Pre- Mughal Traditions of Painting in Marwar

kedara ragini pali,painted by pandit virji

Pre-Mughal Traditions of Paintings in Marwar

No painting from Marwar has yet come to light that predates the Mughal invasion of India in 1526, but the indigenous style of manuscript illustration current in the 17th century represents a tradition of painting that is free from Mughal influence. A small number of documents for the early history of painting in Marwar survive, and these show widely differing levels of patronage and sophistication. The earliest dated work that has so far emerged is a rustic drawing of VS 1646/AD 1589, which is inscribed to the artist Dayala in the village of Nagar 'whose ruler is Gopal Dasji?? It is a primitive but lively sketch of Ganesha, Parvati and their animal vehicles, and obviously springs from a tradition of popular patronage. It is significant that the local ruler named should be Gopal Das, who ruled Pali from 1583 to 1606, as this town was some years afterwards to produce the first major landmark of Marwar painting. The Nagar drawing, however, remains a solitary example of 16th-century illustration in Marwar, and indeed no further works can be securely attributed to that area until the appearance of the far better-known Pali ragamala.

This ragamala is dated to VS 1680/AD 1623. and is now divided between the collection of the late Kr Sangram Singh of Nawalgarh and the National Museum, New Delhi. This delightful series of 37 paintings has become a touchstone for the attribution of 17th-century painting in western Rajasthan and yet we can be certain that it was not the sole example of painting carried out at that time in Marwar. A tradition of painting had flourished in Rajasthan and Gujarat since at least the 12th century, and indeed we know of painted wooden book covers that may be datable to the 10th century. The Pali ragamala and related works represent the continuation of this tradition as well as a reflection of several stylistic developments taking place in Rajasthan during the 17th century.

The huge numbers of Jain paintings preserved in bhandaras (temple libraries) or scattered throughout the world give evidence of a painting style current mainly in western India which made a major contribution to the development of Rajasthani painting for Hindu as well as Jain patrons from the late 16th century onwards. The distinctively 'wiry' idiom of Jain manuscript illustration had effectively ceased to develop creatively by the 16th century, and was by then using an archaic style of drawing that had scarcely changed for 200 years. The appearance of the so-called Early Rajput style, probably in the Mewar area, around the beginning of the 16th century, suggests a new direction in Rajasthani painting, and provided a new idiom in which to depict traditional Hindu themes such as ragamalas and texts praising Vishnu, especially the Bhagavata Purana. The existence of a local western Rajasthani variant of the Early Rajput style is a possibility that as yet is still to be confirmed, although the Nagar drawing may provide a link.

Added to the emergence of the Early Rajput style was the introduction of a painting type usually referred to as Popular Mughal' which emanated ultimately from the imperial courts of north India, though it underwent certain coarsening processes at the hands of provincial artists. The effect of exposure to Mughal styles of painting was to add an increased sense of realism to the Rajasthani concept of painting, but its impact was by no means evenly spread across all centres of painting production during the 17th century.

kedara ragini pali,painted by pandit virji
Kedara ragini. Pali, dated VS 1680/AD 1623. Painted by Pandit Virji. Collection of the late Sangram Singh Nawalgarh.
lalit ragini pali, painted by pandit virji
Lalit ragini. Pali, dated VS 1680/ AD 1623. Painted by Pandit Virji. Collection of the late Sangram Singh Nawalgarh

The direct ancestry of the Pali ragamala can be found in a small number of earlier ragamala paintings, which are connected by content and by style. The ragamala (literally, garland of musical modes) as a subject for sets of paintings arrives on the scene, as far as we know, at a relatively late date. It was originally conceived as a literary form, in which poets had initiated a system of iconography of the musical modes as human or divine beings. These were elaborated to incorporate themes of the behaviour of lovers (nayaka-nayika bheda) at seasons or times of the day linked to certain ragas, and these lent themselves ideally to visual as well as poetic illustration. There are examples of Jain paintings illustrating musical concepts dating from the 15th century, which include depictions of tones (srutis) and notes (svaras), and the earliest ragamala set known at present also springs from the Jain tradition. This is a series of 42 illustrations to musical modes dating from about 1475 which are painted on the reverse of a Kalpasutra manuscript.

One of the earliest ragamalas to move away from the Jain painting style is the so-called Suri ragamala, datable to the second or third quarter of the 16th century. It is painted in an Early Rajput style related to that of the Chaurapanchasika' group, named after the famous manuscript of that name in the N.C.Mehta collection. The horizontal format of the illustrations, like those of the Pali set, are a direct reference to the earliest Jain manuscript paintings which were done on horizontal strips of palm leaf. This was the usual medium for manuscript painting before the introduction of paper from the Middle East in about 1400. The use of architectural elements to break up the painting into defined segments is also common to the Pali illustrations, the Suri set and to the Jain painting tradition - the same basic composition can be clearly identified in a wooden book cover of the 11th century. The wellknown Bhairavi ragini illustration in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, also in the Chaurapanchasika style and datable to the second quarter of the 16th century, has some of the same characteristics as the Suri ragamala - the use of architecture, the huge lenticular eyes of the female subject and many aspects of her costume - but has rejected the archaic horizontal format in favour of a vertical page.

Another carly ragamala series that shows significant links with the Pali set is in the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Banaras, datable to about 1575. This set is of particular relevance to us because it is illustrated in a variation of the Early Rajput style that is quite distinct from that of the Chaurapanchasika group and is closer to that of the Pali set This style seems to have incorporated aspects of Gujarati manuscript illustration, but has some quite distinctive characteristics that recur in the Pali set. The most noticeable. similarity between the two sets is the distinctive profiles, particularly of the male figures: the long nose and long, wavy moustache seen in both ragamalas are quite different to the rounder, short-nosed profiles of the Chaurapanchasika figures, and closer to 16th-century Jain types.

Returning to the Pali ragamala itself, we can identify a combination of elements from these earlier painting styles as well as additional features that were to become characteristic of the Marwar style in the 17th century. The ragamala has a colophon facing the 35th illustration giving the names of Sri Gopal Dasji and his son Bithal Das, the year VS 1680 (AD 1623), and naming the scribe/artist as Pandit Virji. As already noted, the format of the pages is horizontal, a usage which by 1623 would have been unusually archaic. The Chawand ragamala painted in Mewar in 1605, for example, had already adopted the vertical composition, as had the earlier Bhairavi ragini of 1525-40 mentioned above. Although the horizontal format was to be almost entirely abandoned in Marwar during the 17th century, it was re-introduced for narrative illustrations to epic texts during the 18th and 19th centuries.

painted wooden book cover(detail), jaisalmer, c. 11th century
Painted wooden book cover(detail). Jaisalmer, c. 11th century. (After Sarabhai Nawab, Jain Paintings, vol.i, Ahmedabad, 1980
hindola raga. marwar or gujarat, c. 1575
Hindola raga. Marwar or Gujarat, c. 1575. Bharat Kala Bhavan, Banaras

The composition of the Pali paintings owes much to both Jain traditions and the Early Rajput style: those scenes involving architectural elements, for example, such as Gunakali ragini, Saranga ragini, or Lalita ragini, are direct descendants of some of the earliest Jain paintings still extant today. The architectural and textile decorations, with their strong red and white patterns of checks and chevrons, are closer to those of the Chaurapanchasika type, as are the depictions of furniture and architectural forms. The use of red and yellow lotus patterns along the bottom edge of some of the paintings strongly recalls several illustrations of the Chaurapanchasika group, with the V&A'S Bhairavi raginilo most closely comparable to the Pali version.

It is in the area of colour use that the Pali ragamala really emerges as a characteristically Marwari set of paintings that has evolved in a different way to, for example, contemporary Mewar paintings. The palette used here is dominated by an unusual combination of a black sky with a slatey blue-green and yellow used in other areas. Apart from minor details, red is surprisingly infrequently used, and never for the solid blocks of colour that form the basis of many other 17th-century Rajasthani painting styles. The use of black for the sky can frequently also be seen in pages from the well-known Early Rajput Bhagavata Purana series,"? but otherwise the range of colours used in that series is mostly bright red, yellow and blue, a combination quite different from the 17th-century Marwari palette. Certain affinities may be found with the subdued blue shades of Malwa painting in the 17th century, but these also set off the dark grounds with a characteristic use of white and deep, brilliant reds and yellows.

The simplicity of the trees in the Pali set, with their solid masses of branches from which leafy tendrils emerge, also recall trees in certain Malwa paintings. The drawing of the figures, and particularly the faces, in the Pali set is idiosyncratic and very distinctive, acting as a key element in the identification of other paintings in the same group. The facial features are pointed and elongated in a manner traceable back to Jain painting of the 15th and 16th centuries, as are the long side-whiskers of the men and the long plaits of hair of the women, as well as the large eyes with the pupil attached to the upper eyelid.

The question of Mughal influence on 17th-century Rajasthani painting has been much discussed, in the context of several different ragamala sets. The emperor Akbar had subdued the Rathors as early as 1564, and the patron of the Pali ragamala, Bithal Das, is known to have been in Mughal service. Bithal Das, who lived from 1582-1657, was thakur of Pali, a busy commercial town 30 miles south-east of Jodhpur. Situated at a strategic position on the trade route between Jaisalmer and Jodhpur and the ports of Gujarat, it was an important trading centre which Colonel James Tod, the 19th-century chronicler of Rajasthani history, calls the foremost mart in Western Rajwarra’. Bithal Das's father, Gopal Das, had been given Pali as a jagir (a reward or grant) by the Mota Raja, Udai Singh, in about 1584, and Bithal Das inherited the rulership in 1600.

In spite of this connection with the Mughal court, it is more relevant to look to other Rajasthani schools and back to earlier styles than to seek Mughal influence on the composition of the Pali illustrations. The relationship of the figures to each other, their surroundings and backgrounds have much more in common with Jain or Early Rajput paintings than even with more nearly contemporary paintings such as those of the Chawand 1605 set, in which a sense of increased naturalism can be seen. The use of the pointed-hemmed chakdar jama (robe with slits), is often cited as evidence of Mughal influence, as it has been argued that Akbar introduced the fashion into India, but this is a detail of current fashion rather than an indication of stylistic influence. Furthermore, the presence of this type of jama in manuscripts such as the Chaurapanchasika and 16thcentury Jain manuscripts seems to indicate that it may already have been in vogue without Akbar's intervention The Popular Mughal style was to make an important contribution to Marwari ragamala paintings in the 17th century, but this important element is missing in the Pali series.

Another manuscript that can be closely linked with the Pali ragamala is a Kathakalpataru with pages in the Salar Jung Museum, the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad, and two pages in the Edwin Binney 3rd collection, San Diego. Although the illustrations are composed more simply than those of the Pali set, the similarities of facial types and palette are unmistakable. On the basis of the painting style, the set would normally be attributed to Marwar, c.1625, were it not for the fact that the text that accompanies the illustrations is in Marathi, the language of the northern Deccan. It may be possible to explain this Deccani connection through Bithal Das's service in the Deccan with the Mughal army: he travelled south in the service of Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur in the Mughal campaign against Malik Ambar in 1622, and is thought to have returned to Marwar the same year. It is possible that the paintings were done by a Jodhpur artist to illustrate a Marathi text he acquired in the Deccan at that time, in a style strongly reminiscent of the Pali ragamala illustrations. It is known that artists, as well as charans (bards), accompanied Jodhpur nobles travelling in the service of the Mughal army: for example, several named artists are listed amongst those accompanying Maharaja Jaswant Singh to Peshawar later in the 17th century.

A manuscript of the Jain text Upadeshamala Prakarana, composed by Dharmadasagini, in the National Museum, New Delhi, which is dated VS 1691/AD 1634,29 provides another important document for this stylistic group. The male figure sports the same long moustache and sidewhiskers, turban and chakdar jama as those in the Pali ragamala, although the female figure has lost the long, pointed profile of her counterparts in the earlier set.

illustration to a manuscript of the Kathakalpataru. north deccan, c. 1622. by a marwar artist
Illustration to a manuscript of the Kathakalpataru. North Deccan, c. 1622. By a Marwar artist. Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad
Illustration to a manuscript of the Kathakalpataru. north deccan, c. 1622
Illustration to a manuscript  of the Kathakalpataru. North Deccan, c. 1622. By a Marwar artist. Edwin binney, 3rd Collection, San Diego Museum of Art

An illustration to the romance of Dhola and Maru in the Baroda Museum & Art Gallery completes the group of paintings in the Pali style that have so far come to light. As in the Upadeshamala page, the idiosyncratic Pali idiom has been toned down somewhat, with a certain increase in naturalism, probably a result of Mewar influence, softening the facial features, and a rather more sophisticated architectural composition which may also have an origin in Mewar painting. The vertical rather than horizontal format of the page also requires a new treatment of architectural clements to fill the increased height. The story of Dhola and Maru is a frequently illustrated theme in Rajasthan, especially in Marwar, and a single scene of the two lovers fleeing on their unusually intelligent camel is often found appended to Rajasthani ragamala sets, as is the case with the Pali ragamala, which is unusual in showing the pair beside the camel rather than mounted on it.

While the paintings of this group were being produced, possibly in Pali itself, other ragamala sets were also being painted in Marwar in considerably different styles. One of the most significant of these 17th-century sets is the incomplete ragamala formerly in the J.C.French collection, and now divided between the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum, London. Datable to about 1640. this series contains elements of Mewari and Popular Mughal styles, but it can be attributed to Marwar largely on the strength of its distinctive colour palette. The black sky links it with the Pali set, and the earthy red, yellow, pink and chocolate-brown tones are characteristic of the majority of 17th-century Marwari ragamalas.

The composition of the paintings is now in a vertical format, and many of the pages include quite complex architectural forms which fill one side of the page. The decorative elements have moved away from the bold Early Rajput motifs seen in the Pali set, and a distinct Mughal influence is evident in domes and chhattris (pavilions), as well as arabesque forms of decoration. The faces have lost their exaggeratedly pointed profiles, but retain the huge eyes with their pupils as if fixed to the upper edge. The arrangement of figures has become quite sophisticated, and can be compared to Mewar paintings of the early 17th century. Klaus Ebeling has also pointed out the iconographic similarities between this set and the Chawand ragamala,31 which compounds the links with Mewar artists.

It is through the channel of Mewar artists such as Nasruddin, the artist of the Chawand ragamala, rather than through any closer contact with Mughal artists, that Popular Mughal influences began to infiltrate the Marwar style. The Popular (i.e. Sub-Imperial) Mughal style became an essential contributor during the 17th century to the development of local Rajasthani painting styles. Perhaps its most skilled exponent was the Mewar artist Sahibdin, who combined local and Popular Mughal elements in his work to great effect. Although several pages from Sahibdin's Gita Govinda of 1629 found their way into the Jodhpur royal collection, it is not known when they were acquired, but were done so almost certainly too late to have had any influence on the contemporary local painting style.

dhanasri ragini. Marwar, c. 1640. Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Dhanasri ragini. Marwar, c. 1640. Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The Popular Mughal style makes an early appearance in western Rajasthan in a manuscript dated VS 1660/AD 1603 written, and probably painted, at Jaisalmer. Other early 17th-century ragamalas in a Popular Mughal style include the Kankroli ragamala attributed to Amber or Jaisalmer at about the same date, and another dated 1605-6 in the Paul Walter collection, possibly done at Bikaner. None of these directly relates to the style that developed in Marwar, however, and it seems to be to Mewar artists that we should look for outside influences. Several of the Marwar ragamalas could easily be identified as Mewar works were it not for the distinctive Marwari palette and a somewhat less controlled style of drawing.

A dispersed and incomplete ragamala of which nine pages are known is closely related to the J.C.French set and shows a similar dark palette. The composition of figures and architecture is also comparable, and the set may be dated to 1640-50. Although Mewari influence may be seen in Gaur Mallar ragini, the facial types have reverted somewhat to the pointed profiles of the Pali style. A more ambitious composition is evident in a beautiful Vilaval ragini formerly in the Khajanchi collection, and now in the National Museum, New Delhi. The dark sky, chocolate-brown interior and pink walls identify the painting as Marwari, but the decorative details and imaginative composition are more elaborate than anything previously seen from Marwar. Another page from a very similar ragamala (perhaps even the same one) is preserved in Jodhpur Palace. In this Malasri ragini, the facial types, the trees, and the pattern of the floor covering are all conceived exactly as in the National Museum page. Another page (Varari ragini) is also in Jodhpur Palace and further illustrations from this elegant set may still come to light.

Less refined ragamalas than this set were also being produced at a lower level of patronage. A Vilaval ragini in the Jodhpur collection, datable to about 1650, is coarser in its drawing and details and more cluttered than the J.C.French set. The palette makes a greater use of bright red than most Marwar sets, but also includes the expected dark sky and sombre browns and greens. It shows some similarities, especially in the architectural compositions, with slightly later paintings of the so-called Sirohi' style.

gaur mallar ragini. marwar, c. 1640-50, private collection
Gaur Mallar ragini. Marwar, C. 1640-50. Private Collection.
vilaval ragini. marwar, c. 1630. national museum
Vilaval ragini. Marwar, c. 1630. National Museum, New Delhi, 
malasri ragini. marwar, c. 1630. mehrangarh museum trust, jodhpur
Malasri ragini. Marwar, c. 1630. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.

This local style, characterized partly by the earthy tones of the Marwar palette, is found in a large but scattered group of paintings, mostly from ragamala sets, that are usually attributed to Sirohi in southern Rajasthan. The distinctive style of these paintings combines some elements of the Mewar style with unusual compositions and colour schemes. As well as the deep oranges and chocolate-brown associated with Marwar painting, the artists of this group also often use large areas of bright yellow or orange.

The Patamanjari raga illustrated in is one of the more restrained types in terms of composition and colour range, and its predominantly dark or subdued tones correspond quite closely to Marwar paintings of the same date. Sarang ragini and Pancham raga from the same series are also in the V&A, and examples of other sets, some in a wilder style, are scattered in various collections. The attribution of this style to Sirohi is not supported by any conclusive inscriptional evidence, although Sirohi is ideally situated geographically to benefit from influences of both Mewar and Marwar, and it may also be significant that Maharaja Jaswant Singh I married a Sirohi princess in 1659. The Sirohi attribution is apparently based on an uncorroborated inscription linking the paintings to Vasantgarh, the summer capital of the Sirohi rulers and, later, a Jain vijnyaptipatra (letter of invitation to a priest) dated VS 1794/AD 1737, formerly in the Khajanchi collection and now in the National Museum, of which the colophon states that it was painted at Sirohi. This is considerably later than the late 17th-century examples of paintings supposedly from Sirohi that have survived, and the vijnyaptipatra does not appear to be in a style particularly close to them.

The distinctive later Jain style used in these vijnyaptipatras was developed by professional Jain artists called mathen, who were sometimes former monks, and can be seen in another scroll dated 1761 and attributed on stylistic grounds to Sirohio and a page from a Jain manuscript dated 1745 in the Brooklyn Museum. Another invitation scroll, in the Kanoria collection is datable to the mid- or late 17th century and bears more resemblance stylistically to the "Sirohi' group, but sadly is incomplete and missing its text.

A vijnyaptipatra that seems to be closely based on, if not directly copied from, the Kanoria scroll is in the ID Institute, Ahmedabad. According to U.P.Shah, this patra was painted at Sojat, south-east of Jodhpur and not far from Ajmer, although he does not say whether or not this information is contained in a colophon. The Upposition that this second, later, scroll was painted in Sit does not necessarily mean that the Kanoria scroll was also done there, but it does at least imply that “Sirohi’-style painting was being carried out in Sojat. The Sojat attribution also links up with an unsubstantiated suggestion by the authors of the Khajanchi catalogue that a ragamala painting with definite 'Sirohi' characteristics may have been painted in the thikana of Masuda (perhaps where it was collected). This small thikana is a few miles south of Ajmer, and much closer to Sojat than it is to Sirohi.

vilaval ragini marwar, c.1650
Vilaval ragini. Marwar, c. 1650. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur

Another interesting piece of information is provided by a page from a Devi Mahatmya manuscript in the Lucknow Museum.50 This manuscript, again in an undeniably ‘Sirohi' style, has a colophon stating that it was made in Balotra, a small town west of Jodhpur not previously known for painting, in VS 1760/AD 1703. Balotra is more or less equidistant from Sirohi and Sojat (in the opposite direction from Masuda), so unfortunately this piece of data complicates rather than clarifies the arguments about the origins of the style. Further confusion is supplied by a Dhola Maru manuscript in the “Sirohi' style published by Joachim Bautze which bears a colophon stating that it was written in Nagaur in VS 1732/AD 1675, and it may be that this Marwar town is an equally convincing candidate for the home of the “Sirohi' style. The reality is probably that this vividly distinctive type of painting was carried out in several centres of Rajasthan during the later 17th century.

A ragamala in the National Museum, New Delhi can be attributed to Marwar, but also includes some apparently Gujarati elements. The bold flower borders recall Gujarati manuscript borders and the floral decoration used in the 'Tula Ram' Bhagavata Purana now also thought to have been painted in Gujarat. Although the composition and decoration are simply conceived, a certain element of provincial Mughal style can also be seen. The typically Marwari pointed profiles of the ladies in fig. find an interesting parallel in those of a Popular Mughal ragamala in the India Office Library, London. It is attributed by the authors of that catalogue to the Delhi area, and they further state that Rajasthani influence is not apparent in this series', but after comparison with Marwari examples it seems that an origin in Rajasthan, and perhaps in Marwar, could be suggested.

patanmanjari raga. sirohi or marwar, late 17th centuary.
Patanmanjari raga. Sirohi or Marwar, late 17th centuary. Victoria & Albert Museum, London
saindhavi ragini. marwar, c. 1640.
Saindhavi ragini. Marwar, c. 1640. National Museum, New Delhi

Another variation of the Marwar style is evident in an appealing ragamala series in the National Museum, New Delhi . The relative sparseness of the composition works strongly in favour of the overall effect, giving an impression of simplicity rather than incompleteness. Here, the dark sky is reduced to a narrow band at the top of the Page, but the ascetic's pointed profile and pursed lips Identify him beyond doubt as the product of a Marwar artist. The brilliant yellow ground provides a striking contrast to the dramatically outlined trees. A comparable page depicting Hindola ragini has similar dark trees dwarfing the row of gopis attendant upon Radha and Krishna on a swing, and at least one more related page (Todi ragini) is in Allahabad Museum.

It is obvious from this brief survey of the local trends of Marwar painting in the 17th century that the ragamala seems to have been the dominant subject for illustration. While ragamala series were popular at all the painting centres of Rajasthan, others, notably Mewar, but also other states such as Bundi, were producing splendid illustrated Bhagavata Purana manuscripts as well as illustrated versions of the Ramayana and poetical works such as the Rasikapriya of Keshav Das. While minor subjects such as the Dhola Maru have come to light from Marwar, a major illustrated religious Hindu text has yet to appear that predates the 18th century.

throughout the 17th century, Mughal supremacy over the Rajput clans led to an increased familiarity with Mughal court culture on the part of the Rajput nobility. This included the new taste for paintings recording rulers, nobles and court life which had been unknown as subjects for painting in the traditional context. Although this trend had a profound effect on painting styles throughout all the Rajput courts in varying degrees, subjects such as the ragamala or Dhola Maru continued to be painted in a more conservative style that reflected the traditional Hindu culture of the Rajput courts. The old values of the Rajputs were upheld in spite of their rulers' nominal allegiance to the Mughals, and the persistence of what amounted to a parallel aesthetic to the Mughal-influenced courtly styles reflects the two separate cultural traditions that are evident from the 17th century onwards in Marwar.

devgandhar raga. marwar, c. 1650
Devgandhar raga. Marwar, c. 1650. National Museum, New Delhi.

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