The term Pahari Painting’generally includes paintings from the hill centres of the northern Himalayas, ranging between Jammu and Garhwal Basohli, Guler, Kangra, Nurpur, Bilaspur, Mandi and Kullu.
The most important school of painting from these hill states belongs to Basohli, a small state on the Ravi river. Paintings of Basohli had a long tradition before it reached maturity and was noticed towards the end of the 17th century. Mughalpaintings had a revitalizing influence on Pahah painting but the hill painter enjoyed considerable freedom in interpreting his chosen themes according to his ingenuity and faithfulness to art. The Mughal influence was nominal, limited to a mere sophistication of dress and placement of architectural settings in the picture. The hill rajas were Rajputs, as in Rajasthan, and had the same political status vis a vis the Mughal power. Every hill raja had to pay an investiture fee to the Mughal emperor. Themes chosen for illustration by painters were religious and on love, based on reputed Sanskrit and Hindi classics. The charm of the Krishna legend was overwhelming both for the ruler and painter with little endeavour to glorify royalty. The artists freely moved from one hill court to another in search of work.
The distinctive “ferocious elegance” of these paintings accrues from tall, erect figures with a peculiar facial formula, large passion-filled eyes drawn with the pupil far advanced to the front, high forehead, pursed lips, small chains and a vigorous use of primary colours against a background of dark green or radiant yellow. The great intensity of the palette heightens the fire of passion and the “barbaric splendour” accentuated by the dark green of the casings of beetles wings used for the emeralds worn by lovers, is characteristic of Basholi paintings.
Another recognizable feature derived from the sixteenth century Rajasthani and Central Indian styles is the depiction of pink lotuses with green pads on grey water, an inventive and varied stylization of trees, Chinese clouds, and rain descending like a beaded curtain in serried lines of white dots. A typical Basohli feature is the use of gargoyle-Like ornament at the base of the pavilion.
Basohli paintings also included portraiture of the rajas, dressed in white, sitting on a figured rug, smoking a hookah(water pipe) inspired by Mughal portraiture under Jahangir but quite different essentially.
The eighteenth century Basohli painting shows a softening of style and the palette is cooler though still brilliant. A horizontal format is introduced and the tone is quieter and relaxed. Paintings on the Ragamala, and Rasamanjari are done with elan. was inspired by the Pahari or Kangra school of painting embroideries were the “scenes from Krishna Leela, Ras dances. ancient legends, ragas and raginis.”
While mention has been made of the classical arts and crafts of architecture, sculpture, painting, wood carving and embroidery, there is yet another facet to the cultural and artistic activity of Himachal Pradesh. That is the weaving of the woollen shawls and other woollen textiles. As the greater part of Himachal Pradesh is a mountainous area interspersed with valleys, many of its people live in the mountains and rear sheep and goats. These shepherds, known as ‘gaddis’ move down to the plains with their herds when their mountain habitat becomes snow-bound and they move farther south in search of pastures for their flocks.
If one trekked into the mountain areas north of Shimla, for example, into Chini and beyond, it was a common sight in the past to see the shepherds walking down with their animals and spinning wool on a ‘takli’ (spindle) as they moved along. This wool is then woven into blankets, shawls and “pattu” (a coarse tweed). Now this weaving has been developed considerably and there are many weaving centres all over Himachal Pradesh, hey retain the traditional geometrical patterns on the borders and pallus
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