Artists: Notes on Art Making

Published in Roop Lekha , Volume 1 & 2, 1979-1980, pp. 43-47

Dr Archer has long been known for his studies in Pahari paintings. Indian paintings from the Punjab Hills (Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, Newyork, Oxford University Press, Delhi 1973(30) is the culmination of these studies and the result is a veritable dictionary on Pahari Painting indispensable to any study of it.

The plan is to deal with the paintings state-wise avoiding the older broad classification which had been adopted by the reviewer in his Pahari Miniature Painting, 1958, and by some other writers also mainly of (a) the Basholi School and its idioms, (b) Pre-Kangra School and (c) the Kangra School and its idioms. A classification on the basis of families advocated by Dr Goswamy is also rejected and justifiably so because it is really not possible to adopt such a basis except to a very limited extent and even so, the style in a particular family, though retaining some basic elements, underwent changes from generation to generation. Moreover, the members of these artist families fanned out into different states with changed environment and were subject to a new patron’s state wise classification is in some ways the most logical, but old established nomenclature die hard and when it is not possible to pinpoint a particular miniature to a particular state, as often happens, then the best way to describe it is to resort to the general nomenclature Basholi-type or Pre-Kangra type or Kangra type. No nomenclature can be regarded as perfect and the state-wise method combined, as occasion may require with the older classification ought to resolve most problems fairly satisfactorily.

Dr Archer’s state-wise classification assumes great importance so far as he attempts to indicate by means of a very large number of illustrations, descriptions of characteristics, find-spots, ownership of collections, traditions, identification of portraits, family and marriage connections, inscriptions and stylistic considerations, the particular state to which a painting belongs. The method is valid and the results we feel are on the whole successful. At the same time there are unavoidable and inherent limitations to the method, no matter who employs it, in so far as some of the factors involved are not of a conclusive nature and the subjective element, which plays quite an important part in style analysis, may differ on occasion with different writers. Before discussing particular miniatures we will outline briefly the methodology of this treatise for that will indicate why it is so invaluable a contribution to the study of this particular subject. With regard to each state it deals with its geography, scenery, religion, historical background including sources, reigns, portraits of the rulers, review of literature, a catalogue and reconstruction of all the examples reproduced as belonging to a particular state, as well as references to many more.

The origin of Pahari paintings is a difficult problem. The earliest date ascribed to a Pahari miniature by Dr Archer in his book is c.1660, while the earliest date according to the reviewer would be somewhere in the region of Kirpal Pal of Basohli (1678-1695) probably between 1680-1685. In terms of years the difference does not amount to much but it involves a difference if viewpoint as to the origin of Pahari painting in various states. The difference of viewpoints means that several portraits accepted as contemporary by Dr Archer are according to us later products, probably based on original painted at the Mughal capital or by some intinerant Mughal School artists coming to the Hills to execute a few commissions or are imaginary portraits based on traditional accounts and descriptions.

While there is very considerable agreement between Dr Archer and ourselves with regard o a large number of the miniatures reproduced as assignable to particular states there are also some notable differences. According to us the beetle wing technique for emerald jewellery and ornamentation was confined to the early Basholi atelier up to the time of Medini Pal (1725-1736) and thus three of Dr Archer’s Kulu miniatures viz. Kulu would be assigned by us to Basohli, though not solely on that ground. According to us the Kulu school was at its inception derived fro Basohli in the reign of Dhiraj Pal of Basohli (1695-1725), but was marked by characteristic heavy, even clumsy faces, the derivation of which would be from types like certain of the Gaddi tribes who trekked regularly into that area as also from somewhat Mongoloid types from Lahul and Spiti coming into the Kulu Valley. The well known Kulu Ragmala series (Kulu) is to our mind obviously derived from splendid Basohli Ragamala series of the early part of the reign of Dhiraj Pal (c.1705-1710) mainly in the collection of Col. Tanden of Secunderabad. On stylistic grounds the series must post date the famous Rasmanajari of 1695 by a few years. The movement of artists from one state to another was, it seems, not uncommon though at the same time their original idioms. Some of the more important differences as to provenance between Dr Archer and ourselves will be noted later but in proportion to the large number of miniatures illustrated and many others mentioned in the text, these differences are comparatively few in number.

With regard to the dating of Pahari miniatures, there is no general consensus amongst writers on the subject. For instance Dr B N Goswamy regards the well known portrait of Jagat Singh of Nurpur (1618-1646) in the Chandigarh Museum (Nurpur) as contemporary, while both Dr Archer and the reviewer regard it as considerably later. Various norms have to be adopted in dating amongst which two are of great importance according to us namely costume, principally the type of jama, patka and turban and secondly the colouring which, when it had a certain dryness about it, is suggestive of a later date than the subject-matter itself might lead us to believe. Since we have always regarded costume characteristics as an almost unfailing guide there are bound to be considerable differences in dating in respect of several sets is also individual miniatures between those who subscribe to our viewpoint and those who along with Dr Archer do not. To illustrate this difference take for instance the famous Kulu Kalam Shangri Rajayana set. Owning to the length and type of the jama in some if the miniatures of this extensive series we are unable to place even the earliest examples there of prior to 1715-1720 whereas Dr Archer ascribes these to 1690-1700 while some are we feel as late as c. 1760 as the series seems to have been added to from time to time. Such differences in dating are due to a fundamental difference in approach on the validity of our costume-theory which we have elaborated at some length in our Pahari Miniature Painting. As Dr Fabri once remarked “because fashions change, a careful observationofthese changes is one of the most powerful tools in the hands of an art historian.” With regard to the second factor of colouring, namely the “dryness” to which we have had more than one occasion to advert, it is no doubt not such a demonstrably sure guideline as costume. It is the result of an empirical analysis and being subjective in character leaves room for the old Gujarati saying, “your eyes and my eyes are different”. But do concede that possibility of mistakes with regard to this second method extending to even a decade or more though even that period sometimes does not bridge the gap between Dr Archer and ourselves in respect of certain miniatures.

There is one issue on which the reviewer and those who accept his viewpoint, and Dr Archer and those who follow him, are so far apart that there is no possibility of a meeting ground. It is the controversy over the famous “Manaku” inscription in Sanskrit verse relating to the Basohli Gita Govinda of 1730 which has been discussed threadbare time and again. Our viewpoint is based on the interpretation of one of the greatest Indian Sanskritist, that “Manaku” in the inscription necessarily the patroness of the series and not the artist. All the circumstantial evidence also supports this interpretation. It follows that “Manaku” (equated by Archer and Goswamy with the son of Pandit Seu) could not be the artist of that series. Conclusive as the inscription is there are also other unsurmountable obstacles to this theory of “Manaku” (Manak) being the artist of the Basohli Gita Govinda of 1730, a matter I have dealt with in Lalit Kala No.16. However, in an area of study where there is a very considerable measure of agreement between Dr Archer and ourselves, including the belief that the famous Balvant Singh is the Jammu Prince and not the Jesrota Mian as believed by Dr Goswamy, there is little purpose in adverting to all the paintings on the classification or interpretation of which we agree, though in several cases differences in dating do exist for reasons already indicated. Consequently only major differences of opinion have been adverted to. When Dr Archer and the reviewer entered upon their pioneer studies of Pahari painting, it was inevitably that they should both commit several mistakes or wrongly interpret difficult inscriptions. In the present volumes these errors both of the author himself, as well as of the reviewer and others, have largely been set right. On the inscriptional side, Dr Visvas Chandra Ohri and Dr B N Goswamy have both been most helpful in this process of deciphering what is at times an almost defiant script. We now accept Dr Archer’s Nurpur classification of the Rasamanjari of the Kasturbhai Lalbhai collection not because some examples of it were found in Nurpur collection but because portraits of Dayadatta of Nurpur which were later on discovered by Dr Archer and thereafter by the reviewer also indicate that the hero in the series is at times closely based on the ungainly Dayadatta. But it cannot we feel be earlier than 1715-1720 having regard to the length of the jama in some miniatures. We had formerly attributed this series to Basohli because of many resemblances in composition, a matter that Dr Archer has explained. Dr Archer’s attribution of several paintings to the Mandi kalam, which we had classified as Kulu, is correct. Though one family of artists which had settled at Bashist Kund in Kulu certainly painted in the Mandi style, it now seems that this family must originally have migrated from Mandi but the younger generation referred to the work of the family as Kulu kalam no doubt because the family has settled in Kulu. However the series (Mandi) according to us belongs to a Kulu folkish style and not to Mandi. There are number of paintings which were classified by ourselves and Jagdish Mittal as Chamba but which Dr Archer attributes to Nurpur. This may be correct for they are in a manner which we usually associate with the Nurpur style. But it seems that some paintings done at Chamba also have the features of the Nurpur style. Some interconnection seems to have existed between the artists of these two states at a certain period of time. This evident from the fact that several drawings which are in what we usually term Nurpur style were obtained by Jagdish Mittal from the Chamba artist Hiralal according to whom these were the khakhas (drawings) made by his ancestors for preparing paintings. Dr Archer ‘s attributions to Bhoti are now conclusive. Our attribution of this Bhoti in our Pahari Miniature Paintings to Suket resulted from misreading ‘Bahadur Singh’ as ‘Bahadur Sen’ but the Victoria and Albert Museum’s study (Bhoti) and the corrected reading of the inscription and date leaves no doubt in the matter.

We would prefer to attribute Baghal to Kahlur (Bilaspur) but it must also be remembered that the styles of these two states were often quite closely related. But the unusual painting (Baghal), which was referred to by us in Pahari Miniature Painting as an unidentified kalam still remains a problem painting. It may perhaps be a version of a mixed Mandi-Kulu kalam. Such mixed idioms undoubtedly existed in the Hills.

With regard to the Garhwal kalam, the so-called masterpieces (Garhwal) have been dated by us between 1780-1800 in the Pahari Miniature Painting, but we now incline to place them nearer to c. 1780 believing that they are the work of one or two artists, perhaps from Pandit Seu’s family or trained under a member of that family who had worked in the Kangra atelier of Sansar Chand and later came to Garhwal. In a sense the influence would also be that of Guler, as Dr Archer suggests, because Pandit Seu’s family was Guler-based. The difference in dates between us also gets narrowed down. Certain elements in the now reportedly vanished paintings of the Gauri temple at Sujanpur Tira are noticeable in the Garhwal masterpieces and have inclined us to the viewpoint of Kangra influence and a date near about 1790, probably in the reign of Pradyumna Shah (1785-1804) from whom his son Sudarshan Shah seems to have inherited his love of painting. These miniatures are very limited in number and thus indicate that the sojourn of these visiting Kangra artists was of short duration assuming our theories are correct. Dr Archer assigns the nineteenth century Siva Purana set of the Chandigarh Museum to Garhwal while we place it in Kangra. The female type with longish face and pointed chin (Khandalavala, Pahari Miniature Painting) is characteristically Kangra of the later Sansar Chand period and the series was also in the possession of a descendant of Sansar Chand in the Bhawarna lineage who had inherited part of Sansar Chand collection.

Dr Archer’s ascription of the vertical Bhagavata Purana series (Mankot) to Mankot is correct though we had formerly thought it could be from Kangra. As regards the horizontal Bhagavata Purana series (Mankot) which came from the Mankotcollection,Dr Archer referring to Mankot paintings in general says it may have come in contact with Basohli pictures or has been influenced by the actual arrival of Basohli artists in Mankot. The latter proposition is certainly feasible but we are inclined to think that this series was a present from Dhiraj Pal of Basohli to his close relative Dhota Dev of Mankot (1690-1710) and Mankot artists were influenced by it in painting the vertical series. As regards the Ragamala series and some related paintings (Mankot) ascribed by Dr Archer to Mankot here again we prefer to consider them as being done at Basohli in Dhinraj Pal’s time. Incidentally, none of these came from the Mankot collection. But of course it is also possible to regard them as painted at Mankot by a Basohli artist who had gone to Mankot from Dhinraj Pal’s court connection between the two ruling houses. The fine portrait study of Dhota Dev of Mankot in the Prince Wales Museum (Mankot) was we believe painted at Basohli probably during a visit by Dhota Dev to his relative Dhinraj Pal at Basohli. Significantly Dhota Dev wears the Basohli pendant otherwise exclusive to the Basohli rulers and worn by no other Pahari ruler. The portrait very likely was painted on the occasion of this unique gift and honour conferred on Dhota Dev. The portrait of Prithvi Singh of Chamba (Mankot) of the Prince of Wales Museum is according to us one of the earliest portraits painted in Chamba itself though not a contemporary portrait and probable date is between 1685-1690. There is one group of paintings ascribed by Dr Archer to Basohli (Basohli) which are puzzling. Some of these are from the collection of Pahda Kunj Lal of Basohli but he also had in his collection paintings from other states.

Whether Nainsukh ever took service with Amrit Pal of Basohli is highly debatable. We do not think he did, but assuming he did these paintings are certainly not characteristic of his work. They could be due to the influence of Nainsukh’s son, Ranjham who did go to Basohli, but this event we think couldonly be after the death of Raj Singh of Chamba (1764-94) with whom he served as a master artist from A.D 1772. Of course he may conceivably for some reason have left Raj Singh’s service even a few years prior to Raj Singh’s death;in which case such paintings could be dated to C.1785. A jagir in Basohli was given to Ranjha, but when we do not know. There is no evidence of it being given to Nainsukh. As regards the Ramayana drawings of the Bharat Kala Bhawan, Varanasi (Basohli) bearing an inscription attributed them to Ranjha dated 1816, it is impossible to believe that such coarse drawing could be that of a master draughtsman like Ranjha whose line was of great delicacy. It is obviously the work of his pupils in his old age but attributed to the guru, who had also done some similar Ramayana drawings in his elegant manner and which are also in the Bhavan. What happened to Nainsukh after the death of Balvant Singh, which is to believed to be in 1763, (though the bahi entry is not of a definite character) is not clear. No work we can ascribe to him under Amrit Pal of Basohli or any other patrons exists. If he went to serve Amrit Pal of Basohli there would certainly be portrait studies of this ruler by him in his characteristic manner. He did accompany Amrit Pal on a pilgrimage in 1763 but apparently did not settle in Basohli we believe he returned to his home in Guler to lead a religious life and devote his full attention to training his young sons. His brother Manak was already the master artist of atelier of Govardhan Chand of Guler. In 1722 Nainsukh’s youngest son Ranjha took service with the boy-king Raj Singh of Chamba, and so also his second son Nikka did likewise. Thereafter Nainsukh must have spent the remaining years of his life between Chamba and Guler. It seems he was very religious-minded and probably ceased to be an active painter himself but must have kept an eye on the work of his gifted sons. We believe the excellence of their work was due to this period of intensive training at his hands from 1763 till his death. Archer believes Nainsukh settled in Basohli but this issue is fraught with uncertainties on the present available evidence.

Another group of miniatures on which no general agreement exists is a rather beautiful series of Krishna episodes in an oval format with decorative cartouches at the four corners (Kangra). We have been inclined to ascribe them to Chamba on the basis of Krishna’s figure in this set and that of some of the females, but cannot rule out Dr Archer’s Kangra attribution. However, we believe they are the work of a member of Seu’s family and several members of this family worked both in Chamba and Kangra when they left Guler. But we would agree with Dr Archer that we cannot be dogmatic about attributing every thing of excellence in Pahari painting after C. 1740 to the Seu family. There must have been quite a large number of other competent artists also. Apart from the problematic Vajan Sah, (See Lalit Kala,No. 16, pp.37-40) there are a number of other names known. But the Seu family was undoubtedly the most prominent.

Some scope of difference of opinion exists on the reign periods of a few Pahari Rajas. We take the last year of Kirpal Pal’s reign on the basis of the colophon of a Rasmanjari series dated 1695 to indicate he was then living as otherwise the language of the inscription would have been different. Dr Archer, however, suggests his last regnal year was 1693 and the series was completed after his death. The inscription does not make this possible. So also we regard Govardhan Chand of Guler’s first regnal year to be 1744, but Dr Archer following Karuna Goswamy takes it to be 1741, on the basis of a grant where he is termed Maharaja in 1741. But this is quite easily explainable as he was acting for his father Dalip Singh as a regent in the last years of Dalip Singh’s reign after the death of the earlier regent also designated Maharaja Bishan Singh.

The Garhwal Darbar’s famous Gita Govinda is assigned by Dr Archer to Kangra. We however, feel it was done by Manak while he was at Guler, and the series later on came into the possession of Sansar Chand. But if Manak went to Kangra very shortly after Govardhan Chand’s death then the possibility exists of his having painted it in Kangra. But we prefer to regard it as painted in Guler because of its inscription which is a copy of that on the 1730 Basohli Gita Govinda and because of its elongated female figures in the earlier Guler manner. But we have no doubt it is the work of Manak whether it was painted in Guler or Kangra: Manak also showed the way his sons Kaushala and Fattu and his nephew Godhu, one more of whom we feel certain are the painters of the Kangra Mody Bhagavata Purana. This is evident not only from Manak’s Gita Govinda series, referred to above, but also from the single miniature “Blindman’s Buff” which bears aninscription that isthe work of Manak. Tough Dr Archer is not sure of the contemporaneity of this inscription, even so we feel certain that what is stated in this inscription is correct. Though it belonged to the Garhwal Darbar it undoubtedly came originally from Sansar Chand’s collection and this makes us believe that Manak also went to Kangra in Sansar Chand’s time at a fairly advanced age. Of the other well known Kangra sets the Garhwal Darbar’s Sat Sai is now definitely established to be by Fattu, and also came originally from Sansar Chand’s collection. The Baramasa of the Lambagraon collection and the Ragamala at present in the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, are also the work we feel of Fattu may be jointly with his brother Kaushala (Kushan Lal) and his cousin Godhu, the former being Sansar Chand’s favourite artist and the latter also a master painter whom we know trained other artists at Sansar Chand’s court.

To deal with aspects of Dr Archer’s book is impossible is any review. In every period of Indian miniature painting be it Mughal, Rajasthani, Pahari or Deccani, there are still quite a number of controversial problems despite the fact that research therein has progressed considerably in the last two decades. How useful even controversies that have enabled him to weigh the pros and cons, investigate further and arrive at correct conclusions. Though some controversies on provenance and dating will remain it represents a work of great magnitude, most ably performed with keen critical insight and meticulous attention to detail. It has said practically all there is to be said, mentioning controversies where they exist and giving the author’s own conclusion and the reasons for the same. A book like this will not come to be written again on Pahari painting for at least several decades and it must be therefore be regarded as the most indispensable treatise on the subject and its viewpoints must receive full consideration even if new studies on various aspects of Pahari painting are published hereafter.

Published in Roop Lekha , Volume 1 & 2, 1979-1980, pp. 43-47
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