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GI tag latest feather in its cap, what truly makes Basohli paintings world famous

GI tag latest feather in its cap, what truly makes Basohli paintings world famous
GI tag latest feather in its cap, what truly makes Basohli paintings world famous

It is a proud moment for the entire Jammu and Kashmir UT in general and the artists involved in the preparation, propagation and rejuvenation of the world famous Basohli chiterkala in particular. Finally, the contender, NGO Vishawsthali, has succeeded in its endeavor in getting the GI tag granted in favour of Basohli Chiterkala, exclusively a proprietary of Basohli artists engaged in the field. But for the help and cooperation of Manoj Sinha, LG J&K, Dr Jitender Singh MOS in PM Office, Handicraft department of the UT and the NABARD this Herculean Job would have been impossible.

In the absence of this tagging the Specimens of Basohli chiterkala have either been hijacked or downloaded from Google and sold in the market by every Tom, Dick and harry blatantly. With result the paintings not belonging to Basohli school of art and paintings were sold in the market at exorbitant rates tarnishing and affecting the name and fame of Basohli miniature paintings in the world.

Pertinently, geographical indication (GI) is a form of intellectual property right that identifies goods originating from a specific geographical location and having a distinct nature, quality and characteristics linked to that location. The process of GI Tagging for Basohli Paintings was initiated by NABARD in consultation with the department of Handicrafts and Handlooms in December 2020, during the times of Covid. The GI Tags have now finally been granted the wood craft of Ladakh and Basohli Paintings of J&K UT after a long legal process.

The reasons behind granting the GI Tag for Basohli chiterkala are not hidden from anybody rather they have become world famous and has brought name and fame not for the UT but for the entire countrymen. In order to make it clearer and more comprehensive, the long journey of Basohli chiterkala is being laid down for the information of the readers.

Basohli is widely known for its miniature paintings, which is considered as the first school of Pahari painting developed in the fourth quarter of the 17th century.  The earliest painting in this style have been dated to the time of Raja Kirpal Pal (1678-93), where Rasmanjari (1695), The Gita Govinda (1730) and Ramayana were prepared for Raja Bhoopender Pal in 1816. A number of centers such as Basohli, Mankot, Chamba and Nurpur have been producing paintings in the traditional form.

The expansion of Basohli style to Mankot was result of marriage of Raja Kirpal Pal to a Mankot princess. All the paintings discovered in the Mankot collection belong to Raja Kirpal Pal period. The specimen and the replicas of the Basohli paintings are showcased in all the museums spread over the world and have earned a good reputation. Before proceeding any further, it is pertinent to familiarize the readers about the series of paintings under the themes, Rasmanjari, Geeta Govind and Ragmala in Basohli style.

Series of paintings from Bhanu Dutta’s Ras Manjari (Basohli paintings)

The Rasmanjari series, prepared for Raja Kirpal Pal, are the earliest dated material known from Basohli. Rasmanjari by Bhanu Dutta, is a Sanskrit love lyric revolving around the love of Sri Krishna and Radha. At least, painting with three series of this theme was produced in the hills which show that the Basohli painters were familiar with the text. According to the information available, three Rasmanjari sets were divided into different groups. Group A is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Dogra art gallery Jammu, SPS Museum Srinagar and Punjab Museum in Chandigarh. Group B is showcased in Bharat Kala Bhavan in Banaras and National Museum Delhi.

Geeta Govinda

It is one of the greatest achievements of Basohli School. Geeta Govinda was the successful expression of the poetic feeling of the author Jayadeva, the spirit of Vaishnavism and devotion to Lord Krishna. Geeta Govinda was a series painted in a much more sophisticated manner, differing in color scheme and the drawings from the earlier group, showcasing a mature stage of the Basohli style. The text offers a more picturesque background for the love play of Radha and Krishna, it include scenes from the forest of Varindavan and on the banks of river Yamuna. The 1730 Geeta Govinda was not a royal copy, but it was prepared for a noble lady, Malini by the painter Manku as stated in the inscription. The inscribed leaf is in the Lahore Museum, Pakistan.

Ragmala Paintings

The Ragmala series are scattered in different collections: The Museum of fine arts, Boston, The Victoria and Albert Museum London, Bharat Kala Bhavan Varanasi, The metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Karl Khandelwala, Bombay. In these paintings, we find that the architectural details have been replaced by the open air scenes. The drapery is less transparent and heavy shading is avoided. The sky is occasionally shown with vaulted strips.

GI tag latest feather in its cap, what truly makes Basohli paintings world famous

To purchase, possess and gift the replicas or the original work of Basohli chitrakala and showcase them in their houses, has become a craze and status symbol of modern society the world over.

The curiosity of every visitor is to visit all those museums in the country where the specimens of Basohli chitrakala are showcased. The collections of Basohli chitrakala 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, Loodrya gallery of France and other number of small art museumsall over the world. This art of miniature paintings has carved out a unique place for Basohli in the world.

Different historians have given different explanations regarding the origin of this chitrakala. The first citation about Basohli chitrakala was found 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 Mughal origin”.

In 1916, Coomara swami termed these paintings as of the Dogra School of Arts, Jammu but in reality these chitras originally belonged to Basohli. Some of the historians are of the view that Basohli paintings have got much resemblance with those of Udaipur and Gujarat. In the earliest periods, the artist’s 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 Mughal technique. The transparent dress of women and clothes of men are of Mughal style, while the facial formula is local with its root in the local folk. The side fastening frockcoat with a sash round the waist is the dress of the men, while the choli, a tight-fitting bodice covering the breasts, and a gagra-like skirt covered with a sari is the dress of women in the Basohli paintings.

There is difference of opinion between the researchers and experts over the origin of Basohli art of paintings. Some are of the opinion that the Basohli chitrakala was at its peak during the regime of Raja Kirpal Pal from1678 to 1693. Historian Kahan Singh Billowria wrote that gifted handmade colored portraits of Raja Bhoopat Pal, by his son Sangram Pal, to the Emperor Shah Jahan at the Delhi Durbar indicates that the art of Basohli chitrakala existed prior to the regime of Bhoopat Pal.

Raja Sangram Pal brought some artists from Delhi and settled them in Basohli which helped in boosting the art.  Basohli chitrakala flourished to its maximum level under the patronage of Raja Kirpal Pal because he frequently visited Delhi Durbar and brought with him expertise in order to bring refinement and beauty in the kala.

Raja Bhoopat Pal’s son Sangram Pal was seated on the throne at the age of seven in 1635 A.D. He was one of the most handsome princes of the hilly kingdoms of the north. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan invited the prince in his court, where he accorded warm welcome. All the courtiers of the durbar fixed their eyes on the face of the young prince and kept staring motionless.

Basohli prince became a friend of Mughal prince Dara Shikoh. The inmates of the woman compartment insisted to see the prince who was gifted with such a divine beauty. The Begums in the harem were taken aback and stunned when they saw a human being gifted with such a rare beauty. Raja Sangram Pal enjoyed the protocol of a royal guest so long he stayed in the royal durbar of Emperor. During his stay with the royal family he came across with Mughal artists, some of whom he brought to Basohli on his return from the Delhi Durbar. Raja Kirpal Pal was also a scholar and lover of art.

During his regime, Pt. Shiv Kantha and Pt. Shiv Parsad wrote two volumes on Ayurveda pertaining to Charka, related to the science of medicines and other Sushrata about surgery in Ayurveda. It is believed that both of these volumes are lying in the custody of the Padha family of the Raj vaid.  Basohli Chitrakala took big leaps during the periods of Raja Dheeraj Pal, Medni Pal, Jeet Pal, Amrit Pal, Vijay Pal and Mehander Pal.

Basohli paintings are unique in nature which can be easily distinguished from other styles. The painter describes all the facts clearly and boldly in the picture. The poetic theme of Rasmanjari and Geeta Govinda is depicted in most simple way. The borders of the paintings are deep red and rarely yellow. The colors are used symbolically; the yellow is used for spring, 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. The contrast use of the primary colors red, blue and yellow in the Basohli painting is delightful. The use of different colors in Geeta Govinda is remarkable and presents a magic of colors 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 is used 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 streaks 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 style they are shown lean, feeble with large ears, 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 Bal Krishna. The text of Rasmanjari is a flavor of love between Nayaka-Nayak-bheda, whereas, Geeta Govinda has been compared with Solomon’s song of songs. In order to see the creation of god and to realize the hollowness of the world (Chitra Rasmanjri) 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 during painting was home made from the hairs taken from the tail of the squirrel.

Where on the one hand Jammu and Kashmir Government 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 machhi, pashmina shawls and embroidery work. On the other hand, the government has completely overlooked the need of reviving, developing and devising some means to make it a subject in the school curriculum of the state so that the demand of the replicas of Basohli chitrakala can be met easily.

An NGO Vishwasthali came forward for the rescue of the dying art and to keep it 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 due to the limited resources they cannot meet the demand from within and outside the country. The efforts of one energetic IAS officer, rich with aesthetic sense and a lover of fine arts, Parvez Dewan took the noble work of reviving and rejuvenating the dying art and started the painting school at Basohli on the trial basis.

Inspired by the initiative of Parvez Dewan, Basohli school of art was established by the NGO Vishwasthali which has been producing many young artists in Basohli chitrakala every year. These artists are working in different parts of the state and preparing the life like replicas and earning in thousands per portrait. Many young aspirants have made Basohli art as their hobby and passion and earning a lot by selling their paintings at exorbitant rates in the national and international market. Many young artists are managing their own studios, where they produce the exact copies of the original art.

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 were presented bundles of the original invaluable paintings as a gift from the Basohli people on their visit to the town.

Similarly, one similar bundle of Basohli painting was presented to His Excellency, Gall Breth, and the US Ambassador to India by the old headman of Basohli 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 well-paying because it is the seller who tags its price and the buyer has to pay for it.

Basohli Painting and miniature painting is a new and flourishing opportunity for the growing number of skilled, gifted and intelligent unemployed youth in the state with no or negligible investment. What matters in this business are the clarity, precision, vision, passion, concentration and dedication which every young person can develop, if someone intends to excel and make it as their career in life.

It is pertinent to mention that the Basohli chiterkala has been made theme of the Jammu and Kashmir Tableau during 2019 Republic day parade on the Raj Path, Delhi which is a matter of proud for every person of Jammu and Kashmir.

The task of the revival of Basohli 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 career in Basohli chitrakala with twin aims of earning respectfully and keeping the art alive forever.



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GI tag latest feather in its cap, what truly makes Basohli paintings world famous