Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rajput Horse Paintings

Painting from 1780 of the stallion Laldhan Behada from Kishangarh, which is located in the modern-day Ajmer district of Rajasthan. (Wikimedia Commons)
Last month I wrote a hub at Hubpages on equestrian art around the world. In this hub I discussed a little about the equestrian art of the Indian state of Rajasthan, or as it was known in the days of old, Rajputana. Today I'd like to elaborate a little more about the horse in Rajput art.

Rajasthan, which is located mainly in northwest India (and encompasses parts of central and western India, as well as parts of Pakistan), was a state of princely kingdoms and proud soldiers who served these princes. The word Rajput itself comes from the Sanskrit word raja-putra, meaning "king [or monarch] son". Basically, it means "the king's sons"! They were at the crossroads of - and the main bulwark of defense against - groups such as the Mongols and Afghans to the north and the Arabs and Persians to the west. The warrior culture was strong in Rajasthan, and to this day most Rajputs are extremely proud of their warrior heritage.

Rajput rulers and soldiers all took pride in one thing: the Marwari horse. It was this horse that the Rajputs rode into battle and often rode against elephants! A Rajput warrior's horse was his pride and joy, and it was something he was not easily separated from.

The love for the Marwari, its gallantness in battle, and its natural beauty have been immortalized in Rajput paintings. There were many paintings painted by painters which depict Rajput rulers proudly mounted on their Marwari towering over soldiers or attendants. These paintings celebrated the power of the ruler. Others depicted royalty out on a hunt or sporting, warriors in battle, scenes of literature, or horses on display in everyday court life. Horses were also featured in paintings depicting scenes from sacred religious texts such as the Bhagavata Purana.

In ancient Rajasthan, there were a number of famous painters, including Jitendra Sahoo, the ex-Mughal court painters Dalchand and his son Bhavanidas, and Nihal Chand. A number of these artists made some amazing horse paintings, some of which were presented to both Rajput and Mughal royalty. Many of the native Rajput artists were heavily influenced by the neighboring Mughal painters, who in turn were greatly influenced by the Safavid painters in nearby Persia (modern-day Iran). In fact, many Rajput paintings are nearly indistinguishable from Mughal artwork, and some Mughal court painters came to Rajasthan and made a name of their own as Rajput artists. In Rajput equestrian paintings, a combination of Mughal eloquence and local Rajput colors and styles can be seen.

The kingdoms of Rajasthan each had their own unique art schools, which was reflected in the horse paintings of each kingdom. In both paintings, can you see the orange and white stripes on the legs of the horses? This was apparently a common way to decorate horses in Kishangarh as it appears on other equestrian paintings from Kishangarh. The attendants can be seen performing a ceremony with morchals (an elaborate ancient Indian "flyswatter" made of peacock feathers) and an incense burner. This was quite possibly a ceremony of some kind performed in Kishangarh. Also, the horse was drawn with elaborate curves, painted with striking colors, and is massive in comparison to its attendants. These were common characteristics of Rajput horse paintings in general.

An equestrian painting from 1720-30 attributed to Dolchand. Notice the colors of the Kishangarh style, as well as the Mughal
 influence. (Photo copyright: Wikimedia Commons)

Each local style belonged to one of the four principal schools of Rajput art. The Jodhpur and Kishangarh styles belonged to the Marwar school, the Jaipur and Amber styles belonged to the Dhundar school, and so on. The Kishangarh style belonged to the Marwar school, but was unique in its on way. Paintings in the Kishangarh style typically used soft colors, brilliant landscapes, and often had a Radha-Krishna theme. They were strongly influenced by Mughal art. The Jodhpur style was influenced by the Mewar school of Rajput art and featured noblemen with curved mustaches and royal clothing parading on or with horses. There were also a number of other unique local styles in which horses were either the main subject or part of the theme.

Horses remained common in Rajput artwork throughout its glory days and never lost their meaning. As foreign influences encroached in Rajput art and Rajasthan itself gradually became part of modern India, the Marwari kept its place alongside the warrior.

For more about the horse in Rajput society and Rajput equestrian art, here are some sites to check out: (Excellent article about the Marwari in Rajasthan. Features some Rajput equestrian artwork.) ("The Stallion Kitab" by Bhavanidas. Includes information about Bhavanidas and Kishangarh artwork.) (A brief, in-depth look at Rajput artwork.) (Excellent explanation of Rajput artwork. Includes all the regional varieties and schools, their characteristics and influences, and the techniques used to paint them.)


dimpy roy said...

Pictures are very beautiful. Keep sharing post like this. Kishangarh State was founded by the Jodhpur prince Kishan Singh in 1609.Prior to the rule of Kishan Singh this area was ruled by Maharaja Samokhan Singh who was a distant relative of Kishan Singh's family and grandfather of Naubat Khan. Check out all best hotels in Kishangarh also.

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