The lash of rains lifts the scorching heat off the face of the earth, leaving behind a calm and soothing soil, refreshed, energized, and blissful. It is no surprise, that it has the same effect on people and animals too. And because the monsoons have such a visibly emotional influence on almost everyone, it is no surprise, that the monsoon season in India is the perfect setting for the stage for artful expression through paintings, music, dance, and narratives. The Indian monsoon painting is thus a perfect set-up for expression and artists across the years, have been inspired and intrigued by it. But the true magic of rain is that it means different things to different people. Where it might inspire on one hand, on the other, it might be the reason for longing or even pain.
What do the monsoons even have to do with art? Undoubtedly, the monsoon season is among the most coveted and important seasons in the Indian calendar. It is usually associated with greenery, growth, and lushness. The rains are heartily welcomed by especially rural India and its farmers. The bulbuls and koels flap around, peacocks fan their feathers, and cows and buffaloes laze in lakes. Children make paper boats and splash in puddles. Lovers crave each other. Monsoon thus signifies fertility, brooding, poetry, and romance. And the Indian monsoon paintings are delightful representations of all these ideas and more!
Natural And Social Landscapes in Indian Monsoon Paintings
Traditional paintings in India have excellently depicted their natural, social, and cultural surroundings. Natural objects, such as trees, animals, flowers, and mountains are common motifs in traditional paintings. Similarly, natural occurrences, including rains, have also found a special place in folk art, alongside the social customs and festivals that are associated with rain.
For instance, this Indian monsoon painting by Gond artist Brajbhushan Dhurve depicts the birds enjoying the rain, whereas the tribal women are busy working through the monsoon.
Similarly, this Warli painting depicts the lifestyle of people during the rains.
Another example is the ‘Behind the Mountains’ series of paintings that highlights the monsoon season in Mewar. Vibrant flowers are in bloom, there is greenery all around, and a buzz of activity with the advent of the rainy season. The flower size is an indication of the significance of the physical environment and its impact on the culture of society.
Spiritual and Courtly Scenes In Indian Monsoon Paintings
The Jodhpur, Bikaner, and Bundi schools of miniature art are fraught with monsoon paintings depicting Radha and Krishna. And within them, there are two distinct moods of the monsoon- “Megh” and “Malhar”. Megh is depicted with the usage of the dark onset of clouds. There is thunder and lightning. On the other hand, Malhar is associated with lighter tones, flowers, and greenery, ladies dressed in colourful clothes on swings, etc.
This Indian monsoon painting in the Allahabad Museum is a good example of the Megh Malhar Raga paintings. The dark clouds are painted above, whereas, Krishna, Radha and the ladies are seen with musical instruments in the lower half of the painting.
Here is an example of Mughal miniature paintings of Radha and Krishna during rain. Also, note the use of other elements, such as peacocks and birds that are representations of the monsoon season.
Besides, the religious references, many Indian monsoon paintings are also based around the princely courts. For instance, this painting is of Raja Balwant Dev Singh, depicting the court season during the monsoon.
Did you know that there are some Indian monsoon paintings, especially from Udaipur School showing the scientific and practical aspects of rain? For example, ‘A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur’ is an illustrative collection of paintings by 1700 artists across the span of 200 years. Many of these paintings feature the monsoons and how the region’s prosperity is influenced by them. Interestingly, the paintings feature lakes, reservoirs, and rainwater harvesting concepts.
Though the monsoon is a natural phenomenon, it has a huge emotional bearing on people. The miniature Indian monsoon paintings of Rajasthan are one of the finest examples of the varying moods and sentiments of humans during rains. This popular miniature painting of Prince Amar Walking in The Rain is a picture of contentment and peace. Needless to say, the detailing of the painting is fantastic. Whether it is the depiction of the tiny drops of rain falling from the edge of the umbrella, the prince’s feet squashing the wet mud, the colour of the greying clouds above, or the look of tranquillity on his face – the artist has painted a picture to perfection.
But the rains also entice other emotions, one of them primarily being love and romance.
The Season of Longing
Miniature paintings often centred around the Abhisarika. Who is she, you ask? The Abhisarika is the protagonist of the painting—a woman, who is braving all odds to find her lover. But on her way to meet her lover, she meets different challenges. The Varsha Abhisarika, is therefore, when the heavy rain acts as the main hurdle, posing dangers on her way. In this painting of the Varsha Abhisarika, painted by one of the best Pahari miniature artists, Nainsukh, the cloudy, dark rainy night forms the backdrop. The woman in her bright attire has the lightning to worry about from the sky and the snakes on the ground.
Similarly, this painting is another example of nayika surrounded by rain, snakes, and a demon that stops her from meeting her lover.
When Lovers Meet In Indian Monsoon Paintings
This miniature Malwa School painting called Month Of Bhadon (August-September) has too much going on in a single frame. The raindrops look like a string of pearls dropping from the sky. Surrounded by the rain, the painting focuses on the lovers who finally meet in the month of Bhadon. The month of Bhadon is a reference to the poetic genre called Barahmasa. Barahmasa is the long journey that the woman undertakes over the cycle of different seasons to finally unite with her lover. The transition of her emotions, from the stages of initial courtship to separation to longing to finally meeting her lover runs parallel to the seasonal fluctuations. The month of Bhadon, which is characterised by heavy rain, is thus the month when the Varsha Abhisarika meets her lover.
This particular painting also showcases animals that act as metaphors for the rain. The elephant is akin to large grey clouds that move slowly at the beginning of the rain. The sound of thunder or ‘garaj’ is the sound made by a lion and tiger.
Indian Monsoons, is a season of love, separation, full blooms, and catharsis! They have been showcased and continue to inspire Indian art. From subtle metaphors, such as peacock and pearl raindrops, to detailed facial expressions of peace or longing, Indian monsoon paintings are excellent artistic expressions of the influence and allegories of one of the most important seasons of the Indian subcontinent.
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