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The Unsung Art from the Himalayas

Last month, the New York’s prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is the world’s largest and the finest art museum, hosted an exhibition of Parahari Painting- a painting style that emerged in the Himalayan Kingdom during the period of 17th and 18th centuries.

Even though Pahari paintings is an integral part of Indian art heritage, unfortunately in today’s India, very limited people outside the world of art know about it.

​In this article, India’s famous contemporary artist Shantala Palat shares her insight on the Pahari painting. Shantala shares that Pahari painting is the name given to Rajput paintings that were developed and flourished during the period of 17th to 19th century in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir states of India. Pahari paintings can be divided into two distinct categories, on the basis of their geographical range, namely – (a) Basohli and Kulu Style (Influenced by Chaurpanchasika style)and (b) Guler and Kangra Style (based on cooler colors and refinement).

Pahari paintings were widely influenced by the Rajput paintings, because of the family relations of the Pahari Rajas to the royal court at Rajasthan. The painting also had influences of the Gujarat and Deccan paintings.

Then with the emergence of the Bhakti movement, new themes for Indian Pahari paintings came into practice. The Shaiva-Shakta themes were supplemented by argot poetry and folk songs of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. At the same time, the themes of the paintings revolved around love and devotion and was based on texts like Bhagwad-Purana, Geet-Govind, Sursagar, Rasikpriya, Bihari-Satsai, nayika-bheda and rag-ragini.

The processes and techniques followed by the artists were almost uniform, simple and indigenous. Handmade paper was mainly used as the base of the paintings. Thin sheets of paper were joined together to get the requisite thickness, on which the outline was drawn in the light reddish brown or grey-black color. A thin transparent white coating was applied to the paper. Thereafter, a final drawing was made over the white coating and then the colors were filled in. The pigments were obtained from minerals and vegetables which were then suspended in water with gum, for the latter acted as a binding medium. Squirrel and camel hair were used to make the paintbrushes. Quite often, the painting was burnished, with glass, agate or stone from the river Beat called 'Golla' to obtain the quality of brightness.

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