Exploring the Features of Bundi Paintings
Indian Miniature paintings are as varied in style and subject matter as they are intricate. Different schools of painting developed different styles and methods. The elaborate floral depictions of Mughal miniatures are different from the delicate portrayals of women in the Kangra School. Similarly, Bundi paintings illustrate lush vegetation, court and hunting scenes, and lovers.
Let’s explore the Bundi Miniature paintings of Rajasthan and learn more about their distinctive features, styles, and characteristics.
History and Origin of Bundi Paintings
Bundi paintings originated in the princely state of Bundi in Rajasthan. The Chunar Ragamala is the earliest documented collection of Bundi paintings and was part of the formative phase of this school. It dates back to 1591 and was painted during the reign of the Hada Rajput ruler Bhai Singh. Chunar, however, had a distinct style of painting influenced by the Afghan style of painting from the Lodhi period.
The Bundi Miniature style began fully developing under the reign of Rao Bhoj Singh in the early 17th century. He commissioned Persian artists in Chunar to complete a set of paintings on the Ragamala theme at Badal Mahal in Bundi. The style that originated was a blend of Bundi styles with Mughal and Deccan influences.
Bundi painting was also practised in the neighbouring region of Kota, due to which the Bundi and Kota schools of painting were indistinguishable from one another for a certain period of time. They developed separate identities sometime in the late 17th century. Bundi paintings continued to gain popularity in the early 18th century and remained popular until the 19th century.
The Bundi School of Painting flourished under Rao Chhatrasal, Ummed Singh, Bhishan Singh, and Bhao Singh. As different kings rose and fell from power, the themes and styles of Bundi paintings continued to evolve. After all, the kings had different tastes, and the artist’s livelihood depended on royal patronage.
The Styles of Bundi Painting
Bundi miniature artists had a signature style of painting women. They would depict petite women with round faces, full cheeks, and a pinched waist. Women would also have sharp noses and eyebrows with receding foreheads. Perhaps this was a depiction of the feminine beauty standards that were prevalent during that time. The Bundi school was similar to other Rajasthani schools in its abstract and conventional depiction of human figures.
Bundi paintings contain detailed compositions like battlefields, festivals, horse races, royal lifestyles, court scenes, etc. These paintings document the socio-cultural environment of those times. Bundi artists began painting royal tiger hunts and activities of the king under the reign of Rao Bishen Singh. These miniature paintings contain a blend of Mughal and Deccani elements and stylised and ornamental portrayals of the beautiful geological features of Bundi.
Materials Used to Create Bundi Miniatures
Miniature paintings were painted on cloth or paper. The artists created colours by extracting them from minerals, precious metals, stones, and vegetables. However, Bundi painting originally began as a practise to decorate royal palaces and the rooms of the king and queen. Due to this, many Bundi paintings were part of murals or wall paintings in palaces and forts.
Bundi artists also used special paper from Sialkot for miniature paintings. They prepared the canvas themselves by sticking together sheets of paper until it reached the desired thickness. They would create the sketch directly with a brush and use a stone to polish the surface after every two coats of paint. Bundi paintings display the Mughal ‘pardaz’ technique, the use of extremely fine lines to create a three-dimensional effect. Bundi artists would use brushes made of a single hair for this technique.
Themes of Bundi Paintings Of Rajasthan
The Ragamala and Barahmasa themes are especially prevalent in Bundi paintings. The former is the depiction of the ragas through paintings, whereas the latter refers to the changing moods of lovers with the passage of the twelve months of the year. The Bundi School of Miniature Painting contained lush depictions of picturesque scenery, flora and fauna, landscapes, dense jungles, hills, water bodies, and other environmental elements. They also contain vivid and bold colour palettes and poetic storytelling.
Along with Ragmala and Barahmasa, the Nayak-Nayika Bheda was also a popular theme in Bundi paintings. Bundi murals often depicted the Raas-Leela and the women’s harem, or zanana. Artists painted dramatic night skies and illustrated water by depicting delicate swirls of light on a dark background. The influence of the Mughal Miniature paintings is apparent in the way Bundi artists painted faces and nature, and the portrayal of stormy or moody night skies is one such influence. Another characteristic feature of these miniatures is how the artists skillfully illustrate moments of action and movement and are able to capture them in a lively manner.
The Magnificence of Bundi Paintings in the Chitrashala Murals
Several exceptional Bundi paintings can be seen on the walls and ceilings of the Chitrashala or Ummed Mahal. The Chitrashala is essentially a set of rooms that are located on a raised platform or podium. It was intended to be an art school and was built at the Bundi Fort (Garh Palace) in the 18th century, under the reign of Rao Bhoj Singh. It now functions as an art gallery or monument that displays the magnificence of Bundi painting. Chitrashala is known as ‘Rajasthan’s Sistine Chapel’ for its elaborate Bundi paintings and murals.
The murals of Chitrashala still retain their vivid colours and brilliance. We see large mural paintings of the Shringar Rasa, which were inspired by Rasikapriya, a romantic poem written by poet Keshavadas. This poem also classified the female heroine into four types. Therefore, we also see depictions of Nayak-Nayika Bheda in the Chitrashala Bundi paintings, as well as popular themes of Rajasthani miniature paintings such as Raas-Leela and various Raginis of the Ragamala theme.
The zenana, or women’s harem, is yet another theme we can observe in the Chitrashala murals. The zenana is the royal residence for the women of the court and palace, who were allotted different rooms or spaces depending on their social status. Princes and kings were the only men allowed in the zenana. Bundi paintings depicting the zenana show the women courtiers conversing, princes playing games, the ponds, courtyards, and terraces of the palace, Teej celebrations, and the women celebrating, drinking wine, and smoking hookah.
Bundi Paintings: Where Are the Miniature Paintings of Rajasthan found today?
The Raga Malkounsa, Raga Sri, and Ragini Ramkali of the Khajaanchi collection are heavily inspired by the Chunar Ragamala. The illustrated manuscripts of the Bhagavata-Purana also contain Bundi paintings and are currently preserved at the Kota Museum. The National Museum of Delhi has about 600 Bundi paintings and several Ragmala miniatures from the reign of Rao Ratan of Bundi. The Chhatra Mahal in Rajasthan also featured several Bundi fresco paintings, but most of them have now faded.
Today, Bundi artists continue to paint the themes of the Chitrashala on postcards, souvenirs, and handicrafts. Yug Pratap is one such Bundi artist who runs a studio called ‘Yug Art’. Many miniature artists add a personal touch to the Bundi style and innovate new themes and colour palettes in their paintings.
Learn More About The Timeless Beauty of Indian Miniature Painting
Every style of miniature painting gives us a unique insight into the art of those times. It tells us about the culture, the history, and the religious beliefs of past societies. While several schools of Miniature painting developed in Rajasthan alone, exploring these as well as the Pahari, Deccan, and Mughal Miniature schools will help us understand the rich cultural significance of Indian art and its diversity.
Learning different styles of Miniature painting is now much easier than it was before, all thanks to the Miniature Course on the Rooftop App. This course will detail various schools of miniature painting and delve into the styles, techniques, similarities, and differences between them.
By Melissa D’Mello