The Barahmasa Theme And The Art Of Storytelling
Have you ever marvelled at the details of a Miniature painting and wondered about the story behind it? Indian Miniature paintings are a mesmerising sight to behold. These paintings contain references to a variety of themes. Miniature paintings tell stories through the masterful use of themes. The Barahmasa theme, Ragamala theme, Panchatantra theme, etc. are examples of storytelling through art. These paintings use environmental storytelling to intensely depict rich emotions.
The effects of changing seasons undoubtedly have effects on our psyche. We may find ourselves lethargic and sleepy during winters, joyful and energetic during spring, and longing for companionship during the monsoons. Let’s take a look at how Indian painters used this concept to weave tales of romance and companionship.
Gaining A Deeper Understanding Of The Barahmasa Theme
Barahmasa literally translates to twelve months (barah-twelve, masa-month). It depicts the passage of time by expressing the concept of love with reference to each passing month. This concept was first introduced in the Ramayana, when Ram is separated from Sita. He expresses that as the months go by, the changing surroundings continue to increase the pain of separation. The Barahmasa theme was not limited to art and was a part of Indian poetry and literature as well. It was popular in literature from the 13th to the 16th century, but only gained popularity in art during the 17th century.
The Sanskrit poet Kalidasa described the intertwining of love and the changing seasons in his work Ritusamhara. He describes each ritu or season in detail and elaborates on their effects on the emotions of lovers. This caused an increase in the popularity of the Barahmasa theme in literature. Artists drew inspiration from these literary works. Many miniature paintings contain quotations from relevant poetry or prose that inspired the artist. This tells us that the Barahmasa miniature paintings are an amalgamation of art and literature.
Also read: The Uniqueness of Miniature Paintings
Love And Longing Through Miniature Paintings
The Barahmasa theme depicts the emotional state of a woman (nayika) who is waiting for her husband or lover. The changing months and passing seasons affect her emotions as much as they alter her surroundings. Barahmasa paintings do not just depict the passage of time but also the state of the soul alongside it. The inner world of a lover experiences changes that are dependent on the outer world. These changes affect their moods and emotions as well as their behaviour. It gives the viewer a glimpse into the world of someone else. Barahmasa paintings offer a physical representation of the emotional state, by conveying intangible emotions and feelings through tangible mediums such as scenery, animals, trees, and elements of weather such as the sun, clouds, rain, etc.
The Chitrasutra was an ancient Indian authoritative text on the methods and theories of painting. It included certain guidelines for the depiction of the seasons in painting. For example, the monsoons would contain dark and heavy clouds with streaks of lightning. Paintings depict summer as a time of fatigue and exhaustion. Dried-up water bodies and wild animals hiding in the forest were the symbols used to convey these emotions. Each month carries specific sentiments: Chaitra is associated with hope and new beginnings, Bhadrapada with the dreary nature of monsoons, Ashwina with calmness and reflection, etc. Artists illustrated the Barahmasa theme by using these guidelines to denote changing seasons and the passage of time. To read more about the use of motifs in traditional art, click here.
The Barahmasa Theme In The Rajasthani School Of Art
Art flourished in Jaipur, Malwa, Bikaner, Bundi, Kota, Mewar, Alwar, Jodhpur, etc., and they became centres of art and culture. These smaller centres, or schools of Art, fall under the Rajasthani School of Art. Each school of art developed a distinct style and method of illustrating the Barahmasa theme. We can observe that overall, the Rajasthani School of Art used similar narratives or stories for each month but had a lot of variation in compositions and art styles. Most artists in India followed the guidelines of the Chitrasutra, with very few exceptions.
Paintings of the Mewar School of Art showed a noticeable Mughal influence in the portrayal of the Barahmasa theme after the 17th century. The Bikaner style frequently references the poetic works of Govindadas. They show a lonely woman sitting on a bed and expressing her sorrow to the moon. Bikaner school miniatures used a soft palette of red, blue, and gold. We see delicately painted trees, human figures, and domes of buildings. Bright and soft colours were used together to create the appropriate mood. The work of the poet Keshavdas inspired many miniature paintings of Jodhpur. We can also observe the Barahmasa theme in Rajasthani miniature paintings done on the walls of palaces, havelis, and forts.
The Barahmasa Theme In The Pahari School Of Painting
The Pahari School of Painting spread from Jammu to Garhwal, in the hilly region of the Himalayas. Unlike the Rajasthani school, the schools under the Pahari school did not form distinct individual styles. We see depictions of the Barahmasa theme in the Chamba, Garhwal, Guler, Kangra, Mandi, and Nurpur schools of the Pahari school. Unlike the stylised rendering of the Rajasthani style, Pahari artists would realistically depict breathtaking scenes of nature, flora, and fauna. The Kangra style of the Pahari school is known for its delicate and poetic rendering of human figures and unparalleled depictions of romantic love and sentiment.
Parallels Between Similar Themes
Shad-Ritu Varnan and Nayak-Nayika Bheda contain similarities to the Barahmasa theme. Nayak-Nayika Bheda was a concept from Indian classical dance that found its way into literature and art. It alludes to Astha Nayika, or the eight types of heroines or female characters. One of the Nayikas, Virahotkanthita Nayika, is an inconsolable woman who has been separated from her lover. This is a similar concept to the Nayika in the Barahmasa theme.
Shad-Ritu Varnan is a theme that portrays the six seasons: Basant (spring), Grishma (summer), Hemant (fall), Varsha (rain), Shishir (winter), and Sharad (autumn). It is the depiction of Shringara, or the reuniting of lovers. The Barahmasa theme instead references the twelve months of the year and depicts Viyoga, or the separation of lovers. The similarities and differences between each theme allowed them to coexist in similar time periods. Sharad-Ritu Varnan, Nayak-Nayika Bheda, and the Barahmasa theme are connected in some ways, as each theme inspired and referenced the others.
The Significance Of The Barahmasa Miniature Paintings
The Barahmasa theme in poetry inspired a lot of miniature paintings. We can observe how art and literature interact to create a compelling narrative. The artists of ancient India brought a simple concept to life with their observation of human emotions and behaviour. The Barahmasa theme of miniature painting beautifully displays the passage of time and its effect on the human psyche.
We see deep, intense, and rich emotions conveyed through this theme. The Barahmasa theme cannot be admired passively; it rouses your soul and urges you to feel deeply. Barahmasa miniature paintings provide a rich insight into human behaviour as well as the thoughts and techniques of traditional Indian artists. They are gems of Indian art and display the ingenuity and creativity involved in traditional art forms.
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By Melissa D’Mello