Indian Art : Basholi Painting

LORD GANESHA Basholi Painting
National Museum, New Delhi

About Indian art, Maharshi Sri Aurobindo once said that: 

Indian art demands of the artist the power of communion with the soul of things, the sense of spiritual taking precedence of the sense of material beauty. 

If we observe the artworks done by the regional painters of India, we can realise what Sri Aurobindo had meant by his above words. Yes, while doing most of the artworks, Indians think first about religion, especially the spiritual aspect.

The Pahari paintings were done by the artists living in the northern Himalayan region have displayed such religious themes in their art. Basholi painting is one of the sub-type of the Pahari painting style. Basholi painting is influenced by the work of Mughal Miniature paintings done in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries in India. This style of painting, Basholi is also inspired by the Rajput style of Miniature paintings and other local styles of paintings that prevailed in the same period.

Basholi Paintings or Basohli paintings, the paintings from the Himalayan range of mountains. If the small town in Northern India, in Jammu and Kashmir State, named Basholi. If this small town is known in the whole world for anything, it is the style of painting that had evolved here in the mid-eighties. 

The subjects of this style of painting were religious ones. The prayer to the Gods and Goddesses. That is how the Indian consciousness remains occupied. About the religious nature and chanting a prayer, Mahatma Gandhi said once: Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. the people of India pray before God. the artists of India depict their prayer in their art.

Raja Amrit Pal of Basohli
Los Angeles County Museum of Art 
Drawing: Watercolour

The style of paintings known as Basholi Painting is believed to be the first school of Pahari Paintings. The word pahar of pahad means the mountain. The style of Pahari Painting, too, is evolved under the main style of painting known as Kangra Paintings.  

Once the Mughal Emperors had stopped encouraging the art, especially during the reign of Aurangzeb, the artists of miniature paintings had found their new forms of art. During this period of the seventeenth century, the Rajput kings became the main sponsors of indigenous art. They also encouraged the religions subjects to be painted. Basholi style of painting is one of these arts. The Rajput kings of Basholi encouraged their local artists to paint these paintings. 

There are special features attached to this style of painting called Basholi. There is a style of painting known as Pahari painting or the painting which are done by the people living in the mountains. Like the Pahari style of painting, in Basholi paintings, too, the artists use locally available colours. The colours are always vibrant. These artists mainly used red, blue and yellow. Their subjects were mythological stories. Some paintings are done to depict other stories, too. These subjects were painted to please their sponsor kings and princes.

Basholi Style of Painting: Basoli paintings are like another name of the style of paintings which are painted with vigorous use of primary colours. the characters shown in these types of paintings have a peculiar facial formula. This formula was widely used in several styles of painting that prevailed in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The era of Basholi paintings starts from the time of Raja Kirpal that ruled in northern Indian state in the late seventeen century. 

Goddess Bhadrakali ca 1660-1670

It is believed that the Basohli School of painting was in operation from the pre-Mughal time. In this painting, one mythological story of Lord Ganesha is depicted. Ganesha is ready to throw the divine flower of the lotus at the demon named Mamasur, the demon of egotism. As per the mythological story, the demon had tried to attack Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha is a divine figure in the Hindu Religion. He is the son of God Shiva and Deity Parvati.  The demon could not bear the divine smell of the flower lotus and surrender to Lord Ganesha. 

Basholi Style Subjects of Painting: The Indian mythology, God and Goddesses of Hindu Religion, and sometimes lifestyle of Indian Kings: these were the subjects painted by the Basholi painters. In the above painting of Lord Ganesha, we can see the imaginative artistic style of the artists working under the Basholi School of paintings. The colours are vivid, skillfully laid on the base with a definite wish of immortalizing the artistic eminence.  

Goddess Bhadrakali Worshipped by God
Free Gallery of Art at Washington

The Indian mythology, God and Goddesses of Hindu Religion, and sometimes lifestyle of Indian Kings: these were the subjects painted by the Basholi painters. In the above painting of Lord Ganesha, we can see the imaginative artistic style of the artists working under the Basholi School of paintings. The colours are vivid, skillfully laid on the base with a definite wish of immortalizing the artistic eminence. 

Another painting is of Goddess Bhadrakali. Here she is shown as dancing. The deities standing nearby adore her dance and pray her. There are numerous mythological stories wherein the deities are facing a tough time against the demons; In such circumstances, they approach the Goddess, mainly the Amaba or one of her incarnations. After that, the Goddess kills the demon and the other deities are pleased. Such a dance of pleasure occurs after the killing of a demon. Here the Goddess Bhadrakali is dancing, and other deities are looking at her with devotion.

Radha and Lord Krishna in a discussion. Bashohli Gita Govinda 1730

The devotional love of Radha and Krishna was unique. The artists in India would love to paint Lord Krisha. Here the Basohali artist has also painted the lover couple. This subject of painting Radha and Krishna has been used by the artists working in other schools of paintings in India, too. 

The Pahari, Kangra, PhadTanjore, and Deccan painters would love to paint the mythological subjects and the characters narrated in the scriptures of the Hindu religion. The artists belonging to the school of Mughal Miniatures had used this subject of Radha and Krishna extensively.  [All the paintings are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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