Arts & Paintings of Rajasthan: Arts of Rajasthan, Paintings in Rajasthan, Folk Styles of Painting, Royal Styles of Painting, Sculptural Art of Rajasthan

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Arts in Rajasthan

Rajasthan is among the richest states in the country as far as the field of art and craft is concerned. Today, various varieties and artistry can be seen in the various forms of paintings. The two main forms of paintings are the formal school of miniature paintings that flourished in courts all over India and Deccan and the folk traditions that resulted in a unique style of the painting of Rajasthan. The history of Rajasthan also revealed that the kings and their nobles were patrons of art and crafts and they encouraged their craftsmen in activities ranging from wood and marble carving to weaving, pottery and painting. May be it was the result of the war which sharpened the creative senses, artistic skills which inspired the craftsmen of Rajasthan to create the most opulent and richest of treasures. Stone, clay, leather, wood, ivory, lac, glass, brass, silver, gold and textiles were given the most brilliant forms. For women there was infinite variety - tie and dye fabrics, embroidered garments, enamel jewellery inlayed with precious and semi-precious stones, leather jootis etc.

Rajasthani Painting, Bani Thani Painting
Paintings in Rajasthan
Rajasthani Painting, Painting in Rajasthan

Various Muslim artists worked in the Rajput courts, and Hindu artists worked in the Mughal court. The Chittorgarh court also offered employment to the Muslim painter and had a seminal school in the 16th century from where a collection of Gita Govinda paintings may have originated. Due to this, the Mewar school become one of the most important schools in the state. The Mughal artists of Delhi were welcomed by the rulers of Rajasthan due to the decline of their patronage in the Mughal court. As a result of it the Rajasthani school of paintings, murals and miniatures came into existence in the 16th century. In Rajasthan, from 16th to the 18th century, about seven styles of painting developed over a period of time, and in different kingdoms. The miniature paintings also flourished before the establishment of the 16th century Mughal studios, particularly as illustrations for manuscripts, and Akbar also hired various court painters from Hindu kingdoms in North India. The miniature painting is a portfolio painting that uses techniques similar to wall paintings, cloth paintings or manuscript illustrations from which it may have evolved. These paintings are painted on a paper that has been specially treated, and uses vegetable and mineral colours. Some of the examples of the miniature paintings can be seen in the Mughal and Rajasthani styles that existed in the 16th century. The Mughals miniature paintings were restricted to

court scenes and portraits of the emperors and the rulers like Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan and also derived inspiration from them. While, the Rajasthani school of miniatures was characterised by a revival based on its increasing contact with the Mughal Durbar. Various strong colours, bold compositions, the range of hues almost passionate in their intensity, and in their response to the life of the people, ornamental depiction of nature and accentuated human forms were used in the Rajasthan miniatures that reflect the Rajput culture.

The main difference in the paintings was in the way the painter looked at the countryside, hills, shrubs, forts, gardens and sand dunes. The miniature paintings were made on the variety of subjects like the kings, religious and secular. But, their main subject was the description of the Krishna Leela. In the Gita Govinda, the miniature paintings also became a lyrical symbol with swaying lotuses, meandering streams, and trees suggesting the intimate passions of lovers. The epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata formed as the base for religious works of art. Later, shades of royal lifestyle came to be seen on the canvas of the painters, and ranged from hunting scenes to ladies playing chess, or polo.

Earlier, the finest miniatures used to be painted on ivory, but it is now banned in India. The same artists also tried to bring the same effect on marble but achieved very less success. The painting on marble looks like the gesso work from Bikaner that can be seen on the camel hide. Most of the artists also used walls to create paintings, and a profusion of work can be seen in the palaces of most of the kingdoms where every walls and ceilings are lavished with scenes from the Krishna Leela, or the exploits of Lord Rama, or the court scenes and portraits of rulers. In aristocratic homes, the secular and religious scenes were presented. Frescoes paintings can be seen on the walls of palaces at Jaipur, Udaipur, Bikaner and Jodhpur. Most of these paintings have the themes of the Krishna stories, Raslila and Hindu religious subjects.

Today, miniatures are turned out in almost every studios that have been especially developed to help in the tourist souvenir trade. These studios can be seen in Jaipur, Udaipur and Kishangarh. Even now, the talent is available in plenty, but the best artists rarely finds their way in the open market. They are commissioned directly, and their work can be seen as the collections, or used to illustrate prestigious art books. Most of these works are copies of earlier paintings, and original subjects are very hard to find.

Folk Styles of Painting

While the formal school of miniatures were patronised by the royal families and the aristocracy, the humbler settlements patronised the humble forms of art and were very expressive. The folk paintings used fabric as the material and emerged in two styles.


Phads are scroll-like paintings on a giant canvas that were used by the Bhopa ministers to recount the legends of Pabuji Ramdeo of the Rabari tribe, and his black mare. The tales are painted in flaming orange, red and black colour in comic-strip fashion. There is very little detailing and the expressive use of the outline of human figures and the sketchy filling of the background creates a lively tapestry.


Pichwais are decorative curtain cloths used as a background for religious images in a shrine. These can be brocaded block printed, embroidered, or worked in gold threads. In the simplest form, they can be secular in nature, and are painted in huge quantities for sale to tourists. The Pichwai developed when the Vallabhaichari sect created 24 iconographic rendering as a background for the Krishna image at Nathdwara. Each of these images were linked with a particular festival or celebration. While images from Nathdwara are instantly recognizable in the way Krishna is painted, and in the decorative element that embellishes the cloth, the traditional pichwai consist of starched, handspun cloth painted with vegetable and mineral colours like cochineal, indigo, lapiz and orpiment. Nowadays, the fabric colours are used. The format of the pichwai is static, where even the natural elements appear ‘frozen’. The elements like the sun, moon, stars, or even lighting appeared in the painting.

Rajasthani Painting, Pichwais Painting
Royal Styles of Painting

The Rajasthani miniature painting evolved various styles that can be seen in the different kingdoms where it found patronage. The miniature paintings were initially used as illustrations for texts, and later evolved as portfolios of the life and times of their royal patrons. In Rajasthan, there were seven distinctive style of what are also referred to as Rajput paintings, and they evolved in the following seven states:


One of the finest schools of miniatures was developed in Bikaner. These paintings existed from 1600 onwards and show a marked Mughal influence. In fact, the local style kept pace with the painters in the Mughal court, and were not expressive, while the Bikaneri artist tended to be more expressive. The delicate sub colours were used and there was a delicacy in the portrayal of human and vegetation forms. The Mughal and Bikaneri miniatures were sometimes mistaken with each other, as the pleasant background, colourscapes and the foliage (as if to make up for the desert conditions), were very luxuriant.

Bundi and Kota:

The Bundi and Kota school developed two different identities, but have the same common identities. The Mughal intervention blended the two traditions of illustrating court scenes. The human figures appeared to have a haunting appearance, and were not marked by formal austerity. The early works were the commissions for illustrating traditional texts like Ragamala and Rasikapriya. The hunting scenes captured the fancy of the artist. As the school developed, it evolved into an entire school of its own from 1700 onwards. The paintings have a green tint and idealized the landscape and forestscape. The feminine grace in group of young women leading to works is very colourful, and creatively handled in the paintings. In the Bundi school, the background usually consists of thick foliage, with a sky over laden with clouds and illuminated by the light of the setting sun. The architectural background is equally impressive, with palaces and apartments depicted in fine details. There is a lyrical expression of love that can be seen in the paintings, and ornamental backgrounds. The same style evolved in Kota, but it developed its own expression in a similar and independent form.


The Kishangarh artists were very brilliant and there is nothing that matches their brilliance that lasted only for a short while. Kishangarh was a Rathore kingdom, and their early work was similar to that of the Marwar. A more advanced style later replaced this in the first quarter of the 18th century, and reached a point of perfection under the rule of Savant Singh, the heir to the throne of Kishangarh who finally abdicated in favour of his son and chose to live a hermit’s life in Brindavan. Under Savant Singh’s rule, the Nihal Chand, one of the finest painters of the period and a school of paintings dealing with Krishna and his lady love, Radha, emerged. It is believed that the figures of Krishna were modeled on Savant Singh, and those of Radha were modeled on his mistress, known as Bani Thani. The portraits of Bani Thani are among the most attractive miniatures in India, and she obviously inspired Nihal Chand to cast her as Radha in his Ras Leela scenes. The Kishangarh figures are exceptionally attractive, and show a refined delicacy. The backgrounds shared the elaborate style of Mughal paintings, together with the use of the evening light, but the artists used a greater expression of creative freedom. The Kishangarh paintings are among the finest body of arts that were expressed in a canvas of such elaborate colours.


The Jaipur school of miniatures, which is still active, was also the most formal school of miniatures. It was a kin to the Mughal in the backgrounds, and in the court settings, but its subjects were more secular. Of all the schools in Rajasthan, Jaipur’s use of colours is the most understated. The depiction of the human figure, by the 18th century, had been perfected. The faces are accentuated, the eyes are large and curving, the turbans are worn high, and while they sit or stand or ride, the men are shown with a sense of vibrant energy. Even paintings showing rulers practicing religious rituals are not devoid of this quality of vibrancy. The background is more characteristic with thick, rich decorative leaves of trees, and skies are
enriched with thick, rolling clouds. Aniline colours too are an important feature.


The Mewar school of painting is one of the largest school of miniature paintings in Rajasthan. These miniature paintings were found in Udaipur, from the 17th to 19th century. The main theme of these paintings was the traditional text that ranges from the Ragamala, Nayika-bhada and Krishna Leela to the Ramayana and the Bhagvata Purana. The scenes from the Krishan Leela came to be known for their amorous quality. One of the first definitive sets of Ragamala paintings of 1605, and executed by painter Nasiruddin, can be still seen in the collections at Udaipur. The Mewar school is known for its strong colours and decorative designs. The landscape has been emphasized so that the human figures tend to integrate with it. The decorative features were further accentuated with Mughal cross fertilization when a mosaic-like, decorative character evolved, due to foliage. Later, lifestyle portraits were developed in the Sisodia school, replacing nature with the background of the palaces of the Ranas.

The Sculptural Art of Rajasthan

Just as Rajasthan is known for the fine quality of its paintings, it is also known for its great body of sculptures. The sculptural art is one of the most profuse forms of decorative art in Rajasthan, particularly in the medieval period and was lavished in palaces and forts, temples and stepwells, and the havelis or townhouses of the merchants and traders.

The main tools of the mason or sculptor were basic and crude, and included the tanki or punch, the pahuri or chisel, the hathora or hammer, and the barma or borer. The main used these simple elements, and followed the texts designed especially for his use (Shipashastra and Manasara) to build the perfect jharokha or arch or pillar. The texts are very exhaustive on details and the individual expression of creativity is permitted.

There are two ways to examine the issue of the sculptor’s art as an architectural embellishment, and as stand-alone work. The stand alone art was very little used in Rajasthan, and figures were carved either for enshrining in temples, or sculpture was part of the great design of architecture.

Religious icons were always carved from marble and the Makrana marble mines supply the marble for centuries. Even today, in most of the shrines in India, the religious images are carved in Jaipur where religious iconography has developed into a fine art. But Jaipur is merely a centre for creating marble images. For sheer details, there is nothing to beat the excessive marble sculpturing developed by the Jains at their temples. Most of the Jain temples have large statues of their trithankaras enshrined in the sanctum. The best examples of Jain temples in Rajasthan are in Mount Abu and Ranakpur. Mount Abu’s Dilwara temples contains four principal shrines and are housed together. These temples were built between the 11th and 12th centuries and used all the administrative skills. The Ranakpur Jain temples are one of the most beautiful temples raised by the Jains in India. At the heart of the complex is the temple of Adinath, one of the largest, most extensive, and characterized by its excess and profusion of sculpture. The temple has 29 halls supported by 1444 pillars. Not one of these pillars are alike in one way or other and entirely sculptured with arabesques, motifs, and statues.

Jain temple architecture is characterized by its profusion of sculpturing. The stone is moulded, chiseled, scooped out, and developed so that each grain becomes a part of the grand design of the temple. Nor is the work limited to a similar repetition: pillars can be carved differently so there is no one that is similar to another; each of these is alive with images of gods and goddesses, musicians and dancers, and there are architectural embellishments of such amazing fluidity that it is impossible to disassociate architecture from sculpture.

The Jains also provided the basis for the flowering of sculptured architecture in Jaisalmer. The Jains were very rich and lived in the havelis, which were more royal than the king's palace. They used sandstone in the havelis. Some of the famous havelis in Jaisalmer are Nathmalji ki Haveli, Patwon ki Haveli and Salim Singh’s Haveli. These havelis were built in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Muslim masons. These masons developed a body of sculptued architecture that was not repeated elsewhere and also used the expression, so that each mansion was like a textbook on the subject. Fluted columns, balconies, arches, domes, jharokhas, eaves, brackets and cupolas were carved very differently. Two stone mason brothers were so adapted to their task that their names, Hathu and Lalla, are still recorded in the annuals of Indian art. While statuary as a part of architecture, and geometrical and floral expressions, found a reflection in all part of Rajasthan, the sculptors of Barmer, found creative expression in their rich arabesques on the red sandstone. Barmer continued to remain, one of the prime centres for sandstone carving in the state.

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