Kota-Bundi: What’s the Connection Between Bundi and Kota Paintings?
You may have heard of the Kota-Bundi School of Miniature Painting, but you may also have heard of Kota and Bundi paintings separately. So are they the same? Or are there noticeable differences? Actually, Kota paintings are an offshoot of the Bundi school. They are different in quite significant ways, and this is why, while earlier paintings may be called Kota-Bundi, the miniatures of later periods are referred to as either one or the other.
Let’s take a trip through history and understand how the Kota School of Miniature Painting came into being.
What does the Kota School of Painting refer to?
Kota paintings refer to the murals and miniature paintings found in the royal court of Kota in Rajasthan, specifically those from the 17th to 18th centuries. These paintings can be found in the form of murals at palaces and forts, cloth scrolls, and miniature paintings in the form of albums and folios. The Kota School of Miniature Painting is locally called ‘Kota Kalam’.
The kingdom of Kota was located opposite the Chambal riverbanks. At first, it was part of a larger kingdom along with neighbouring regions but was christened an independent kingdom during the reign of Rao Madho Singh. In 1631, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan also issued a proclamation recognising Kota’s sovereignty, cementing its separate status from Bundi.
How the Separation of Kota Led to a Divergence in Painting Styles
At first, Kota paintings were extremely similar to Bundi art and followed the typical themes of Ragmala, Barahmasa, and the depiction of hunting scenes. They began developing a distinct style during the reign of Rao Jagat Singh. As Kota was closely associated with the Mughal Empire, we can observe strong influences of the Mughal School in Kota Miniature paintings.
Today, many incorrectly assume that Kota paintings are a reinterpretation of what already exists in Bundi, and as it is the older of the two, it must be where all the ‘original’ paintings are. While Bundi was indeed its origin, Kota Kalam created an identity of its own. The Kota paintings at Garh Palace, for example, are vibrant and depict a wide range of subject matter. The artists also painted within frames, similar to those seen in Miniature paintings on paper.
The Garh Palace in Kota was built in the 17th century and over the years, developed an exhaustive collection of murals, miniature paintings, manuscripts and other heritage artifacts. All the rulers of Kota contributed to the palace in their own way. New paintings and murals were added to the Hathi Pol Gateway, Bada Mahal, and the zenanas (women’s palace). Concepts and themes from Bundi were reimagined at the Garh Palace. It soon became a hub of activity, art, and commerce, and while Kota flourished into an industrial centre, Bundi remained a small rural town.
Tracing the Evolution of Kota Paintings Through History
A collection of Ragmala paintings created in 1680 in Kota closely resembles the Ragini Vilawal series of Bundi. However, the completely unique styles of Kota paintings become apparent when we observe the series of thirty two miniature paintings illustrating the story of Rukmani that were created under the reign of Rao Ram Singh. In 1696 AD, the paintings of Mukund Garh show human figures painted in the Bundi style but a portrayal of nature in the Kota style.
Kota painting flourished under the rulership of Maharao Ram Singh II. In the hunting scenes of this period, clouds are rendered in a flamboyant style as dark swirling spirals interspersed with curling strands of golden lightning. Ram Singh was an eccentric man with a zest for life who often indulged in unusual activities. He was also one of the last great rulers who offered royal patronage to the arts. He commissioned many paintings to chronicle the various activities of the durbar, hunting, and festivals.
Studying a Kota Miniature in Detail
The above painting is a cloth scroll created to record Ram Singh II’s visit to the Red Fort. It is drawn from a bird’s-eye view and is filled with several minute details. The upper half of the painting depicts the Red Fort, which is plastered with limestone to give it the appearance of white marble. The Jama Masjid is shown in the lower right, and Begum Samru’s bungalow (now the Delhi Bank) is present in the lower left. The Maharao’s procession is travelling to Nigambodh Ghat for a religious bath.
The artist details the hustle and bustle of the bazaar beautifully, and the number of figures in this painting makes it difficult to catch some of the finer details. Some intriguing ones are:
1. The Red Fort is disproportionately large compared to the other buildings
2. A lot of different animals can be seen, such as horses, elephants, bullocks, camels, monkeys, and even a goat! Can you spot them all?
3. An English couple are kissing in the courtyard of the mosque. Scandalous!
4. The Mughal Emperor is spying on the procession from the Shahi Burj of Red Fort. The Maharao did not meet him during this visit and returned to Kota after the ritual bath.
Exploring the Styles and Themes of Kota Paintings
At first glance, the miniatures of Kota and Bundi may appear similar. They both contain rich colours and expressive portrayals of human emotions, as well as finely detailed and fluid brushwork. Mineral and vegetable colours were used in these paintings, and the theme of hunting scenes was quite popular in both schools. However, more paintings on this theme were created in the Kota School, especially during the 18th century.
Heavy shading is a prominent feature in these paintings. At first, the subject matter consisted of Hindu epics and Barahmasa and Ragmala themes. But as time passed, greater importance was given to ceremonial scenes and hunting activities. Artists also painted religious themes, such as stories from the Ramayana and the life of Krishna. In comparison to other miniature painting styles, kota painting is quite contemporary and was significantly influenced by European Miniature paintings. Kota painting took inspiration from certain aspects of the Mughal and Mewar school.
Human figures have a ruddy, orange-tinted complexion and sharp features. Male figures have broad foreheads and chests, heavy chins, and wear pale trousers. Royalty wear long jama coats, pyjamas, a diamond-studded turban, and a patka around their waist. Women have round faces with elongated, almond-shaped eyes. They have raised foreheads, sharply curving eyebrows, and a receded hairline. They are slender and short and wear ornamented cholis, short lehengas, and transparent dupattas.
Hunting scenes often display the magnificence of the scenery of Kota, displaying its beautiful terrain filled with rugged hills and cliffs, as well as dense jungles and wildlife. Water bodies, cliffs, thick shrubbery, tall trees, and animals in their natural habitats are depicted in Kota paintings. The scenery is painted realistically, which is a step away from the stylized interpretations of Bundi paintings. The colours are bright, and the foliage is especially detailed and vivid.
The Shikar, or hunting theme, was immensely popular during the reign of Maharao Ummed Singh I. People of all social classes liked to hunt, as it was a popular social activity. Hunters used to carry weapons such as swords and spears, as well as modern guns in later periods.
This theme gave artists a chance to draw breathtaking landscapes as well as animals. Tiger hunts are a recurring theme, and sometimes other animals such as cheetahs, lions, cranes, horses, rhinoceros, wild boars, blackbucks, and elephants are also drawn in hunting scenes.
Kota painters excelled at painting elephants. It was one of the symbols depicting royalty. Elephant fights were a common, almost daily occurrence, and the kings were known to prize elephants and use them as weapons on hunts. Kota artists painted several exceptional studies of elephants in the 18th century. These studies were typically lined sketches made in preparation before executing the final piece.
Though badly damaged, this painting is alive with movement and drama. We see the elephant piercing the rhinoceros with its tusks while Ram Singh gets ready to strike it down. The depiction of elephants as mighty and ferocious is quite different from their regular portrayal in Indian art, which is that of a peaceful and gentle animal.
The inscriptions on many Kota paintings are written in Mewari dialects. This leads us to believe that several of Kota’s accomplished artists were originally from Mewar but settled in Kota and operated from there.
The State of Kota Kalam Today
Today, Kota miniature painting is a dying art form. Many Kota artists would sustain themselves on royal patronage, but this practise is no longer in existence. The Government has not taken any measures to safeguard the livelihood of the generational artists of Kota. Kota Kalam is now a dying art form and will continue to exist under the threat of being forgotten unless we make efforts to preserve it.
Interested in learning the art of Kota Miniature painting? Download the Rooftop app from Google Play or the App Store to enrol in Rooftop’s Maestro Course on Miniature Painting! Learn the techniques of Kota and Bundi paintings, as well as six other schools of Indian miniature painting.
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By Melissa D’Mello