In discussing Rajput painting, it is relevant to discuss the Mughal style of painting, which evolved at the same time, and in the same geographic area as the Rajput style (Beach 11). In Mughal painting, “consciousness of style was extreme and stylistic evolution intense and rapid” (Beach 11). Due to the rapid and dynamic development that Mughal painting underwent, is is difficult to specify typical characteristics of the style (Beach 11). However, in general, the artist is concerned with establishing a hazy and romantic atmosphere, which can be seen in the “softness of his colors” (Beach 11) and the “balance of composition” (Beach 11). The artist is also interested in portraiture, the figures convincingly depict actual people (Beach 12). Most importantly, the artist is concerned with minute details. For example, in the Muhgal painting Lovers on a Terrace from ~1645, one notes the tiny pattern on the bolsters and pillows, the texture of the fabric, and the “way a translucent muslin affects the color of flesh or fabric underneath” (Beach 12). These tiny details are a staple of the kind of refined skill required for Mughal painting. By contrast, a Rajput painting is “built in blocks of color” (Beach 12), which give the work a more emotional quality that constrasts with the more visually realistic style found in Mughal works (Beach 12). The figures in Rajput paintings can be seen to have “rectangular heads and enormous eyes” (Beach 12), which are not derived from realistic depiction, but instead are derived from “careful manipulation of pre-existing formulas” (Beach 12). A love-scene from a Rajput painting is “dynamic and impassioned” (Beach 12), whereas a similar Mughal work is “perhaps the least passionate love-scene imaginable” (Beach 12).
Mughal paintings were almost exclusively commissioned by Mughal emperors (Beach 11-13). Most of these emperors desired uniqueness in their paintings, which provided the artist an opportunity to express his own individuality (Beach 12-17). In contrast, traditional Hindu village painting styles gave no role to the individual (Beach 17). Because Rajput painting was influenced by both Mughal and village ideals, the individuality displayed by the Rajput artists depended both on the context in which they worked, and the persuasions of the patrons for which they worked (Beach 17).
Raphel Pettrucci writes that a “very narrow conception, unhappily still predominant, has too long overshadowed the art of painting by insisting that imitation is essential to it” (Petrucci 76). Instead, Petrucci asserts that painting is not just a representation of forms, but also an abstract language, just as illusive, indistinct and powerful as poetry and music (Petrucci 76). Rajput painting, when considered with regard to this point of view, reveals a tradition of essential elements which are borrowed from “epic sources, wherein the philosophy of the world and of life, of nature and of sentiment, is expressed in whatever it possessed of the eternal” (Petrucci 76). In other words, the forms in Rajput paintings are often more than their surface appearance, and are, instead, symbols. The Rajput artists reflect just enough of the real world as to express themselves through suggestion, while retaining their “own austerer power” (Petrucci 76). Despite often drawing subject matter from Hindu texts, of which many depict savage imagery, such as Asura burning alive in flames cast upon him by Durya, Rajput paintings exhibit a certain sentiment of tenderness and love (Petrucci 76).
Rajput painting is “both essentially and formally religious” (Coomaraswamy 50), and interprets the experience of human life much like a spiritual drama (Coomaraswamy 50). There is a close relationship between Rajput paintings and vernacular Hindi poetry, and the two often go hand in hand (Coomaraswamy 50. In many cases, the corresponding inscription from the particular Hindi subject is written on either the back of the painting, or on the painting itself (Coomaraswamy 50). The paintings are rarely dated or signed (Coomaraswamy 50). Rajput paintings were sometimes painted directly onto walls as murals, though typically were produced in small-scale works, which were meant to be held in the hand, and were often wrapped in cotton and stored (Coomaraswamy 50).
In terms of technique, the Rajput style of painting is related to the ancient and modern Indian ‘fresco’ (Coomaraswamy 50). To begin, the artist makes an initial sketch, typically in red, or transfers an already prepared design (Coomaraswamy 50). The sketch is then primed with a white primer (Coomaraswamy 50). After the re-drawing and correcting is finished, the painting is coloured, beginning with the background, then foreground elements like buildings, and last of all forms like human and animal figures (Coomaraswamy 50). Brush strokes are made by free-hand, with single, fluid strokes contouring figures, detailing backgrounds, and outlining features (Coomaraswamy 50). Mughal painting, on the other hand, could be more readily described as a more methodical art-form, almost “an art of stippling” (Coomaraswamy 50).
A frequent subject of Rajput painters is a “set of illustrations to the thirty-six Ragas and Raginis” (Coomaraswamy 50). These Ragas and Raginis are also described by poems, forming a Ragmala, of which are often inscribed on the corresponding paintings themselves (Coomaraswamy 50). Each Raga and Ragini is associated with a very particular mood, such as day and night, seasons, and rain, amongst countless others (Coomaraswamy 52). Most of these moods are connected to love, in the context of traditional Hindu rhetoric or poetry. (Coomaraswamy 52). Much like the way the music from a raga, or the poetry from the Ragmala can express a mood, Rajput paintings provide yet another medium in which to experience these moods (Coomaraswamy 52).
In the early fifteenth century Rajput paintings, subject matter was mainly based on book illustrations, such as the Bhagvat-Purana, Ramayan, Gita Govinda and Ragmala series (Agre 570). The Rajput painters “brought the gods down to the level of human beings, depicting through the illustration of the divine, the life of the aristocracy and the common man” (Agre 570). From the 17th century onward, the influence of the Mughal Court begins to show in Rajput painting, and the subject matter shifted (Agre 570). While the book illustrations continued, secular scenes like marriage, battle, hunting, dancing, music, and festivals were favoured (Agre 570). Much can be learned about the lives of Indians from 17th century Rajput paintings, particularly aristocratic lives, as these were the primary figures (Agre 571). Men wore pagri, qaba, jama, and takauchia were the coats that they wore (Agre 571). The lower garment consisted of pajamas, which are typically depicted as being striped (Agre 571). Men frequently wore ornaments such as necklaces, and karas on their wrist which were decorated with precious stones, and rings were worn on the fingers (Agre 571). Women wore ear-rings, finger rings, nose-rings, necklaces over the breast, bazuband on the elbows, and anklets over the ankles (Agre 571). Interestingly, these ornaments are “depicted as worn by all women whether princesses, attendants, musicians, singers or dancers (Agre 571).
The paintings also depict social customs, such as marriage, worship, festivals, among others (Agre 571). The growth of smoking as a habit can also be seen (Agre 571). In terms of entertainment, the Rajput paintings from the 17th century portray a wide variety of entertainment, chiefly dance and music, though also present are gambling, hunting, chess, chupar and kite flying (Agre 571). Hunting, in particular, was favoured by the ruling class; aristocrats used pet hawks to aid in their hunts during the 18th century (Agre 571).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Agre, J. (1976) “Social Life Aa Relfected In The Rajput Painting During The Mughal Period”. Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 37, 569-575.
Coomaraswamy, A. K. (1918) “Rajput Painting”. Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin,16 (96), 49-62.
Beach, M. (1975) “The Context of Rajput Painting”. Ars Orientalis,10, 11-17.
Petrucci, R. (1916) “Rajput Painting”. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 29 (158), 74- 79.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Article written by: Cade Sisco (February 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.