Kangra Painting – The Delicate Art of the Himachal Pradesh


Kangra Painting

It is rightly said, “A beautiful body perishes, but a work of art dies not”. Art is indeed a universal language; it is that form of expression which needs no tongue. The world has given birth to several outstanding artists who do justice to this incredible practice, the widespread popularity of various art forms all over the world has created a whirlpool of enthusiasm towards it. Today, even though we are separated by miles of distances and barbs of wire, the language of art will always be a unifying factor between us.

India has been an avid patron of art since the very early ages. The list of Indian artists celebrated for their distinctive and creative artwork is long. Even though the world has advanced quite a bit when it comes to art, the ancient Indian forms of paintings are still prevalent in minute regions of India. Blossoming like buds of a flower, these arts are not widely known, but are no less spectacular to the eye. And one such art form is the Kangra painting.

Kangra Painting Overview

Kangra School of Painting

Originated in the North-eastern state of Himachal Pradesh, Kangra paintings were highly endorsed in its name-sake city. Kangra School of Painting came into existence after the gradual decline of the Basohli art style in the middle of the 18th century. The new up-gradation and features showcased in the Kangra paintings were severely lauded by the critics and public. The tremendous support given to this form of painting led to the subsequent replacement of the Pahari art (art practiced in hilly regions of India) by the Kangra art. The main centers where this art form is extensively practiced are Bilaspur, Nurpur, Guler, and of course, Kangra. Later on, it also made its way to other regions of India including Kullu, Suket, Arki, and others. Although numerous kings and aristocrats acted as patrons to the Kangra painting, this art form came into prominence from the reign of Maharaja Sansar Chand.

History of Kangra Paintings

Kangra Painting History

The story of Kangra paintings and how they came into existence begins in Guler (Guler is a tiny hill state situated near Himachal Pradesh) sometime in the early 18th century. A Kashmiri family well versed in the method of painting practiced by the Mughals asked for refuge in the court of Guler under Raja Dalip Singh. This fateful event led to the inter-mixing of the native artists of Guler and the Kashmiri painters. Soon, the local artists came to be heavily affected by the new style of paintings and began experimenting with it. The usual paintings depicting love and portrait images of kings and their queens came to be replaced by more scenes involving nature and the love stories of Radha and Krishna. Thus, the Kangra paintings slowly made their way into society.

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Moving a couple of years forward, the Kangra paintings reached their pinnacle under Maharaja Sansar Chand, who was known for his open-mindedness and his fervent devotion towards Lord Krishna. It is said that he used to pay artists handsomely to depict scenes from the lifetime of Lord Krishna. It is from here that the Kangra began to be known as one of the most alluring and unique art forms of India.

Themes of Kangra Paintings

Kangra Painting Themes
Image/Ashley Van Haeften/Flickr

The central idea behind the Kangra painting is often the immersive love story of Radha and Krishna. The famous bhakti movement and devotional ideas of that era gave rise to the visual representation of common Hindu love stories enjoyed by the majority of the population in the early ages. The romantic poems composed by Jayadeva (known as Gita Govinda) frequently provided a reference point for artists to visualize and paint the love life and legends of Radha-Krishna. This beautiful visual expression of the duo stimulated the devotional community and provided a spiritual gateway for them to immerse in. Common Kangra paintings include scenes of Krishna merrily dancing and playing in the forests while the gopis secretly watch him, conversations between Radha and Krishna are also frequently portrayed in the Kangra paintings. These paintings are considered a pure form of art, elevating the story it narrates through the tender stroke of the brush and fresh colors.

 Features of Kangra Paintings

Kangra Painting Features

If you observe, you’ll notice that majority of the Kangra paintings have a realistic and lifelike approach, focusing heavily on nature. In simpler terms, there is the extensive usage of natural elements in the paintings such as creepers, trees, flowering plants, rivers, and such, along with the repetitive use of the color green and its numerous shades. The Kangra paintings are distinctly known for their meticulousness. They make use of fresh hues while refining the countenance of women, thus conveniently making them look even more feminine. With further developments in the art form, Kangra artists began depicting harsher scenes in their paintings such as thunder, lightning strokes, and heavy rain.

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The colors used in the making of the Kangra paintings are made out of vegetable extracts and other naturally made substances. Kangra artists rarely use artificial colors in their paintings. The colors red, yellow, and green can be seen throughout the paintings due to their brightness.

The Kangra art form is a serene celebration of life and its simplicity. No wonder these paintings are famous for their delicate grace and finesse! Even after hundreds of years, the stunning Kangra paintings continue to impress us with their eloquent features. Today these paintings are declining in practice, their existence is floundering and unstable. To make these paintings flawlessly, artists must undergo years of hard work and dedication. However, several art societies and galleries are trying their best to revive this dimming art form. With such subtlety and delicate technique showcased in the Kangra painting, the world deserves to view it in its full glory.

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