as Hero - the Nayak. These pictures seem to be more related to the subject of love and the flavor of religion appears remote in most of these works. Another popular subjects are `Baramasa', the depiction of the twelve months and Ragamala', literally meaning 'the garland of musical modes', which also possess similar kind of flavor. The `Pahari style of painting had two important phases of its development. The early phase that originated at Basohli, Nurpur and Chamba states, which had the primitive expression charged with vitality and emotional intensity. And the later phase that was originated and developed at Guler in Kangra valley and known for its naturalistic and refined expressions. 

 The paintings of the early phase of Pahari style, which prevailed in the seventeenth century particularly in Nurpur and Basohli states, can be distinguished by fish-shaped elongated open eyes, oval faces, receding foreheads and prominent noses. The extrovert bold figures are carefully laid in these pictures against monochrome backgrounds of red, tallow, green and brown colours. The decorative pigmy trees suggest the feeling of perspective, while a narrow strip at the horizon indicates the sky.  In Guler paintings, a marked Mughal influence and realistic treatment can be seen. The drawing is precise and fluid and the compositions are naturalistic. In this style, the faces are well modeled and shaded so judiciously that it possesses an almost porcelain-like delicacy. The nose is small and slightly up turned and the hair is carefully painted. The other type is later development of the Guler style and is known as the Standard-Kangra type. It has a flat face, straight nose in line in the forehead, long narrow eyes and sharp chin. There is no modeling of the face and the hair is treated as a flat black mass with no shading.  Apart from the remarkable finesse and intricate brushwork, the Kangra miniatures are characterized by the skillful use of brilliant minerals and vegetable extract pigments, which possess enamel-like luster. The freshness in colours and delicacy in execution, particularly in case of Guler-Kangra schools is remarkable. The paintings of Guler-Kangra school exhibit more vegetation and green expanses. Besides, the brooks and the rivulets became common elements of the paintings done in the Kangra valley. Its graceful female facial types distinguish this refilled style of Guler-Kangra. The accomplished Pahari artists render the round sharp-featured female faces with great care. The feminine beauty is highly idealized in the Guler-Kangra styles. The young bashful females seer n these pictures are at once coy and endowed with the exceptional beauty and grace. The Kangra kalam is, indeed, a feminine art and the beauty of the female body is a dominating feature of the Kangra pictures. All else is secondary. The focal point of the Kangra School consists in the flaming beauty of women.    



The constantly changing social, economic, physiographic scenarios of a time highly affect the style, characteristic and imagery of paintings. The earliest example of this can be seen with the coming of the Mughals. With their coming, a new cultural cult was created. There was a shift in technique and subject matter in Indian miniature art, when the expert painters from Iran laid base at the Mughal courts and with time, the change has been constant with imagery from the changing world becoming part of these paintings.

The commissioners of Kangra paintings have also gone down in number and the religious attribute associated with it has also trickled.