Basohli Paintings: Gem of art!

Hardly there is any national or international tourist who doesn’t know about the Basohli chitra Kala or Basohli paintings and their place and importance in the world. The tourists feel it a craze to visit the museums and art galleries displaying the real or replicas of Basohli paintings and purchase them for decorating their homes with the rarely available specimen of art.

Chitra Kala of Basohli is one of the factors which contributes towards the popularity of Jammu and Kashmir state not only at national but at international level also. The collections of this kala are exhibited in the famous art galleries of Bhuri Singh Museum of Chamba, National Museum Delhi, Amar palace Jammu, Rashtrapati Bhavan Delhi, Central Museum Lahore, Albert museum of London Boston Museum of America and Loodrya gallery of France. This art of painting has carved out a unique place for Basohli in the world.

Different historians have given explanations regarding the origin of Chitra kala in Basohli. The first mention about Basohli Chitra Kala is contained in the archaeological survey of India for the year 1918-19 which states “a series of old paintings of Basohli school were purchased, and the curator concludes that Basohli school is of pre Mugal origin”. In 1916 Coomaraswami termed these paintings as of the Dogra School of arts Jammu but in reality these paintings belonged to Basohli.

Some of the historians are of the view that Basohli paintings have much resemblance with that of Udaipur and Gujrat. In the earliest periods, the artists style was called as the primitive paintings of Basohli. According to Goetz the middle of 17th century paintings are of Basohli Primitive style with aquiline noses and receding foreheads.

Basohli style emerged as the result of the marriage of the folk art of hills with Moghul technique. The transparent dress of women and clothes of men are of Moghul style, while the facial formula is local with its root in the local folk. The side-fastening frock-coat with a sash round the waist is the dress of the men, while the choli a tight-fitting bodice covering the breasts, and a ghagra-like skirt covered with a sari is the dress of women in the Basohli paintings.

According to the historians the Basohli chitra kala originated during the seventeenth century and was at its peak during the reigns of Raja Kirpal pal. Raja Bhupat Pal’s son Sangram Pal was seated on the thrown at the age of seven in1635 A.D.Sangram Pal was one of the most handsome princes of the hilly kingdoms of the north. Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan invited the Prince in his court where he was accorded warm welcome, All the courtiers of the durbar fixed their eyes on the face of the young prince and kept staring motionless .The Basohli Prince became a friend of Moghul Prince Dara Shikoh.The queens also insisted to see the Prince gifted with such extra ordinary beauty and were taken aback to see a human being gifted with such a divine beauty. Sangram Pal became popular in the court and was asked to become a royal guest for more than two months. During his stay with the royal family he came across with Moghul artists and he encouraged them to migrate to Basohli. Raja Kirpal Pal was also a scholar and lover of art. During his region, two manuscripts of Charka and Sushruta were written by Shiv Kantha and Shiva parasad which were in the possession of local Raj vaidya at Basohli .The Basohli Chitra Kala took big leaps during the future Raja’s Dhiraj Pal, Medni Pal, Jeet Pal, Amrit Pal Vijay Pal and Mehander Pal 1813

Basohli paintings are unique in nature and can be easily distinguished from that of Rajasthani The painter describes all the facts clearly and boldely. The poetic theme of Rasmanjari and Geeta Govinda are depicted in most simple way. The borders of the paintings are deep red and rarely yellow. The colours are used symbolically; the yellow is used for spring and sun shine and mango blossoms. Blue Is the color of Krishna God of cow herd and of the dark clouds. Red is the colour of love which suits to the passionate themes, a subject of Basohli paintings .The contrast use of the primary colours red, blue and yellow is delightful.The use of different colours in Geeta Govinda is remarkable and presents a magic of colours and its emotional appeal.

Another quality of the Basohli paintings is the liberal use of gold and silver paints, gold is used for embroidery and in ornaments whereas silver in dress windows and pillars. Pearls of the necklace are depicted by the raised paints. In Rasmanjari heavy clouds are shown in layers with snake like lines in gold. Light rain is shown by pearl like strads and heavy rains by straight white lines. The trees depicted in the Basohli paintings are also symbolical; love sick heroines are shown under the drooping branches of willows, ripe mangoes a symbol of charm of women.

The cattle are also the integral part of the Basohli paintings. In Kangra style the cattle are well fed and healthy whereas in the Basohli paintings the cattle are lean feeble with large ear twisted horns and wild eyes of the breed which can be found in Jammu. Basohli painters evolved a new facial formula of their own. Basohli faces have receding forehead ,high nose and lotus like eyes. The ornaments and the drapery are skillfully painted to enhance the feminine beauty

The whole chitrakala of Basohli is rich with the Bhanu Dutta’s 14th  century Rasmanjari ,12th century Jaydeva’s  Geeta Govinda, Nal Damyanti, Baramas and the scenes from the life of Balak Krishna The text of rasmanjari is a flavor of love between Nayaka-Nayak-bheda, whereas Geeta Govinda has been compared with Solomon’ Song of Songs.

In order to see the creation of god and to realize the hollowness of the world (Chittrasamanjri) containing pictures on the wealth of mind was got prepared by Raja Kirpal Pal by Devi Dasa in 1752.

The most astonishing quality of Basohli painting is the use of homemade colors made from the roots flowers, leaves and barks of the trees. Various minerals clays were also used in the colours .The brush used was made from the hairs of the squirrel.

Where on the one hand  Jammu and Kashmir govt. always seems serious about promoting the Kashmiri art in order to keep it alive by financing the art and craft of making, qalines Namde Gabbe, paper machie, pashmina shah toosh shawls and embroidery work, On the other hand the state government has closed its eyes and doesn’t care for this dying art with the result that this is at the brink of extinction. No step from government side has ever been taken to revive this art and keep it alive to meet the increasing demand of the art in the international market.

One NGO “Vishavsthali” has come forward and undertaken the task to keep this rare art alive as the symbol of recognition for the Jammu region. Its volunteers are putting in great efforts to prepare replicas of the old paintings, but they cannot meet the demand from inside and outside the country. The efforts of one energetic IAS officer, with aesthetic sense and a lover of fine arts,  Sh.Parvez Dewan took interest and brought the lost art on the rails and started the painting centers on trial bases in Basohli.

The Basohli school of art run by the NGO Vishavasthali produced many young artists in Basohli Chitra Kala who are working in different parts of the state and preparing the life like replicas and earning in thousands per portrait. Many young aspirants made Basohli art as their hobby and passion which provide them good earning because the good and fine pieces of art are sold like hot cakes in the national and international markets on the exorbitant prices. Many young artists are managing their own studios where they produce the ditto replicas.

It is pertinent to mention here that Bakshi Gulam Mohamad the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and Dr. Karan Singh the Sadr-e-Riasat and contemporary of Bakshi sahib were presented bundles of the original invaluable paintings costing crores of rupees which nobody knows about the fate they met. Similarly one more bundle of invaluable Basohli painting was presented to His Excellency Gall Breth, the British Ambassador to India by the old headman of Basohli Sh. Jagan Nath Padha, which the Ambassador took to London and showcased them in the Barton Museum of London.

The career in the Basohli Paintings and Basohli art is both respectful and paying because it is the seller who tags its prize and the buyer has to buy it. Basohli Painting and miniature painting is a new and flourishing carrier for the growing number of skilled, gifted and intelligent unemployed youth in the state with no or negligible investment. What matter in the business is the clarity, precision, vision, passion, concentration and dedication which every young person can develop in him if he intends to excel and make it as his carrier in life.

The task of the revival of the Basohli art of painting is neither costly nor impossible; it needs only the sincere commitment on the part of the govt. in power. The government should encourage the youth to make their carrier in Basohli chitra Kala and earn as much as they can. The career in Basohli painting can help contain unemployment to a larger extent.


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