Often referred to as windows to another dimension, paintings are defined by the purpose they were created as well as their creators’ skills. Taking the case of the paintings of the royal courts in the Punjab hills and Rajasthan, the artists have definitely accessed divinity through their creations, providing vivid objects for Bhakthi, a much adorned technique of personal devotion.
The paintings in this segment dated between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries as regards to their realisation, are characterised by their vivid colours and precision packed depictions of the narratives of Hindu epic besides the magisterial courtly life. These paintings illustrated Gods as well as demons as engaged in spiritual battles, and fantastical entities of mysterious origin and supernatural power using symbols central to literature and worship attributed to Central India. The craftsmen behind these creations then celebrated their unique traditions’ diverse stylistic choices.
These paintings were largely inspired by the songs, poems and ancient stories from the sacred books of erstwhile Indian culture that tend to keep alive in the temple and palace artworks, many a mystical story of good versus evil. The sculpture of cave reliefs as well as frescoes related to Hindu culture remarkably highlighted the evolution of both style and treatment of material. This in its turn paved way for court paintings that filled a space somewhere between icon and image.
In India, similar to many artifacts that survived to the present times, the tradition of creating the court paintings trace its origin to the leadership of emperor Akbar, the celebrated Mughal monarch. A man who will boast of compelling historical significance, Akbar’s reign commissioned a striking number of artworks, which help even the people of the present times understand the culture of a special empire that owed to his tireless efforts. It is noteworthy that the Mughal empire’s decline also resulted in an unfortunate fall for the painting practice of the Rajput courts.
Many of these pictures were painted using a kind of opaque water colour made by mixing mineral and vegetable pigments. These colours were applied to a number of thin paper laminations. A small and soft brush was used to add these colours to the painting. An entire series was hence framed using similar material fo as to point toward a continuous narrative that was inscribed on an attached flyleaf or its border. Burnishing of the frame using a smooth stone or agate highlighted the finishing touches. This resulted in a polished and smooth edge containing one scene of a lengthy story.
The composition of many scenes as with most Mughal paintings looks complex with Persian inspired patterned surfaces and flattened silhouettes. These old techniques were the ones on which the artists of India had shaded many an object and figure, imparting on them a kind of physicality never experienced before. The Hindu painting tradition of mixing in bright reds and yellows were subjected to development along with the popular way of depicting female characters using heavy limbs. The powerful imagery of Indian mythological past suffused Indian painting for expressing a fresh way of seeking the divine by means of personal devotion or Bhakthi.