The Basholi Style of Painting: Tracing its Evolution and Diverse Facets



Throw light on the Evolution and different aspects of “Basholi style” of Painting. (HPAS Mains Question Paper 2022 – GS 1, Q.24)

Basholi is a small town in the Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir. It was founded by Raja Bhupat Pal circa 1635 and is renowned for its memorable and vibrant style of Pahari miniature paintings.

Basohli painting, a school of Pahari miniature painting that flourished in the Indian hill states during the late 17th and 18th centuries, is known for its bold vitality of colour and line. Though the school takes its name from the small independent state of Basohli, the principal centre of the style, examples are found throughout the region.

Basohli Paintings evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries as a distinctive style of painting fusing Hindu mythology, Mughal miniature techniques, and the folk art of the local hills. The painting style derives its name from the place of its origin—the hill town of Basohli.

Basholi Paintings are considered the first school of Pahari paintings. This style evolved into the prolific Kangra painting school by the mid-eighteenth century. It is marked by bold strokes of primary colours and deep-set facial patterns. The technique developed under the patronage of Raja Kripal Pal and was truly unconventional, prosperous and highly vigorous. It is endowed with intricate geometrical designs, a monochrome background, gloss finishes and dramatic compositions with imposing figures with decorative attire, a particular focus on eyes, the use of beetle wings for showing diamonds in ornaments, a narrow sky and a red border.

Among the well-known painters associated with the Basholi school of painting are:

1. Devidasa was a prominent Basholi school artist known for his paintings of Lord Krishna and the Gopis. His paintings are distinguished by vibrant colours, fine lines, and intricate details. Devidasa, a descendant of the Tarkhan community under the patronage of Kripal Pal, has executed miniatures of the Rasamanjari text written by poet Bhanu Datta. The miniatures are known as Rasamanjari illustrations.

2. Nainsukh – He was a prolific painter of the Basholi school and is regarded as one of the greatest Pahari artists. He was famous for capturing the essence of his subjects, whether they were gods or ordinary people.

3. Manaku – He was Nainsukh’s son and a prominent painter of the Basholi school. He was well-known for his paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The following are some of the major themes associated with the Basholi school of painting:

1. Hindu Gods and Goddesses – Gods and goddesses were a popular theme in Basholi’s painting. Lord Krishna, Radha, Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu, and Ganesha were the most popular deities depicted. These deities’ paintings frequently depicted their lives and exploits in minute detail.

2. Basholi paintings depict love and romance between couples, most notably Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha. The team was frequently depicted in various moods and postures, surrounded by natural landscapes and animals in these paintings.

3. Court Scenes – The Basholi school’s paintings frequently depicted scenes from the royal court, such as the king or prince with his attendants, musicians, and dancers. The images often displayed court life in minute detail.

4. Hunting Scenes – Another prevalent theme in Basholi’s painting was hunting scenes. In a naturalistic style, the photographs depicted hunters, royal processions, and animals such as tigers, lions, and deer.

5. Mythological Stories – Basholi paintings were well-known for depicting mythological stories such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other Hindu epics. The images vividly and imaginatively captured the essence of these stories.

5. Nature – Basholi’s painting also depicted the natural world in a highly stylized and decorative manner, including animals, birds, and plants. These paintings were frequently filled with vibrant colours and intricate designs.

The most popular themes of Basohli Paintings come from Shringara literature like Rasamanjari or Bouquet of Delight (an extended love poem written in the 15th century by Bhanudatta of Tirhut Bihar ), Gita Govinda and Ragamala. These paintings are marked by striking blazing colours, red borders, bold lines and rich symbols. The faces of the figures painted are characterized by receding foreheads and large expressive eyes shaped like lotus petals. The paintings are primarily painted in the primary colours of Red, Blue and Yellow.

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