The first pictorial representation of Pushkar appeared in 1848, nineteen years after the first written account of the place by a British historian.
Pran Nevile on the works of the scholar and the artist
PUSHKAR is considered as one of the most significant places of pilgrimage for Hindus. With its sacred lake near Ajmer in Rajasthan, Pushkar is an ancient holy spot. It is the only place in India where there is a temple dedicated to Lord Brahma.
Lakhs of devotees assemble at Pushkar from the 11th day of Kartik till the full moon and take a dip in the holy lake during these five days every year.
Pushkar now has five principal temples, all of modern construction, since the old ones were destroyed by the Aurungzeb. These are dedicated to Brahma, Savitri, Badrinarayan, Varaha and Shiva Atmateshwar. The town of Pushkar situated on the lake is surrounded by hills on three sides. According to a description of the place by Colonel James Todd renowned in his classic work Annals of Rajasthan:
"The hills preserve the same character: bold pinnacles, abrupt sites and surface thinly covered. The stratification inclines to the west; the dip of the strata is about 20 degrees, there is, however, a considerable difference in the colour of the mountains: those on the left have a rose tint; those on the right are of greyish granite with masses of white quartz about their summits. The form of the lake may be called an irregular ellipse. Around its margin except towards the marshy outlet is a display of varied architecture. Every Hindu family of rank has its niche here for the purpose of devotional pursuits when they could abstract themselves from mundane affairs."
Among the surrounding hills, Nag Pahad on the east is noteworthy for its network of caves, some of which are said to have been the abodes of great sages – Agastya, Kanva and Bhartarihari. This hill also abounds in springs and waterfalls, which are again associated with numerous mythological tales.
With the advent of Buddhism, Pushkar, like other holy places such as Benaras, Mathura and Gaya, became a stronghold of the Buddhist faith but the town lost its glory with the decline of Buddhism. It was later in the beginning of the ninth century that the town of Pushkar was restored by the Rajput king Narhar Rao of Marwar, when he discovered the healing quality of the lake’s water. After learning that it was a sacred lake, he got an embankment constructed to protect it. Subsequently the town of Pushkar regained its status as a pilgrimage centre.
The Pushkar Lake has 52 ghats, the most sacred being those named after Varaha and Brahma. At Varaha ghat, Lord Vishnu is said to have appeared in Varaha (boar) avatar. It is also believed that the ancient river Saraswati emerges at Pushkar Lake after its disappearance near Kurukshetra.
Pushkar is also famous for its annual cattle fair held in the month of Kartik that carries on for a week and attracts large crowds of people from different parts of Rajasthan. There is a mention of the Pushkar fair even during emperor Jehangir’s times. People gather here to buy and sell cattle including camels, horses, bullocks and even elephants. The fair is now organised with the patronage of the state government.
Compared with other parts of India, the legendary princely states of Rajasthan did not catch the fancy of the British travellers and scholars. It was only after the publication of Colonel James Todd’s accounts that the British got interested in the study of Rajasthan, its people and their rich cultural and architectural heritage.
Many British artists had started coming to India from the 1760s. They concentrated on making portraits of the ruling elite or drawing the country’s varied landscape and magnificent historic monuments. However, they were not able to cover any of the landmarks of Rajasthan.
Colonel Todd was, perhaps, the first British visitor to Pushkar, who studied its ancient history as a centre of pilgrimage. Todd was not an artist, but his book was illustrated with exquisite engravings of famous forts and palaces of Rajasthan.
C.R. Francis of the Bengal Medical Establishment of the East India Company was the first artist, who travelled to Pushkar and recorded his impressions about the place and its people. The credit for depicting the first true-to-life views of the town of Pushkar before the age of camera goes to Francis, whose illustrated journal Sketches of Native Life in India was published in London in 1848.